Q: What are the government’s top economic priorities for Lesotho?
A: Lesotho is considered one of the world’s 'least developed countries' and most of our people are living below the poverty line. We need to address that. We need to ensure the country is pulled out of the status of being a 'least developed country'. But there are a number of challenges. As a country we have invested in our people – they are getting educated – but immediately after [leaving] school they do not have jobs. To get people above the poverty line we need most of all to provide employment. And we need to invest more in areas that provide employment to a lot of people.
Q: What sectors are you prioritising to attract foreign investment and address Lesotho’s high unemployment rate?
A: We are currently dealing with foreign investment in the mining sector. The challenge there is that the number of jobs created compared with capital invested is minimal, but we can use the revenue – as there is a lot of revenue in terms of royalties and taxes. That can then be used to invest in other sectors of the economy where more jobs can be created in sectors such as tourism and manufacturing. We strongly believe that if that is well structured, we can attract other investors as well to provide machinery and other technical support to the mining industry and others. So we think this will help us eventually address the issue of employment, because it is a serious issue that we need to address.
Q: How is the government working to improve the ease of doing business in Lesotho?
A: We are now engaged in an investment climate reform agenda. [In April 2016], we began operating a one-stop facilitation centre, but we have to beef it up with legislation so that it is mandatory for all ministries to participate. In two to three months, that legislation will be up and running – and will ensure that an investor actually gets everything in one place that he needs to know about doing business in Lesotho. The minister of trade has also completed the computerisation and automation of the registration process. Registering a company used to be very tedious; now people can do it online and find most other services online as well. So that is why we need legislation to ensure that it is legally guaranteed.
Investors previously had concerns that if they had to assert their rights, the relevant court processes were too slow. We formed the commercial courts to deal specifically with commercial disputes in order to address that.
Q: What key sectors do you see as the most promising for future growth?
A: Roughly our largest source of revenue is value-added tax. The second is from water that we are selling to South Africa. The mining industry comes in third. That industry is just in its infancy, and we are anticipating growth in the next few years that will tremendously change the country – we think that will go a long way in helping us move out of the status of being a 'least developed country'.
We look at the case of Botswana, which previously had one of the lowest per capita income levels in Africa, but you can see where it is now, so we are hoping to move in the same manner. And if things go according to our [expectations], the mining industry will become one of the largest contributors to government revenue and assist us in increasing the per capita income for the country.