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Breaking the cycle of poverty

by Lesotho Times
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IN HIS speech to the Private Sector Foundation of Lesotho last weekend, Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili hit the proverbial nail on the head by identifying the urgent need for reforming the country’s investment climate to attract the much needed foreign investor inflows and arrest the scourge of poverty and squalor that have become a byword for the Kingdom.
Drawing on the lessons of Singapore, a small state whose growth has stunned all and sundry over the years, Mosisili called for a drastic transformation of the mindset of the local citizenry if the country is ever going to attain the goals of Vision 2020. 
He also spoke of the need for appropriate business skills if the private sector is to play a meaningful role in Lesotho’s development.
He called for entrepreneurial innovation and creativity to break the cycle of poverty and the need for a national economic empowerment strategy that includes skills training, access to credit and close monitoring and evaluation.
The PM’s remarks would naturally have come as music to the ears of anyone who has attempted to do business in Lesotho.
Mere recognition by those in power that certain things ought to change for progress to be achieved is in itself an important pre-requisite for reform. This is particularly true on this continent where politicians routinely recline to their cosy nooks and often lose sight of reality. 
It’s neither an uncharitable nor an unpatriotic sentiment to say Lesotho is currently ill-equipped to spearhead development entirely on its own terms. 
We lack the economic prowess to be in charge of our own destiny. We badly need foreign investment. 
There are many things that the government can do to help improve the investment climate in the country. There are many laws and regulations that are not investor friendly.
For instance, it is hard to fathom the logic behind the two-tier permit system that the government maintains for foreign investors.
Once a work permit has been approved after an arduous process, a foreigner is required to undertake an arduous process of applying for a residence permit. 
Why not copy the system in South Africa in which a work permit doubles as a residence permit?
Surely can any sane investor be expected to plough millions into Lesotho and then commute from Beijing, or even Johannesburg daily to run their businesses?
The sooner this archaic two tier system is abolished the better.
Then there is also the unrealistic regulation barring foreigners from owning title on land.
True, there are some countries in the world which restrict foreign ownership of their land. But these are mostly developed countries in the West that can afford such luxuries.  
How are we going to entice foreign investment moguls to come and build hotels in our fabulous mountains and help us attract investment when we at the same time deny them the rights to own title on land to provide security to any international financiers who bankroll such mammoth investments?
The regulations barring foreigners to own land are an unnecessary relic that will keep on doing more harm than good. The law needs to be abolished yesterday.
And what about those charged with marketing this country to the outside world and with promoting foreign investment? What are they being paid for? 
The biggest bonanza ever to come to Africa, the 2010 World Cup, is just around the corner. But what has Lesotho done to capitalise on this event?
It has been repeatedly said that South Africa is not going to cope with accommodation requirements for the 400 000 plus visitors expected for the event.
Have we thought of our country as a source of accommodation for the foreign soccer tourists who will stream into Bloemfontein and vigorously marketed the idea to Fifa?
Has anyone thought of Lesotho granting wholesale visa waivers to foreigners who may want to use accommodation facilities here during the World Cup period for ease of travel to Bloemfontein, one of the host cities?     
African countries like Lesotho remain perennial laggards because we have failed to take advantage of opportunities when they beckon. 
The Prime Minister is right in demanding a change of mindset if Lesotho is ever to progress.
But the government surely needs to do a lot to foster a good investment climate and to transform our education system to produce competent Basotho entrepreneurs.
We need to stop being a nation of whingers. We need to stop behaving like the world owes us a living. We need to breed capitalists who can run and manage businesses.
With the right mindset and with the natural beauty of our country, we could be a little Kuwait.

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