BEDCO warns tenants



BEDCO Chief Executive Officer Robert Likhang
BEDCO Chief Executive Officer Robert Likhang

…as parastatal reveals it is owed more than M4million in rental fees by businesses

Billy Ntaote

Basotho Enterprises Development Corporation (BEDCO) Chief Executive Officer, Robert Likhang, has vowed to evict tenants who are not paying their monthly rentals to the parastatal.

Mr Likhang said his organisation is owed more than M4 million by leaseholders who threaten  BEDCO employees “with their political connections” each time they are approached for payment.

But according to Mr Likhang, no amount of intimidation is going to deter his organisation from fulfilling its obligation. Established by government in 1980, BEDCO’s mandate is to help establish and develop Basotho-owned enterprises through a number of interventions such as providing workplaces at subsidised rent and capacity-building programmes.

However, according to Mr Likhang, the corporation was failing to implement some of its initiatives because of the large amount of money it is owed by the tenants.

“In the next 14 days from today (5 May 2015), we are going to eject 10 of the tenants who owe us the highest amount of rent from our premises. Some owe us more than six months in rentals and some as much as M200 000 each,” said Mr Likhang.

Mr Likhang, who issued the warning while addressing some of the tenants at BEDCO’s Sebaboleng offices on Tuesday, said the reason the corporation was failing to refurbish its buildings was due to the defaulting occupants.

The tenants, who are occupying BEDCO’s Sebaboleng and Trading Centre buildings in Maseru, had complained that their premises were now dilapidated, yet the rental fee continued to increase.

The lessees then requested a 10-percent reduction in the rent due to the derelict state of the buildings which they insisted BEDCO never bothered to maintain.

Mathew Thamae, who was representing the tenants, said BEDCO was supposed to help Basotho businesses but appeared to be doing the opposite.

“We continue to wrestle with the problem of old buildings that are never repaired. Our businesses also suffer as a result of lack of utilities at these facilities whose rent is now higher than what is being charged at some newer buildings in the Central Business District.

“We would also want to understand the role of BEDCO because we have never received any assistance from you, be it financial or otherwise. When we visited the CEO’s offices, we learnt that the agency is assisting a lot of businesses, so the question is why haven’t we benefitted as BEDCO tenants?” asked Mr Thamae.

Mr Thamae also noted foreign-owned businesses were flourishing while those owned by Basotho struggled because they were not getting the necessary assistance from the organisation created specifically to help them, which is BEDCO.

’Mamuso Ntlama, who is also one of BEDCO’s tenants, supported Mr Thamae’s sentiments, adding she was “recently shocked” to learn that government was providing “some big manufacturing companies” factory shells free of charge.

Ms Ntlama added: “Foreign-owned companies are doing extremely well while our government is not assisting us, local businesses, in any way. I had expected to be given some guidance by BEDCO in the four years I have been a tenant at its premises, but we never got any assistance from the corporation’s   incubation programme.

“We are failing to pay rent simply because our businesses are not doing well. We need BEDCO’s assistance to help us survive and not for you to close our businesses.”

However, in response, Mr Likhang said there was no way the tenants could be exempted from paying rent if BEDCO is to survive, and also noted the reason why the corporation has not been refurbishing its buildings was due to the defaulting leaseholders.

“We have very rich businesses operating from our premises but their owners blatantly refuse to pay the rent they owe us. What are we supposed to do when a single business owes us rentals in excess of M200 000 and its owner refuses to pay?

“We have also been threatened by ministers that we are giving their people problems when we demand this rent. But let me assure you that these are but empty threats which will not stop us from doing our job. As we speak, we have evicted about 10 businesses from our premises and will be expelling 10 more over the next two weeks as I have already mentioned ,” said Mr Likhang.

According to Mr Likhang, BEDCO had financial obligations to meet, such as paying tax to the Lesotho Revenue Authority (LRA), hence the need for the tenants to settle their bills.

“The same government that is used to threaten us when we try to evict defaulting tenants is also pressurising us to implement, to the letter, BEDCO’s mandate, which is the incubation of small businesses. But how can we achieve this without funding?

“I appear before Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee on a regular basis and get grilled over our failure to collect rent from you. We find ourselves paying money to the LRA on behalf of these defaulting tenants.

“The LRA has asked us to give proof that we have evicted these defaulting tenants and there would be a reduction in the taxes we pay, hence the decision to expel them.

“Again when LRA officials come to you for tax, you don’t make any excuses the way you do when we ask for our rent. That’s why we are saying you either pay up or leave our premises as we cannot continue to have this state of affairs,” said Mr Likhang.

BEDCO, he added, had requested M6million from government in the 2015/2016 national budget, in order to fulfil its obligations.

“This M6million is going to go a long way towards addressing our infrastructure-maintenance needs and even resuscitating some of our facilities as incubation centres for businesses,” said Mr Likhang.

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