MASERU – With Lesotho facing unemployment rate of 32.8 percent and even high in youths aged 15 to 24 at 43.2 percent, the village of Ha ‘Matjotjo in the Tebe-Tebe Council of the Teyateyaneng constituency, in Berea, is not spared the anguish. 90 percent of the village’s youth are forced to leave the country and seek employment in neighbouring South Africa, to mostly work as domestic workers and in the construction sector.
The area chief of the remote Berea district North of the country, Boleme ‘Matjotjo, says that his community solely depend on farming for survival since his village and surrounding areas have no projects or any form of job opportunities both for the youths and elders.
He says for survival, most of the youth who dropped out of school and those that failed to get into tertiary institutions because of financial constraints and cannot find jobs in the country, desert the area and cross into South Africa “for greener pastures.”
‘Matjotjo says some of these young people cross into the republic legally using the Lesotho Special Permit while others go there unlawfully as they do not have required documents to work in the country.
He says this has seen a worrying development in this village whose progress has been stationery for years, with a few young people that have remained home – disillusioned.
“We do not have a lot of youth in the village. Most of the children quit school after turning 20 for them to be able to respond to their everyday needs, they go to South Africa for job opportunities as they struggle to get jobs here at home.
The remaining ones go through the paces each day, but one can see that they are very discouraged as they have nothing productive to do in terms of projects or even extra mural activities,” ‘Matjotjo tells Public Eye.
He adds that: “Here we survive through farming but it is not enough to take care of our needs. We have to find ways to subsidize it, therefore letting our children leave the country to seek for job opportunities in other countries is the only option we have.” Ha Matjotjo is one of the villages in the country that faces high unemployment rate.
Last year in November, the country’s youth petitioned the government demanding that unemployment be declared a national state of disaster in line with the appropriate and relevant sections of the Disaster Management Act, 1997, to allow the government of Lesotho to be intentional and decisive about bringing unemployment to a controllable low.
They wanted government’s policies to be based on youth employment, arguing that government’s procurement policy could change to prioritizing businesses started and run by youth and/or require government suppliers to employ at least 25 percent youth at managerial and operational level.
Speaking on youth unemployment Chartered Accountant, and Chartered Governance Professional, Robert Likhang, says the this sad reality is a serious current concern in that the young brains are not able to contribute to the economy of the country. Likhang continues that the few working people are burdened to support their siblings and children, much of the money go for consumption and not made available to be invested into the economy meaningfully.
He says the country’s economy will in the long run suffer as the current generation will not have been sufficiently developed through employment experience to be able to contribute meaningfully during the future.
He notes that the sponsorship offered by government through the National Manpower Development Secretariat will have come to waste if not put to use.
“There will be less funding for the future pension thus threatening the sufficiency of pension fund for government employees. Pension fund grows by reinvestment of pension deductions, the size of pension fund depends a lot on current inflows, and if there are insufficient inflows, it will be difficult to pay meaningful pensions to future pensioners.
The growth of any economy depends on the fund operating in the economy, with low funds because people are not working, the economy will be sluggish even to negative growth,” Likhang notes.
He says government has several schemes to develop entrepreneurship in particular efforts by the ministry responsible amongst others things the youth, ministry responsible for agriculture, ministry responsible for small businesses, and efforts of BEDCO and the LNDC.
“You also may recognize efforts by LRA, Standard Bank, Econet, Lesotho Brewing Company, Vodacom and others not known to me. Whilst these are recognizable efforts, they are too unfocussed, too scattered, and too little.
To address the issues of youth entrepreneurship, Government can use ONLY one institution to channel and direct and focus all the assistance, and that is BEDCO,” he points out.
“Unfortunately BEDCO is the most important organisation yet the most neglected, and under financed as such it is undernourished to be effective. All government programmes on entrepreneurship should be handled by this organisation and not scattered around everywhere, in that way we will not see impact.”
“We need to build BEDCO into a giant force, that is, move responsibilities currently under LNDC or various ministries, change the governance of BEDCO, and rebuild the brand, and put it under eye, because we would depend on it to face current problem,” he further notes.
Likhang says that territorial fights will just thin the country’s resources and efforts pointing out that LNDC has to deal only with big business and foreign investment (period) as its broadening strategy will only make it fail and effective.
He continues that in his opinion the LNDC has failed to domesticate industry, help create linkages with local Basotho and enforce local equity participation.
“In my opinion BEDCO has met with competition even from its own parent ministry, and the governance need a lot of improvement. Private sector contribution to development of entrepreneurship has been insignificant and scattered with no policy that will acknowledge, incentivise and regulate the expected contributions so that all efforts can be meaningful and create meaningful impact.”
He further adds that the ministry responsible for small business development has to fund BEDCO heavily, develop a policy that will promote small businesses, regulate performance of BEDCO and monitor its performance, adding that the Ministry should also protect its territory so that budget allocation for small business development is not thinly distributed around.
“It is the Ministry for Small Business Development and not any other, and it should be assertive about the matter. The Lesotho Post Bank should be made available for funding the Small Businesses, just as Lesotho Bank did in the past and did it very successfully until Government failed to provide necessary support and sold it without building from it a development bank geared to funding Small Business Development.
I think the responsibility should lie solely with this bank, not LNDC, not BEDCO or any other entity but Lesotho Post Bank should be National Business Development Bank, because we need that,” he says.
Likhang says the Lesotho Post Bank has developed massive experience and it is the rebirth of Lesotho Bank.
He says the Partial Credit Guarantee Scheme should be passed to the Post Bank, and Basotho should not be apologetic about using the national bank for the development of the national economy to the benefit of the nationals into generations to come.
He adds that the “Lesotho tax laws should be supportive of business development in Lesotho with large capital allowances to enable and promote acquisition of assets, investment into innovation, also deductibility of corporate investment programmes by large companies into smaller business development e.g. contributions to BEDCO, supplier development programmes costs etc.
We should also identify few areas where we want youth to invest in and project preparations and value chain studies in these areas have to be developed by BEDCO to enable effective investment,” he continues.
In his 2021/ 2022 budget speech, The Minister of Finance, Thabo Sofonea, noted that youth unemployment is a pressing policy challenge in Lesotho.
He said investment in youth is the only way to ensure their meaningful participation in socio-economic life of our country.
He noted that to date Youth Apprenticeship Programme has placed 1 210 graduates across different companies, 64 have resigned going into formal employment, whilst 13 have been absorbed into permanent employment by the companies they were placed with.
He said 1 452 undergraduate youth have been placed in community development projects which include maintenance of public assets such as roads and dams.
He further noted that the government is expanding more apprenticeship packages for both graduates and undergraduates with the guidance and in collaboration with the relevant stakeholders, in the areas of security services, health services, education and road maintenance.
Sofpnea said in the coming fiscal year, the government will embark on consultative studies regarding the establishment of a Youth Fund.
“The fund will serve as an exit package for the youth in starting new businesses at the end of their contract. Government aims to establish the ‘Youth Inservice Camp Training Programme’ with view to promote patriotism and loyalty in our youth community.
This programme will provide support for development of youth aimed at enhancing their social skills and functional competencies in various fields of their life career progression.
It is also aimed at identification and development of youth with potential multi-disciplinary skills requiring civic education to equip them with basic concepts, methods, techniques, and practical application based on identified needs to provide them with knowledge and skills,” he said.
“This specially designed fundamental training of nonmilitary nature will be introduced to train the youth in amongst others; personal discipline and moulding of character, civic education, patriotism, and civic participation in private industry.”
He added that in an effort to coordinate the various youth programmes, the government is setting up a nation-wide Youth Employment Stimulus Programme anchored on social protection framework that will argument and consolidate existing programmes.
He said the programme will generate widespread and relevant employment and skills re-tooling for our youths to assist them with transition into formal labour market.
Sofonea said the programme has three key components namely Public and Civil Works Component, Apprenticeship Component and Business Development, Creativity, and Innovation Component and targets 164 000 youth’s participation over a period of three years who will be engaged on a six month rotation.
He said the programme cost is estimated at M700 million which shall be contributed by the government and development partners over a period of three years with the first M300 million to be spent during this fiscal year.