‘Diversification is key’

 

New Lesotho National Development Corporation Chief Executive Officer Kelebone Leisanyane outlines his vision for the parastatal

 

THE Lesotho National Development Corporation (LNDC) opened yet another new chapter this week when Kelebone Leisanyane assumed the leadership of the government-owned investment and trade promotion showcase.

Mr Leisanyane took over from Mr Tseko Bohloa, who had been Caretaker Chief Executive Officer (CEO) since Joshua Setipa’s suspension on 11 December 2013 and his departure by “mutual consent” on 30 April 2014.

In this wide-ranging interview, Mr Leisanyane, who was Loti Brick managing director before joining the LNDC, tells Lesotho Times (LT) reporter, Lekhetho Ntsukunyane, how he found himself in the world of business, and his vision for the Corporation.

LT: Could you please tell us, in a nutshell, who Mr Kelebone Leisanyane is?

Leisanyane: I am an industrial engineer by profession. I went to the University College in Galway, in the Republic of Ireland, and graduated in 1984. I then grew up in the milling industry as I joined Lesotho Flour Mills straight from university. I joined the company as a production engineer, then worked my way through operations and to the top technical level of the company. This all happened in 17 years, from 1984 to 2001. So I was involved in the whole complex of Lesotho Flour Mills as it developed in stages. Even as we speak, I am in the board of directors of the company because of that experience.

LT: So why did you leave when it appeared things were happening for you, so to speak?

Leisanyane: When I joined Lesotho Flour Mills, the government had endorsed a strategy of localisation for the company. So, basically, Basotho students were employed straight from colleges. But somewhere around 1998, during military rule, the situation changed; privatisation was introduced, and localisation was done away with. Lesotho Flour Mills was then privatised. It meant the company then had new owners, and that meant the Americans were to bring in new directors; managing, financial and operations. So basically, I was now more or less playing second fiddle to an expatriate. So I decided to leave because the only way up was to head the organisation, and it was clear that I could not achieve it. So I left in 2001.

I was then invited by the government to join Telecom Lesotho as a director; this is the same company which is now called Econet Telecom Lesotho after a merger that took place in 2008. I remained a member of the board until 2010. However, when I left Lesotho Flour Mills, I took up an interesting career at IEMS, where I taught Operations Management and Statistics from 2001 to 2006. I then joined Loti Brick (a brickmaking parastatal) in 2006, as managing director.

LT: Now that you are in a different organisation with its own distinct mandate, what are your plans?

Leisanyane: I think this is an important organisation, which has the capacity to change the landscape of our economy. The emphasis has largely been on the textile sector; that is where the organisation has invested a lot of energy. Obviously there is a lot of employment in that area, but there are risks also. You must have heard that even up to now, we are still waiting for the American Congress to extend AGOA (African Growth and Opportunity Act, which is a special facility that allows certain goods from qualifying developing nations to enter the US duty-free and is supposed to expire in 2015). Yes, the United States Government and President Barrack Obama believe it could be done but there are still issues around that. Obviously, there is uncertainty regarding the extension of AGOA. However, we hope it will eventually come through.

My vision is to have different phases in our strategy; the first is diversification, which is key. That is to say you must not put all your eggs in one basket. I know many of the LNDC staff will agree with me that a lot of effort has been put in automotive value chain initiatives. But now I want us, as the LNDC, to also look at the agroindustry very closely as it is also very key in the country’s economy. I will tell you why it is important; we can bring in a big investor who will engage ordinary Basotho to make sure the investment is fruitful. Take for instance, pork products such as bacon; if you go to Shoprite and Pick n Pay supermarkets, you find that the volumes of these products are huge. But Basotho cannot bring their pork to these shops because the required standard of hygiene and quality are very high. If we then get a foreign investor to come and set-up a facility with the required standards, and engage Basotho in the project, we will be empowering our people. This can also contribute to the issue of creating 10,000 jobs per year, which is a target set by the Government.

LT: But then, how exactly are you going to boost the agroindustry, which as you rightly say, has struggled to develop to the expected commercial standards?

Leisanyane: Basotho should really feel that the agroindustry exists. We already have a cannery in Masianokeng, for instance. I believe what I would simply need to do is put more emphasis that the facility must be expanded. It started with the production of asparagus, and then peaches, and I understand that recently, it was producing canned tomatoes. We need to expand this because Basotho can grow all these crops. If we can expand that to include other cash crops, I believe we can make an impact. We will create jobs and grow the economy. So, I am very excited to have been given this opportunity.

LT: What are the other strategies that you are hoping to put in place?

Leisanyane: After diversification, there should be import-substitution. We need to sit down with our statistics department staff to find out what products we are importing that we can manufacture or grow ourselves. Basotho go out of the country in large numbers to import products, some of which we can do ourselves. We just need guidance and programmes which will help us access the market and produce valuable products. But most importantly, we must support our local industries. It is one thing to bring in investment and it is another to keep it. I will give you a typical example of where I come from; Loti Brick, where they are making some of the best bricks you can find in the world. And this top quality is because we have good clay soils here in our country. We do not do anything much; we do not even put colour into the clay, but when you check them, you will notice that they have brilliant colours. But at the same time, there is some store being built by the government somewhere and the bricks being used come from outside the country. The nearest plant for that is in Bloemfontein, South Africa. The question one should then ask is; why is this happening? Why not get the bricks from Loti Brick?

LT: How are you going to change this perception that local is not good enough?

Leisanyane: It’s high time that at this organisation which I am now heading, you will not get a tender if you do not specify how you will support the local industry. We have already engaged the Ministry of Public Works and Transport to ensure Lesotho products are specified. The bottom line is; we must support local industries. I am only using Loti Brick as an example because it is still fresh in my mind. But we must support all the other industries that we brought into Lesotho and are now local. Coming to the garment industry, although I understand it is being diversified, I still don’t know where our army and police uniforms are being manufactured, for instance, and that should be a business done by Basotho. These uniforms must be made locally. This is just the lobbying part of my strategy. When I met with the Minister (of Trade and Industry) earlier, I mentioned to him that Ireland was in a very similar situation to Lesotho, although not entirely the same. You have Ireland close to a very big power, the United Kingdom (UK). There was also that feeling that Ireland’s industry was being dominated by the UK. But not until a strategy called Buy-Ireland was introduced. I am not sure if we can get away with Buy-Lesotho, but I know for sure that it worked well with the Irish. It was powerful. All I am saying is that we should support each other as Basotho. So in a nutshell, these are issues I think we need to work on. However, I am not dismissing the fact that we also need to be efficient as an organisation in the way that we conduct our business.

LT: Your appointment into the LNDC comes shortly after controversial reports concerning the previous CEO and his acrimonious relationship with the Board. Would you want to comment on this?

Leisanyane: My recruitment was made by the current Board, and out of many other applicants, I was selected. That is to say they believe I am going to approach issues differently. I can already assure you that the support I am being given is incredible. We are working together and that is how things should be. You will remember that following problems with the previous CEO, there has been a gap before I came in, whereby there was a Caretaker CEO, Mr Tseko Bohloa, who I realised, tried his best to address some of these issues affecting the LNDC. So, I think it is just a matter of approach when facing issues. I come with a vision, but I still need to know how things are done here. And gradually, I will make a difference. I can tell you that we are not going to take a very long time before  things are on track here. I will be doing this consultatively. Remember I am just an engineer myself. I cannot know everything. But also, don’t forget that I have 30 years of experience working in the private sector since 1984. It’s a long time,but I still have the energy.

LT: Attracting investment is one of the key functions of the LNDC. How do you intend to go about this differently from the previous LNDC leadership?

Leisanyane: Investing in this country is not that much of a problem. The chain of foreign investors coming in with the intention to start businesses is enormous. What we need to do is speed-up our infrastructure development for these investors. We need to partner with our friends, such as LEC and WASA. I would want to head a team that will meet with them to facilitate what we call a Service Level Agreement. This is a different concept now. It is a private sector concept that; when we want to establish factory shells somewhere, and need electricity and water systems or connections, we should have an agreement with them that we do not go the long route because here, we are dealing with investors. Basically, what I am saying is; we need infrastructure development geared towards the needs of the LNDC. And if we are able to achieve that, it means we will also be selective in bringing in investors based on our needs as Basotho. We should strive for our comparative advantage, not competitive advantage, considering our terrain and people. The LNDC has been in existence for over 40 years. It is one of the most important parastatals the Government has established. But I will tell you that people don’t know much about it. What I would want to do before I leave in three years is to take this Corporation to a level it deserves to be – to the people. It is Lesotho’s premier organisation; we should be a lot more visible. We can change lives. There is also a wealth of experience in this organization, which should be utilized for the benefit of Basotho.

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