Historic milestone

YESTERDAY marked an historic day since Lesotho’s independence in 1966 as the country’s first world-class shopping mall opened its doors for business.
Hearty congratulations to everyone who has made the milestone possible — from the project funders to the tenants.
At a time the global economic crisis has started to bite in Lesotho, the Pioneer Mall can only be a harbinger of the good things to come.
The excitement that greeted the opening of the mall just demonstrates how much Basotho badly needed such a development within our own borders.
For years locals have had to cross the border into South Africa to purchase even the most basic of goods.
This means Basotho have wasted money driving or catching taxis to Bloemfontein to buy things that under normal circumstances should never be unavailable in their own country.
This too means we have contributed immensely to the thriving of businesses in South Africa at the expense of tiny Lesotho.
Yet all this has happened not because Basotho are simply not patriotic enough to support local businesses.
Thousands have crossed the border for shopping trips because the local shops either have limited stocks or do not have certain products.
Thus we welcome the development of Maseru’s new mall which is expected to house over 50 tenants.
Among them are shops such as Pick ‘n Pay and Sheet Street as well as a cinema.
Now, people of this kingdom will no longer have to cross the border to buy fast food from famous outlets such as Spur, Steers and Ocean Basket.
But beyond the convenience and choice that the new mall has brought, a lot of jobs have been created.
Hundreds, including casual workers, have been involved in the construction of the mall.
Many more have been employed to work in the shops and for other tenants of the mall.
As government ministers and MPs join the hundreds who are expected to keep the mall busy, they should ask themselves one serious question.
What are they doing to encourage similar developments?
Judging by Lesotho’s inhospitable business environment, we have no doubt it has been a gruelling challenge for Moruo Development to erect Pioneer Mall.
From an unattractive land tenure system to difficult prerequisites such as huge withholding taxes, Lesotho cannot be said to be the most attractive of business environments.
That is why probably it has taken nearly half-a-century since independence from colonial rule to have our first proper shopping mall — not the unimaginative “complexes” dotted around the capital.
And if the government does not offer incentives to investors, it might take us as many years to have another major development in the country.
Some of Lesotho’s regulations simply scare away potential investors.
For instance, it boggles the mind why it takes months to register a company in Lesotho when in countries like the war-ravaged Ethiopia it takes only a few days.
Why, for goodness sake, does it take months for an investor to get a business or work permit when it takes days in other countries?
We must start doing away with unnecessary bureaucracy if we want to be the preferred destination for investors.
The government must remember we are not the only ones looking for investors.
As things stand, there is nothing special about our country that can easily attract foreign investors.
And if an investor gets irritated here, they simply take their money elsewhere.
Period!
For a country that does not have many natural resources, Lesotho must work hard to attract the few investors who might look our way.
We would like to warn the government to dispense with its obsession with donors.
Instead, the powers-that-be must sit down and come up with policies that encourage investments such as Pioneer Mall.
We do not want Maseru to continue resembling a medieval city shorn of modern infrastructure and services.
Otherwise it will take us nearly another half-a-century to have another world-class shopping mall.

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