Business community bares all to minister
SMALL business entrepreneurs in Quthing and Mohale’s Hoek have called on the government to create conducive conditions that will help grow their businesses and cushion them from factors threatening their viability.
This emerged during a recent business tour in Quthing and Mohale’s Hoek districts by the Minister of Small business development, Cooperatives and Marketing, Chalane Phori.
Mr Phori is currently holding business forums in all districts in the country during when he discusses with local business people. This dialogue will help him to understand their needs and also to ignite entrepreneurial spirit. The minister is also using this opportunity to encourage young people to start small businesses while urging local communities to support locally produced products as one of the ways to help boost the economy.
To date the minister has visited five districts including Botha Bothe, Mafeteng, Berea, Mohale’s Hoek and Quthing.
In discussions with the minister, the entrepreneurs who met with the minister lamented dragging company registration processes, compulsory requirement for business space, high cost of doing business, lack of organized markets, and foreigners’ participation in businesses meant for the locals.
Minister Phori was in Quthing district on Friday last week where he met entrepreneurs operating retail businesses, market gardening and cooperatives.
Louis Lepota, who is a member of one cooperative called on the government to regulate harvesting of an endangered aloe species which is indigenous to the area.
Aloe Ferox is a type of aloe found mostly in Quthing with a high commercial appeal due to its medicinal properties.
Mr Lepota said there was an over-exploitation of the aloe due to its uncontrolled harvesting and this posed extinction threats.
If well-protected, he said, the aloe was a treasure which has the potential to stimulate economic activities and create employment.
“We therefore call on the government to introduce measures that would ensure that the plant is not stolen. Its harvesting for trade must be properly regulated.”
He said the government should support local communities to acquire equipment that would enable processing of the plant along with the production of various products.
“We need to set up a body that will oversee processing of the aloe into different products such as cosmetics, beverages and other products.”
A street vendor, Petrus Kotelo said they can boost their businesses if only the government could assist with stalls to improve the display of their products.
“When it is raining we have problems because we cannot sell in the open. In our kind of business, one cannot afford missing work even for a day,” Mr Kotelo said.
In the case of women employed in vegetable and fruit market stalls which are based on the streets, he said the government can help by introducing laws that can ensure women are given paid maternity leave.
Moabi Motlohi, who is a wool and mohair grower, said livestock farmers in the area always lose their animals due to bad weather conditions such as snowfall while the poor state of roads in the districts was also making it difficult for farmers to transport their wool and mohair to points of collection.
“We also lose a lot of animals due to border declaring processes’ delays upon importing them into the country. They can be held up at the border for days and end up dying right there,” he said.
In Mohale’s Hoek, the business community complained there were no markets for their products.
‘Mathato Magadlela, who is a dressmaker, said they found themselves in a stiff competition with the Asian entrepreneurs who take away their customers.
She appealed to the government to allow Basotho businesses to use factory shells in the district that are either unoccupied or are used by Asian business community.
Some Basotho Entrepreneurship and Cooperative Lesotho property is allegedly occupied by some Asian businessmen.
Mosuoe Sekeleoane, who is a producer of different types of dried foods, expressed concern over some foreign business operators running businesses that, according to the law, should be a reserve of Basotho.
He said this was killing their own businesses as the foreigners were selling their goods sourced from cheaper markets and in bulk, and then sold in Lesotho at low prices.
In his response, Mr Phori emphasized the need for Basotho to buy locally produced goods to support local businesses.
“We all grew up eating all these dumplings made by our parents without making any fuss about them and they did not cause us any harm. Is it that now we are educated that we no longer want to eat them?” Mr Phori said.
He said to resolve the challenge of marketing space, his ministry was currently constructing three fresh produce market centres in the northern, central and southern parts of the country.
These centres, he said would provide an organized market for farmers and not require farmers to produce and market at the same time. He said centres in Maseru and Leribe were already under construction while construction for the one set for Mohale’s Hoek would soon commence.
On the market for livestock, he said the ministry was going to set up a chicken and pig abattoir close to the current national abattoir in Maseru.
Mr Phori also explained that he had discussed with the Chinese Ambassador, issues pertaining Asian investors operating in the country.
He said the government will assist with provision of space to work from, adding what was important was for Basotho entrepreneurs to be well organized.
On the issue of access to finance for start-up capital and to grow businesses, the minister advised that people should open bank accounts with Lesotho PostBank (LPB), which he said was in line with their policy in supporting business development.
He indicated that LPB was a front runner in advancing the highest number of business loans to Basotho through the Partial Credit Guarantee Scheme facility entered into by government with the commercial banks.
He said the LPB, which the ministry had also signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with, does not require entrepreneurs to produce extensive business plans before getting loans.
“We should embrace those who care about us,” he said.
In each district, the minister has asked the people to select a team of ten business representatives whom he would later meet and discuss the way forward for the development of the business sector in the country.