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Power debt cripples Trade ministry operations

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Bereng Mpaki

BUSINESS has come to a halt at the Ministry of Trade and Industry after the Lesotho Electricity Company (LEC) cut the ministry’s power off over unpaid bills.

Although it could not be ascertained how much the Trade ministry is owing, late last month, the LEC started cutting off power supply to several clients who owe it huge amounts of money. Among them is the Ministry of Trade headquarters in Maseru, which has gone without power for the past three weeks.

The unavailability of power has forced the ministry to stop offering various services to its clients.

LEC resorted to cutting off defaulters last month claiming that it is owed M260 million in unpaid bills, with some are more than 10 years old. The company said the huge debt was crippling its operations.

LEC public relations manager Makhetha Motšoari, recently told our sister publication, the Sunday Express, that clients will only be reconnected to power after settling their debts.

While he could not disclose the names of the defaulting clients, he said most were government ministries and large corporates among others.

He said of the outstanding M260 million, M170 million is owed by government ministries and large companies, while M90 million is owed by individuals and smaller businesses.

Last month, Maseru region Chief Magistrate ‘Matankiso Nthunya told the Lesotho Times that the Maseru Magistrate’s Court had been cut off for owing the utility company M1, 3 million.

Fako Hakane, the general secretary of the Lesotho Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI), said the chamber was concerned by the negative impact the power cut at the Ministry of Trade was having on business.

“This is a significant setback to the business community because people cannot get new licences and renew existing ones,” Mr Hakane said.

He said three weeks was a long time for businesses to be without operational documents and this could result in loss business opportunities.

“It is unfortunate that something like this happens during a time when our economy has already taken a knock from the Covid-19 pandemic, and this is only going to compound our problems.”

Mr Hakane said it was disheartening to see the government failing to pay its own parastatals. There is therefore a need for a change of mindset among public servants as business is being caught in between.

“This is not the LEC’s problem, the government owes most of its parastatals and this is mostly due to dereliction of duty by the people entrusted with leading government ministries and departments as evidenced by this act of failing to fulfil elementary tasks.

“It is wrong for ministries to assume that they do not have to pay for services obtained from parastatals. It is high time that individuals responsible for such practices are taken to task for non-performance because this also means is that the government’s revenue collection has suffered during the power outage.”

Contacted for comment this week, Ministry of Trade spokesperson Lihaelo Nkaota said they have started paying the debt and power would be restored soon.

“We are already working with the LEC to restore normalcy. Power should be restored any time from now,” Ms Nkaota said.

She could however, not be drawn into revealing the amount that her ministry is owing the LEC.

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