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Maseru

Government’s unhealthy relationship with Chinese

Business

Rapelang Mokotsolane Mosae

“Moruo Ke Bophelo”! That was the rallying cry of the RFP when campaigning for elections, they promised economic growth and putting the economy back into the hands of Basotho. They portrayed an understanding of the intricate relationship between economic emancipation and the dignity of a human being. This very promise and understanding are what all those who voted for them bought into. A promise was necessary as Basotho were fast becoming consumers and beggars in their land.

Alas! The RFP is fast approaching its 2nd anniversary as the leaders of government in Lesotho, and the economy is no more in the hands of Basotho than it was before they took over. While one cannot deny the improvements that the current government is making, it is interesting to note that Basotho are once more at the fringes of these developments while the Chinese are benefitting greatly.

Now, there are several reasons why the former government fell, but one cannot consider those reasons without pondering on the wool and mohair debacle, and perhaps even placing it at the top of that list.

For decades Basotho farmers have relied on the proceeds from their wool and mohair sales to feed their families, clothe and educate their children as well, and lead lives of sustainability and independence. Governments came and went, and this industry remained largely undisturbed and prospering until the past government invited into this industry a Chinese man called Stone Shi.

What Stone the Chinaman did to the wool and mohair industry is nothing short of a massacre. The once-independent men and women who used to pride themselves on not depending on the government, found themselves with their caps in hand looking to the government for intervention.

What was once a thriving industry out of reach and sight of those who would seek to enrich themselves at the hands of the hard-working Mosotho became a “gold rush” where fortunes were made. Of course, these fortunes passed right over the rightful owners of the product, into the pockets of Stone and his cronies in power.

The wool and mohair farmers were driven to begging for monies due to them and as we speak some of them have yet to receive their dues and the industry is on its knees.  It is easy for some of us to think of wool and mohair farmers in the abstract until we realise these are real people who can now no longer afford to feed, clothe and educate their children. It is even more tragic when you realize that this devastation led some to the point of suicide maintaining Lesotho’s number 1 spot as the suicide capital of the world.

Ours was a country left devasted and with no hope of reprieve in sight until the RFP entered the scene. Here was a party, led by men and women who were in business themselves and had felt the brunt of doing business with a greedy government that would prioritise foreign interests over those of the people who put them in power, just to line their own pockets.

In the RFP, Basotho believed that their businesses would for once enjoy the benefit of a government that understood how important it was for the citizens to be part of the economic value chain not only as consumers but as producers and distributors. Imagine the surprising realization that Basotho have merely traded one devil for the next, albeit one painted in purple over the red and yellow ones of old.

If successive governments of Lesotho never had a reason to distrust the Chinese, the Stone Shi/Wool and Mohair farmers’ debacle ought to have been enough to approach the Chinese with at the very least a ten-foot pole. But lo and behold, the government once believed to be the savior of Basotho business interests, seems to be firmly in bed with the same Chinese.

The RFP seems to be at pains to paint themselves as passengers on the Chinese gravy train like the governments before it.  Instead of ridding themselves of the Chinese and giving large lucrative projects to Basotho, the government has turned its attention to the Chinese, awarding Chinese Construction companies tender after tender, while Basotho look on in disbelief. With the wool and mohair industry well and truly on its knees and with nothing left to bleed from it, the Chinese have turned their attention to the construction industry and the RFP is serving the industry on a silver platter.

Basotho construction companies have been appealing to parliament to intervene between themselves and Chinese construction companies. The cause of the disagreement was the refusal by the Chinese to pay millions of Maloti owed to these Basotho for work done under partnerships with the Chinese.

It cannot be gainsaid that these partnerships were supposed to benefit Basotho but have instead left them more impoverished than when they entered into them. The government in a strange sort of wisdom decided to reward the Chinese by giving them work at the loss of legitimately owned Basotho companies.

It has since surfaced that the long-awaited project of refurbishment of roads in Maseru has been awarded to Unik Construction, a company that has faced controversy in Botswana over defrauding the Botswana government and the World Bank in a road construction project where it (Unik) submitted fraudulent pre-qualifying experience for the project.

Unik has further faced blacklisting by the World Bank for a period of 2 years, a period in which reports indicate that it continued to operate in blatant disregard of the World Bank ban. It is worth noting further that this award to Unik happened when the Maseru City Council (MCC) was in legal proceedings where it was left with egg on its face for awarding a multi-million Maloti project on the Mpilo Boulevard intersections wherein two Chinese companies leading that project submitted fraudulent bank guarantees.

One would have assumed this would cause the government to tread carefully when interacting with Chinese companies, but it seems to have instead added to the government’s zeal to embrace them more.

Scores of Basotho Construction companies were excited by the announcement of the Lesotho Lowlands Water Development Project, which promised to give lucrative work to many Basotho Construction companies. However, with the awarding of the first two lots under the construction aspect being awarded to two Chinese construction companies namely Unik Construction and CNQC, it seems Basotho are faced with the rude awakening that they will once again be doomed to playing second fiddle to the Chinese.

There is something decidedly strange about a government that would see a systematic impoverishment of its people happening within its own borders and turn around to reward those who are doing it. Why is the RFP-led government continuing to take food from the mouths of Basotho and give it to the Chinese? What benefits are they deriving from this unholy alliance?

Whatever the answer may be to these questions, there is a silent cry from Basotho over their exclusion in the economy, contrary to what was promised ahead of the elections. The RFP-led government would do well to listen, because as the ancient African proverb goes; “The child who is not embraced by the village, will burn it down to feel its warmth”.

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