THE Trade and Industry Ministry officials will today inspect Butha-Buthe supermarkets to see if they are adhering to licensing and safety regulations.
Today’s visit is a follow-up to the 22 July 2022 trip where the ministry unearthed several violations including supermarkets operating without licences while others were selling expired foods.
The ministry’s chief information officer, Lihaelo Nkaota told the Lesotho Times this week that they are unhappy with the low compliance levels to licensing requirements by the supermarkets in the district.
She said the Trade minister Thabiso Molapo along with his Labour and Employment counterpart, Moshe Leoma, embarked on the inspection following a public outcry over alleged unfair business practices.
Ms Nkaota said last month’s inspection uncovered a wide range of shocking business malpractices which included selling expired goods, while some stored frozen foods improperly.
The improper storage often results in torn packaging and some supermarkets are now resorting to repackaging the foods. The practice disadvantages the customers who end up getting less quantities while the safety of the foods is compromised.
“One of the supermarkets was operating with an expired trader’s licence, which means it has been operating illegally since February this year,” Ms Nkaota said.
Some supermarkets are also accused of breaking up their bulk goods and selling singles thereby encroaching into space reserved for smaller enterprises in terms of the Trading Enterprises Act.
“So, we are going back to Butha-Buthe to record progress made by supermarkets in correcting the malpractices we identified during our first visit to consider the appropriate measures to take.
“The ministry is concerned with the level of non-compliance to regulations among businesses especially supermarkets that are foreign owned.”
As the custodian of business development, she said the ministry was not interested in closing down defaulting supermarkets but wants businesses to comply with regulations.
“During the first inspection, the Trade minister emphasised the importance for businesses to comply with regulations and does not encourage closing such businesses. The follow-up visit will inform the ministry on how to take the issue forward.”
Ms Nkaota said there was need for regular and robust business inspections to weed out rogue business practices to protect consumers and develop smaller businesses.
She however, said the ministry was understaffed for it to adequately carry out proper business inspections around the country.
“The ministry intends to extend the inspections to other districts. However, it is facing several challenges including the Covid-19 pandemic restrictions as well as financial constraints.”
Consumers Protection Association executive director, Nkareng Letsie said the inspection was welcome as many supermarkets around the country were violating their licensing requirements and, in the process, endangering consumers.
“This is a welcome development, and we can only hope the campaign brings positive outcome as many businesses in the country tend to violate their licensing terms to the detriment of consumers,” Mr Letsie said.