LOCAL businessman, Lebona Lephema, says it is time that Basotho entrepreneurs were given the opportunity to undertake specialised projects.
Mr Lephema is the owner and managing director of Lephema Executive Transport which made history this past week by becoming the first local company to land a contract with Engen Petroleum to transport petroleum products from South Africa to Lesotho.
The contract, which entails transporting fuel from Engen Petroleum’s refinery in Durban to its main depot in Lesotho and distributing it across the country, is set to run for five years.
In an interview with the Sunday Express, Mr Lephema said the contract was a milestone in the empowerment of local businesses because fuel transportation services in Lesotho were previously provided by foreign firms, with few local companies being subcontracted.
“I feel very elated for securing this contract, which was not an easy thing to do considering the might of the companies we were competing with,” he said.
“This is a victory for Lesotho and Basotho because it demonstrates the capabilities of local entrepreneurs to carry out large and specialised projects.
“With this achievement, I am not only hoisting aloft the flag of Executive Transport as a company, but I am also representing the nation since the company is owned by a Mosotho.”
The winning of the contract comes after the government launched an energy policy last year, which sought to reserve part of the transportation of petroleum products to Basotho.
The policy was meant to foster the growth of local businesses, and ensure their meaningfully participation in the retailing and transportation of petroleum products.
Lephema Executive Transport’s portfolio also includes mining, construction and agriculture among other activities.
Mr Lephema said a similar approach to the energy policy should be applied to other sectors of the economy to empower local entrepreneurs.
“Reserving some sectors for locals is the way to go for the country to support local business. We need to see such initiatives taking place across all sectors of the economy and not only in energy,” he said.
“It should also happen in the construction sector. There is no need for a foreign contractor to be awarded the entire contract alone without the support of local contractors. The first preference should go to local entrepreneurs for sub-contracting.”
Lephema Executive Group, he said, had demonstrated its abilities in transporting fuel through a sub-contract they held with Unitrans for 10 years. Mr Lephema said his company did not compromise on safety, which is a must in handling dangerous commodities like petroleum products.
“Fuel transportation is a highly specialised service which requires high levels of compliance to safety, health, environmental and quality standards. At Lephema Executive Transport, we are proud to say we uphold these standards very well.”
He, however, stressed that the company’s early days in the 1980s were not plain sailing as they were characterised by struggles.
“I used to work in South Africa’s mining sector, and managed to buy a mini bus from my earnings. I then traded in the mini bus for a small truck, which I drove as I moved different simple commodities, and I never looked back.”
In 2004, Lephema Executive Transport became a sub-contractor to Unitrans for fuel haulage, and over that time gained experience in the industry. The company now employs more than 500 people.