Lesotho's Economic Prospects Are Promising - World Bank

20 January 2020

OUTGOING World Bank country representative Janet Entwistle says she has enjoyed a fulfilling experience working to improve Basotho lives in different programmes that are supported by her organisation in the past four years. Ms Entwistle (JE) recently sat down with Lesotho Times (LT) reporter Bereng Mpaki to reflect on her reign's milestones and the challenges that the country must address to ensure steady development.

LT: How would you describe your four-year tenure in Lesotho? What are some of the highlights of your reign?

JE: Working in Lesotho has been the most fulfilling part of my professional career. I have absolutely loved being in Lesotho because it has been fulfilling.

The World Bank channels its assistance through the government and I had the pleasure to work with two governments. I have worked with excellent government counterparts in both regimes.

Since 2017, my primary counterpart in the government was Development Planning minister Tlohelang Aumane. He sits on the board of governance of the World Bank and consequently he is my main counterpart here in Lesotho.

I have also worked closely with the principal secretary (Nthoateng Lebona). At the same time, the Ministry of Finance played a critical role because it is the one that signs the credit agreements between the World Bank and the government. This makes the collaboration with the Ministry of Development Planning critical.

During my time, His Majesty King Letsie III accepted the World Bank president's invitation to become the World Bank Human Capital Champion and it has been a great pleasure working with him in that role and helping him to ensure that he has the necessary resources to execute his role effectively within Lesotho and more broadly in Africa.

Most of the highlights of my tenure are drawn from my experiences going out there to see what the government has done under the World Bank financing.

We have also managed to increase the staff complement of the World Bank Lesotho office from five when I arrived to 19 at time of my departure.

Also, when I arrived, the World Bank assistance programme was a US$100 million commitment but it is now at US$330 million. It will soon be more than US$380 million in January 2020.

Recently, I visited the site of a footbridge that was recently constructed in Fobane, Leribe. I heard the story of how two school children had drowned trying to cross the donga during the flooding season and the project filled me with enormous pride to see that more tragedies would be avoided in future.

We have also been supporting the Ministry of Health in the performance-based finance project. This is designed to incentivise health centres and the nurses to collaborate to reach certain goals upon which they receive additional funding to buy what is needed at the health centres or even for themselves. I also visited a hospital in Thaba Tseka to see first-hand how the project is working. This again filled me with enormous pride.

I have visited the fruit farm in Mahobong and we now know that there is potential for an investor who is looking at scaling up and developing the fruit farm sector based on its good demonstration project. I have been pleased to visit the farm more than once in different seasons and I have also bought the fruits from Pick n Pay store when it is in season.

I have also visited many farms supported under the Smallholder Agricultural Development Programme and I have seen farmers who improved their livelihoods. I have seen great prospects in Lesotho and I have been very happy to be part of that.

LT: What has motivated the increase in the World Bank's portfolio?

JE: World Bank supported programmes in Lesotho are universally successful. Each investment project that we have been involved in has been evaluated by our independent evaluation group and each has resulted in a moderately satisfactory rating in terms of development impact. This has been the case even before I came.

So, we see strong capacity within the government but we also help to bolster that capacity and we see real impact on the ground and also see potential. We have been so pleased to be part of the partners' consortium that helped towards the Lesotho Lowlands Water Scheme (LLWS) (Metolong Dam) which has helped improve water supply to Maseru, Teyateyaneng, Morija among other areas.

We are now supporting the second phase of the LLWS that is going to be in Maputsoe and part of Berea along with the European Union (EU) which is supporting Mafeteng and Mohale's Hoek.

So, the potential and the need to scale up and have impact in the water program is just one example.

Does Lesotho have what it takes to address its poverty challenge as alluded to in the recently launched Lesotho Poverty Assessment report?

The World Bank has the twin goals of helping reduce poverty and increase shared prosperity. So, we are committed to supporting the government to reduce poverty.

Already, under our country partnership framework ending June 2020, many of the interventions of support are designed to help to reduce poverty. For example, the education for equality project has supported 330 lowest performing primary schools in the country; many of which are in the poorest areas of the country. So, you can call that part of a poverty reduction initiative.

The project is trying to reduce school drop outs; which we know is higher in boys than girls at primary level. Lots of herb end up arriving late at school while others end up dropping out of school.

Dropping out is the most evasive issue and we believe that the people who are working in communities at the local level understand the challenges better and can held ensure children stay in school.

So, we have been supporting these 330 lowest performing primary schools together with the communities and this, we believe; will help reduce the number of dropouts. It is a kind of a performance incentive.

The footbridges are also playing an indirect role especially in those poorest communities. There are many different ways that we can help the government solve the poverty challenge. We have a new country partnership framework that will start in July 2020 and we are already in discussions with the government on the strategy for that framework and poverty reduction is very much part of the discussions.

LT: How can Lesotho successfully tackle the issue of high employment especially among the youth?

JE: The youth unemployment rate in Lesotho is very high. It is also high in the rest of the southern Africa region and is also a struggle for many countries worldwide. So, the consolation is that Lesotho is not alone in this.

It is a high priority of the bank to work with governments to try and find different ways to help boost youth employment. Right now, under the World Bank financed Private Sector Competitiveness Project that is being implemented by the Ministry of Trade, we are already supporting a programme called LEAP (Lesotho Enterprise Assistance Programme) which is meant to provide matching grants to entrepreneurs that want to start their own businesses. We are also supporting business climate reforms project that includes making it easier to start a business, establishing a credit registry and various ways to improve access to finance.

I have a new country director, who was in the country recently, and she brings incredible expertise from Nigeria, Congo Brazzaville, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Morocco where; as country director, she brought expertise in further upscaling support of entrepreneurship. So, please watch over the next year and half as Marie Francoise Marie Nelly leads efforts to scale up World Bank support entrepreneurship and we truly believe this is going to help unlock opportunities here in Lesotho.

When she was in the country, we met a network of young entrepreneurs because she wanted to hear from them what their challenges are, and we are going to put together a programme of support that will include seed capital. So, be on the lookout for that too.

At the same time, we are just now finishing the digital economy assessment which may be published in January or February 2020. It analyses what it will take to unleash and address the bottlenecks against scaling up the digital economy in Lesotho. It will also help to grow small and medium enterprises.

LT: How does Lesotho's political instability contribute to its social challenges such as poverty and unemployment?

JE: There is no doubt that political instability can scare aware investors and three elections in five years has caused challenges for Lesotho. But we know that Lesotho is not alone in terms of political instability, and we also know that there are signs of a vibrant democracy here in Lesotho.

Lesotho has started a process of national reforms and we do hope that should Lesotho continue on that path to reform the elements that have been destabilising the county, it will see success and that this will bolster private sector development.

LT: Has Lesotho demonstrated adequate political will to address its challenges?

JE: From the World Bank's perspective, yes, I see political will from the government as we have been working closely with the Ministries of Development Planning and that of Finance. I have also worked more broadly with the rest of the government and we have had many discussions on the country's social challenges.

One of the things the World Bank is hoping to do over the next year is to help the government put in place a community-based micro enterprise scheme for road networks.

This model allows people along the road network to start own businesses to maintain the road. It has been very successful in not only creating employment in rural areas because it is not only people in Maseru that need employment but also the people in other areas of the country. Even women can help maintain the road. It has been very successful in Peru, Nepal and other countries around the world.

We have already discussed that model with the Ministers of Transport, Development Planning and that of Finance and they have expressed a lot of interest in it. We hope to get it started over the next year. We have hired a transport specialist for the Maseru office and he is coming at the beginning of January to work closely with government counterparts to develop that programme.

Another example, just recently; the Minister of Development Planning, Marie Nelly and I visited the recipients of the LEAP programme and toured a place that produces tapestry, another place that makes leather slippers and leather bags. We asked each of the entrepreneurs what it will take to scale up and hire more people. And these have been made possible working side by side with the government, so I see tremendous commitment from the government.

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