By Mpho Shelile

MASERU – The Lesotho government continues to increase access to telecommunications for people living in the remotest areas, by making sure to cater not only for the young but also the elderly. The government collaborated with Lesotho’s best network companies to help the elderly have easy access to their pensions. 

In a press release held at gender offices last week, Acting PS Mrs Ts’epang Makakola from gender office in her opening remarks stated that the purpose of the media briefing, was to get the word out that there is a new strategy which will aid the elderly with getting their pension grant through mobile phones. “It idea of our elders receive their annuity through mobile transfers with easy and quicker access has been long overdue, we both know that they travel long distances to get to their pay points” exclaimed Mrs Ts’epang.

 She stated that social development invited Econet Telecom Lesotho (ETL) and Vodacom (VCL) to join hands in making sure that the idea comes to life and becomes a success, with their mobile platforms; Mpesa and Eco-Cash.

Minister of Social Development Hon. Lesaoana Pitso stated that the main reason for the briefing was to sensitize and publicize the already in use form of payment, as well as to encourage others to join in this new era. Calling out to their media partners to do what they do best, transfer information. He added they wish to have more than thirty thousand elders using their phones by the end of these month. “As we all know, there are other places in the outskirts of Lesotho which do not have pay points for this reason our elders find themselves travelling long distances just to get their pension money”, said Hon. Lesaoana. 

He further stated some challenges the elderly encounter such as walking long distances, encountering thieves in route from the pay points, trim down time wasted and transportation fees, also delayed messages to recipients can sometime be a hurdle. “We might come across challenges while working together but we are to address them for a smooth operation”, stated Hon. Lesaoana.

They also intend to form social clubs on which they will be meeting up with elders to give them counselling and proper education on how to utilise services on these mobile platforms. Guide them on how to withdraw money and what they need to do if ever they were to lose money while making those withdrawals. “We are embarking on a very big project with Vodacom and Econet, it is not just to give them customers but we are going to be working on making sure that we make a difference in the lives of our elderly”, he affirmed. He went on to acknowledge that the two companies are competitors in their field, and pleaded with them to put aside their differences when providing these services to pensioners, so that they do not cause them any confusion and work in a way that does not put any pressure on the elders.

 Hon. Lesaona pointed out the importance of using Eco-Cash and Mpesa, stating the first one as the time it saves. Recipients do not need to stand in long queues at pay points anymore, second one being that they get to not travel long distances to get money and them being able to access the money any time they wish to withdraw. The third one is the protection of money; the new strategy will prevent their money from being stolen. They can also save money and only withdraw the amount they need to use.

He concluded by stating the documentation they will need; Identification (ID) number, a registered cell phone number, but those without cell phones will be supplied with simcards on which they will receive the money he also made them aware that those without an identity document cannot register and for that reason they cannot utilise the services.

Mrs. Palesa Mphunyetsane who is the managing director of VCL stated that they have worked with the ministry for quite some time in paying the elderly their pension in various places, “I am proud to share that some elders have already been paid via Mpesa and are very content with our services. We have already paid forty five thousand individuals above the age 70 who are already making use of Mpesa”, said Mrs Palesa. She went on to say that educating them about Mpesa and Eco-Cash is key to a smooth operation, adding that they have taken an oath as VCL and ETL to make sure that after they register a client, they leave them having gained knowledge on how they will withdraw their money and how to keep their Mpesa and Eco-Cash pins safe.

Mrs ‘Matikoe Letsie from ETL’s financial service office indicated that this initiative will assure the elderly understand that the ministry does care and promise that they are going to work together tirelessly to assist the ministry. “We promise that there will not be any clashes between VCL and ETL, I can assure you”, she also affirmed that from the 8th this month they will embark on a journey to make sure that more elders register their simcards.  Questions on how elders with dementia are going to use this new strategy were asked and Mrs Palesa from VCL answered by stating that there will be one specific question asked when registering which they will guide the elder to answer. The other question was about withdrawal fees charged and Mrs. Ts’epang stated that they have incorporated the fees in their pension amount so that the elderly can withdraw their full money without any deductions.