Ministry blasted over delayed Covid relief funds 

NEO SENOKO

MASERU – Officials from the Ministry of Small Business Development, Cooperatives and Marketing have been slated for intentionally delaying to process the Covid-19 relief funds to thousands of street vendors across the country.

A representative of the street vendors’ association, Tšolo Lebitsa, said in an interview this week that no progress has been made to date in line with releasing the funds, slamming the ministry’s officials for intentional sabotage.

“We have an agreement with the ministry but at the moment nothing is promising. There seems to be confusion, with the officials unwilling to release the funds. Everything is stagnant at the moment,” he said. Lebitsa said only a small group of hawkers received money in the first batch, adding that in fact more are yet to receive the money.

Due to the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic, the Government responded to the World Health Organisation (WHO)’s outcry for control of the virus spread by announcing a nationwide lockdown that, unfortunately, adversely affected the private sector and the entire economy.

To mitigate the adverse impact of the national lockdown, the government launched the Private Sector Covid-19 Relief Fund through the Lesotho Enterprise Assistance Programme (LEAP) within the Private Sector Competitiveness and Economic Diversification Project (PSCEDP).

The fund was allocated a total of M59 million with the initial M20 million released to the Ministry of Trade and Industry. In March this year, a total of M7 565 000 was disbursed to 772 formal sector businesses for all districts. A total of M3 239 000 was further disbursed to 6 478 informal sector businesses covering the districts of Maseru, Berea and Botha-Bothe.

At the time, data for Leribe and Qacha’s Nek was being processed while data from Mokhotlong, Thaba-Tseka, Quthing, Mohale’s Hoek and Mafeteng had not yet been received for processing.

Lebitsa said on Tuesday that a committee that has been established to deal with these issues is unable to do its work properly because it relies entirely on equipment assistance from the Ministry of Small Business, whose officials are intentionally unwilling to cooperate.

“Some of the people who have not received their money did not have proper details for registration and so far it is difficult to reach out to such people because we do not have the necessary equipment. We rely on assistance from the ministry. The LEAP office has been waiting for us to complete the processes of registration in order to release funds but so far it is difficult,” he added.

He, however, noted that they will continue fighting until all the funds have been released.

While the Principal Secretary in the Ministry of Small Businesses, Advocate Bereng Makotoko could not be reached for comment this week, a fortnight ago he had, however, indicated during the 15th session of the United Nations Conference of Trade and Development (UNCTAD) that the funds would have been long released if the hawkers were already registered. He said it is taking his ministry a long time to release the funds due to delayed registration processes.

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