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Anger over Chinese businesses

FORMER Mining Minister, Lebohang Thotanyana, says Lesotho is shooting itself in the foot by allowing Chinese companies that win major construction tenders to import everything from China.   Thotanyana was speaking at the Basotho Business Empowerment Forum on Tuesday.  The forum was organised by the Micro, Small, and Medium Enterprise (MSME) Association.

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Thotanyana told the forum that of all the Southern African Customs Union (SACU) countries, Lesotho is the one benefitting the least from hiring Chinese-owned companies for major infrastructure projects. 

Thotanyana said Chinese companies tend to “import everything save menial labour” in every government job they win.

“We only benefit minimally with the labour force,” Thotanyana said, adding that “more money goes back to the countries that have brought their own machinery”.

“This is exactly what is happening at the Polihali Dam which is under construction.” 

“There should be a value chain so that the economy grows.”

Tempers flared at the forum as local business owners accused the government of failing to protect them against Chinese businesses. 

The forum revealed the growing frustration among local business owners who feel the government is not doing enough to protect them against Chinese business muscling them out of sectors reserved for them. 

The local business owners criticised the government for failing to implement the Business Licensing and Registration Act 2019 that reserves certain businesses for indigenous Basotho. 

They told the Principal Secretary of the Ministry of Trade, Thabo Moleko, together with a handful of MPs in attendance, that their patience had worn out.

“We want our business from the Chinese and Indians,” Thobei Motlere, the president of the MSME Association said.

“We are not afraid of these Chinese,” he added, adding that they could approach them head-on.

“We want to see the Act implemented now, not tomorrow or any other time. We want to push them out of the business peacefully. We want peace.”

Motlere said they have been pushed out of business by the Chinese yet there is a law to protect them “against unfair competition”.

“We have elected you as MPs but you are doing nothing to save us from the competition yet there is a law in place,” Motlere said.

The MPs tried to respond to some of the issues people but they were booed and heckled. 

“This is not the right place to answer. You should address this in parliament, not here,” said one woman in the crowd. 

Some MPs walked out of the forum in protest but were eventually coaxed to return to their chairs. 

’Maremi ’Mabathoana, a street vendor, said the Chinese sell almost every item.

“We buy from their shops so that we can sell small items. But the Chinese also sell small items,” ’Mabathoana said.

“When we sell a sweet for M1, they sell it for 50c,” she yelled.

“When we sell apples for M4, the Chinese sell them for M2. This is unfair.”

Moeketsi Motšoane, the Mafeteng MP who is the chairman of the parliament’s Natural Resources committee, said he is also facing similar challenges in his home district.

Trying to calm the irked traders, Motšoane said he could bet that some people were being used by the Chinese to kick Basotho out of business.

“There are such people amongst you who are being used by the Chinese to knock Basotho out of business,” Motšoane said.

He told the Ministry of Trade to move swiftly to implement the Act.

“If you do not implement the Act, we will drag you before the committee to account,” he said.

 Moleko, the principal secretary of Trade,  promised to implement the law. 

Majara Molupe

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