Cabinet team meets restive Wool and mohair farmers

‘MASENTLE MAKARA

QACHA’S NECK – Minister of Small Business Development, Co-operative and Marketing Chalane Phori has described the recently gazetted regulations on the wool and mohair trade as a painful but necessary step towards the long-term improvement of Basotho farmers’ livelihoods.The new regulations have attracted mixed reactions from Basotho, with some wool and mohair farmers venting serious criticism claiming they were not consulted and the exercise is a way of corruptly enriching some officials while hiding behind empowerment.

“Vaccination has never been easy, it is painful but you will get healed. I will inject Basotho money into their pockets and they will complain but in the end they would be wealthy,” said Phori. A delegation of ministers has been going around the country to explain the new wool and mohair regulations to suspicious famers.Phori told the multitude of farmers here that: “Soon after I was appointed the minister of small business development, co-operatives and marketing, I was visited at our offices by the Lesotho Wool and Mohair Association (LNWMGA) chairman Mr Mokoenihi Thinyane, together with Maseru Dawning Trading (PTY) LTD Managing Director Guohui Shi who introduced themselves to me and told me that they were already working with the previous Government on building a Lesotho wool centre at Thaba-Bosiu.”

The two companies LNWMGA and Maseru Dawning Trading (PTY) LTD presented before Phori that they had decided to work together under a joint venture, which gave birth to the Lesotho Wool Centre Joint Venture.Under the agreement the two parties pledge to work together as an incorporated joint venture where the Lesotho Wool and Mohair Association will have 75 % shares while Maseru Dawning Trading (Pty) LTD will have a 25% stake.

Phori said he supported the agreement and together with a number of his colleagues from cabinet had been instructed by Prime Minister Thomas Thabane to tour the country to explain to farmers. Among the ministers accompanying him includes; Agriculture minister Mahala Molapo, trade minister Tefo Mapesela, planning minister Tlohelang Aumane; and deputy ministers Dr Ntabiseng Makoae of Agriculture, and home affairs Machestetsa Mofomobe.

The team has been moving from district to district to explain the agreement to restive wool and mohair growers. “I addressed cabinet about it and Prime Minister Dr Thomas Motsahae Thabane gave me the delegation of ministers realising it had become a very big issue that affects Basotho,” Phori said.The committee also met with LNWMGA and Shi.“It was then found out that the LNWMGA is working with BKB and ever since it was working in Lesotho the company opened a fake account because it had no necessary details needed to open an account and since it’s operation in Lesotho BKB has never paid tax. BKB has taken over M1.4 billion without giving something in return to this country,” said Phori.

While the police were still investigating, BKB’s account had to be closed but then it had to be opened since some Basotho farmers had not yet been paid by the company. “We met with farmers’ organizations to introduce the regulations to them because no-one was reporting back to the farmers and there was a huge complaint from farmers. This is why we took the initiative to come and introduce the regulations to you. As chairperson of this delegation I apologise for coming to you now. We thought your organizations were giving you the results on formation of this law,” Phori said.

Last Monday, opposition parties held a press conference where they charged the government was suppressing wool and mohair growers as it compels them to trade with one broker. Moreover, the regulations are deemed unfair to the farmers as they are not allowed to use a broker of their choice. Some farmers from Mohale’s Hoek, Quthing and Qacha’s Neck said they were not happy that the government was working with a Chinese businessman, Mr Shi.

Over the past few months there has been a perception among Basotho that Chinese companies are threatening to unfairly dominate business in Lesotho. Addressing the gathering at Qacha’s Neck in response, Mofomobe said: “China is the second largest economy in the whole world and every country is forming relationships with China so should Lesotho. All the Chinese you see in local shops are for the good of the country and we need them. Do you need development or you are only concerned about who is behind this development?”

In an interview with Public Eye afterwards, Mofomobe added: “There will never be a time when we see things from the same angle. We are different but this regulation is going to benefit all Basotho. There will always be opposed sides regardless of how good something is. This is way deeper than it may look like. We are talking about millions of maloti. Remember the government is there to mediate when people are being suppressed and cheated out of their wool and mohair. It is not going to be easy but we are going to do it and it will happen in our lifetime”.

Asked why they decided to work with the particular Chinese company Mofomobe said the company was brought by the former government of Dr Pakalitha Mosisili and the new coalition saw nothing wrong with him so they decided to continue to work with him. After all, he added, the biggest wool and mohair buyer in the world is China.“South African dealers take the wool and mohair to auction it to the Chinese but this one works with Basotho and China. If BKB wants to compete with him, then let it come and compete with the Chinese at an open auction.”

Mofomobe assured Basotho farmers that the system was going to be transparent. “The auction is going to happen in broad daylight so Basotho are welcome to go and witness. There will be auction experts and this one (Shi) is one of them since there are no auction experts in LNWMHGA,” he said.Public Eye spoke to some of the farmers present to get first hand information about their views on the controversy.

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