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Maseru

Small business locked out

Business

…Owes over M2m worth of rent

…Sophonea blames Small business PS’s incompetence

Mohloai Mpesi

The Ministry of Small Business Development, Co-operatives and Marketing has been locked out of its offices at the new building opposite Pitso Ground in Maseru for failure to pay rent.

The development was confirmed by the Minister of Small Business Development, Machesetsa Mofomobe, in an interview with this publication on Wednesday this week.

Mofomobe further said it’s not only Maseru, but even offices in different districts.

Finance Minister, Thabo Sophonea, on the other hand lashed out saying this happened because the Small Business Ministry’s PS was sleeping on the job instead of ensuring that the ministry pays its bills on time.

Mofomobe disclosed that his ministry owed over M2 million in rentals for the offices in Maseru and other districts including Mokhotlong.

“It is not only in Maseru where the ministry has been locked out of its offices. Our offices in Mokhotlong have also been locked out because we owe rent and there is no money to pay,” he said.

“The Maseru office whose monthly rentals are over M300 000 per month owes about M2 million. Offices in districts pay about M10 000 of rent per month,” the minister added.

He laid the blame for the ministry’s failure to pay its debts on the doorstep of the Ministry of Finance.

He said the Ministry of Finance was dragging its feet in the disbursement of funds to his ministry, frustrating their operations.

“The ministry was sinking in debts when I arrived,” he said.

Mofomobe was appointed Minister of Small Business in September last year. The post was previously held by Thesele ‘Maseribane who resigned to take up the post of the country’s ambassador to Italy.

“When I arrived I wrote to the Ministry of Finance requesting financial assistance because I wanted to compile a list of all the businesses we owed money so as to process their payments at once.

“They only gave us M2 million, it was not enough to pay all the debts accumulated,” Mofomobe said.

He said the Ministry of Finance only released M2 million in April this year despite the knowledge that the Ministry of Small Business needed more than that.

He further told this publication that his ministry also owed more than M2 million to a business which was contracted to renovate Basotho Enterprise Development Cooperation (BEDCO) offices.

“There is also a lot of money amounting to about M8 million that we owe to Basotho who have provided services to the ministry. The only solution is that the Ministry of Finance should give us money.

“We are willing to pay our debts but the problem is with the Ministry of Finance. It disburses funds quarterly so we will have to wait for it,” he said.

Sophonea, pushed back saying the Principal Secretary (PS) of the Ministry of Small Business, Nonkululeko Zaly, is responsible for ensuring that the ministry settles its debts on time.

He said the PS had to report to the Accountant General well on time that the ministry was struggling to settle its debts instead of waiting until it has been locked out of offices.

“The payments are made by the Accountant General,” he said.

Accountant General, ‘Malehlohonolo Mahase, told this publication last night that rent payments for the Ministry of Small Business have already been made.

“Yes, they (Ministry of Small Business) did request payments of their rent although I cannot remember the dates. The payments have been processed. The authorisation was made and send to the Central Bank today (yesterday) to make a payment, meaning they are expected to open offices tomorrow (today),” Mahase said.

She indicated that approved payments are M500,000 for rent in Maseru, M20,000 and M50,000 for Mokhotlong and Teyateyaneng, respectively.

Sophonea yesterday emphasised that it was the responsibility of individual ministries to use their funds for the purposes they are meant for.

“If there is a problem with making payments on time, their PSs should communicate with the Accountant General to avoid situations like this one from happening,” he said.

“It is their responsibility (Ministry of Small Business) to ensure that they pay their bills which includes electricity, water and rent,” he added.

The minister said the matter has been politicized to score political points.

“I blame the PS of Small Business because it is her responsibility as Chief Accounting Officer to ensure that all bills are paid. We know how she works.

“She is politicising this because we are now going to the elections. She is playing at a field to get people to start blaming my ministry saying the Minister of Finance is not doing his job. She wants me to be blamed for things done by other people deliberately.

“They have been sleeping on their job and when the ministry is closed they start running to the Ministry of Finance because they are politicising things so that they can say Sophonea is not giving them money,” he said.

Newsday was unable to reach Zally yesterday for comment.

In February last year, the Ministry of Small Business Development announced that its offices, previously located at the Fairways Plaza as well as the Lesotho National Development Cooperation (LNDC), had been relocated to the Mpilo Boutique Hotel.

This publication reported that the ministry would pay no less than M60 million in rentals to the Matekane Group of Companies (MGC).

This publication was privy to a seven-year sub-lease contract signed by the ministry’s former PS, Tankiso Phapano, and the MGC empire boss, Sam Matekane.

The ministry then later moved to the new building opposite Pitso Ground in Maseru where they are now currently situated.

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