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Empower locals, says Setipa



Lemohang Rakotsoane

MASERU – TRADE Minister Joshua Setipa says it’s high time foreign investors are forced to integrate locals in their businesses but this should be done “without violating international standards of doing business”.

Setipa was responding to concerns raised by Basotho businesspeople at a Trade and Investment Forum last Thursday.

Delegates at the forum had complained that they were being side-lined by investors who come to Lesotho.

“We have been lenient to investors concerning the issue of integrating Basotho in their businesses,” Setipa said.

But the minister’s statement triggered another debate over who qualifies to be classified as a Mosotho.

Are you a Mosotho by birth or naturalisation? Outside the business world that is a mundane question. Yet when it comes to matters of business in Lesotho it is a controversial one that drives emotions high.

The delegates said people of foreign descent who have been naturalised as Lesotho citizens continue to muscle them out of business opportunities reserved for Basotho.

The result, they said, is that most businesses reserved for indigenous Basotho are now in hands of naturalised Basotho.

Setipa however said the answer lies in working on laws and making sure they are implemented.

He said although existing laws have ways to deal with some of the issues raised by the delegates the problem is that they are not put into practice.

Setipa further said procurement practices should be reviewed so that they favour locals.

“Among critical issues we should look at is the involvement of locals in that business when one gets a government tender,” Setipa said.

“We need to adopt a preferential procurement act, this means that for every product or service the government requires it should be sourced locally before we cross the border”.

“We should also structure our procurement act in a way that will favour women-led businesses which are locally owned”.

Setipa also said there is also an urgent need to start providing infrastructure for the service sector as it contributes significantly to the GDP.

“We have only been able to provide infrastructure for manufacturing, it is time we do the same for the service sector. Build an IT park and enable those in services sector especially those in ICT to do their work and reach their potential”.

Setipa suggested that the tax regime should be reviewed to protect SMMES because most collapse due to the huge tax burden.

“It is not impossible, it is being done around us and it is time that we also start implementing and create our own industrialists, otherwise we will have another 50 years that we will just lose,” he said.

He said it is important to look for innovative ways to provide infrastructure because the government has budget constraints.

“Perhaps corporate bonds and Diaspora bonds can be used to build infrastructure”.

Delegates pleaded with the relevant stakeholders to start focusing on coming up with creative ways to assist domestic investors.

They said the Lesotho National Development Corporation (LNDC) seems to be focusing more on foreign investors at the expense of locals.

They indicated that locals do not have the same benefits or assistance as foreign investors.

They further indicated that they are concerned at the rate at which foreigners are acquiring land while it is almost impossible for them to get land. Their fear is that in the next 50 years Basotho might not have soil, which will be in the hands of foreigners.

They indicated that as for Basotho who acquire land and sell their leases to foreigners there should be action taken against them as by so doing they are selling land they are not supposed to sell.

The Trade and Investment Forum was meant to reflect and come up with new strategies that will remove bottlenecks and enable trade and investment growth.

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