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‘Vodacom committed to assisting Covid-19 fight’

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THE Vodacom Group and Vodafone Foundation have pledged US$1 million (about M15 million) for the purchase of Covid-19 vaccines. The pledge came at an opportune time when the Lesotho government is stepping up its fight against the killer virus. It is in this context that the Lesotho Times (LT) editor, Herbert Moyo, this week engaged Mr Tepo Ntaopane, Vodacom Lesotho’s Head of Corporate and Legal Affairs to elaborate on Vodacom’s noble initiative. Below are excerpts of the interview.

LT: Last week the Vodacom Group and Vodafone Foundation pledged to donate

US$1 million to secure Covid-19 vaccines. When is the pledge going to be paid?

Mr Ntaopane: As soon as the formalities and governance processes are finalised, the funds pledged will be paid to the Lesotho Government’s vaccine supplier of choice, duly accredited to provide the vaccines.

LT: In what form is the pledge going to come?

Mr Ntaopane: The pledge of US$1 million worth of vaccines will be paid directly to the approved vaccine supplier. What the government and the nation will receive will be the vaccines for distribution. We chose to procure vaccines because the greatest need in Lesotho currently is for vaccine procurement to ensure that maximum number of Basotho are vaccinated. 

LT: When can we expect the delivery of vaccines?

Mr Ntaopane: As soon as the formalities and governance processes are finalised and payment is made to the approved vaccine supplier, we expect the supplier will give the government the necessary timelines for delivery. While supply issues could delay the process, we hope that delivery of the vaccines will be effected as quickly as possible.

 LT: Who is going to benefit from the vaccines and how are they going to be distributed?

Mr Ntaopane: The beneficiaries are Basotho and the vaccines will be distributed in accordance with the vaccine distribution plans as set out by the Ministry of Health.

 LT: Lesotho has more than 1, 6 million people who need to be vaccinated. Should we expect further donations?

Mr Ntaopane: The doses that will be procured by our donation will go a long way towards reaching the targets that the government needs to achieve and call on other private sector companies to also heed the government’s call so that the entire Lesotho population is covered.

 LT: Why did you choose to deliver assistance directly to the government instead of joining up with fellow businesses in the initiative to raise funds for vaccines?

Mr Ntaopane: Vodacom is guided by its Foundation’s governance principles and policies in how the pledge will be processed to ensure that it is for benefit of Basotho. To this end, the pledge has been made to the government on behalf of Basotho through UNICEF and WHO approved mechanisms.

I need to stress that we have always been part of the private sector initiative but have always advised colleagues within the initiative as follows:

  • given the governance of Foundation funds within Vodacom/Vodafone, how the pledge would be made may not necessarily be to the private sector fund but directly to the government.
  • any funds pledged will not go into any bank account other than to the designated vaccine supplier, as approved by the government
  • Foundation funding can only benefit beneficiaries other than Vodacom employees – vaccines go directly to benefit the national vaccination drive. The private sector initiative in part is intended to start with private sector employees, which is strictly forbidden in our case.

As a result of the foregoing, the decision of who the beneficiary would be was guided by these considerations hence the mechanism we have put in place.

LT: You are aware that this has raised suspicion with social media posts accusing you of “buying favours” in light of your ongoing legal battles with the Lesotho Communications Authority (LCA)?

Mr Ntaopane: We reject the allegations as false and baseless. Vodacom is a responsible corporate citizen and, through our social contract, we are committed to assisting governments where we operate in curbing the spread of the pandemic. In Lesotho, government called on all private sector companies to assist and we responded by making funds available through Vodacom Group and Vodafone Foundation – in line with rigorous governance processes.

LT: You launched the “Local supplier empowerment”. Can you explain what this is about?

Mr Ntaopane: We have been working with the Ministry of Communications, Science and Technology and our regulator (LCA) to increase the participation of indigenous Basotho companies within the telecoms sector. This therefore calls for us as an operator to identify local companies that can supply and provide services to us. Secondly it also calls on us to proactively develop mechanisms to develop an end-to-end local ecosystem that ensures that we build local capacity to be able to support us in delivering services to Basotho. We acknowledge that there may be a lot of constraints, but we are committed to walking the journey with suppliers to ensure that they qualify and are able to meet rigorous standards so that more money generated locally is spent locally. We will shortly be publishing a request for expression of Interest as we expand our data base of truly local suppliers and will run a series of advertorials detailing what suppliers need to be aware of to become approved suppliers. This is an exciting development that can truly make a lasting impact.

 LT: You have been busy and have also launched a new tagline: “Further Together”. Can you give us more information on the motivation?

Mr Ntaopane: “Further Together” is a Group-wide rebrand initiative as the entire group focuses on people – the communities we service, each and every one of you as core to the company’s purpose. What we are saying as a company is that we can have the best products and solutions or the best technologies but if humanity is not central there is no purpose. This is Vodacom Lesotho connecting to our true purpose. We are saying we will go much further together.

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