Keketso Khunonyane and Lerato Matheka
The Minister of Small Business Development, Cooperatives and Marketing, Chalane Phori yesterday revealed to Newsday that the government has been robbed off billions by the Lesotho Wool and Mohair Association and BKB for the past 40 years.
Phori defending the rife allegations that the wool and mohair regulations are not beneficial to the countryâ€™s farmers charged that this year alone with half Bales collected from Basotho farmers, the government has managed to collect about M2 millions of Deeping Levy.
â€œIf we managed to collect M2 millions of Deeping Levy from just 23,000 Bales, how much Deeping Levy do you think the government has been robbed off, which has been collected from farmers for the past 40 years but has been reported to either Lesotho or South Africa,â€ he said.
He told this paper that a total expected bales from Basotho farmers is 48 000.
Phori explained that the Lesotho Agricultural Act of 1974 says that Deeping Levy should be collected by the Ministry Of Agriculture.
â€œAll these years we do not know what has been happening with that payment. There has been a serious embezzlement that has been happening for the longest time by a selected few.â€
â€œThe M2 millions collected are going to procure medicine for animals which will be availed to farmers at subsidised prices,â€ the minister said.
He charged that the outcries around the issue of the Wool and Mohair should be scrutinised.
â€œThe money which has been collected over the year by the Lesotho Wool and Mohair Association and BKB cannot be accounted for at either the LRA, SARS or SACU, why, I will tell you; it has been going to individuals. Nobody has ever debated about this issue or even challenged it except me and this government who are fighting for the interests of Basotho and those of the country. With the new regulations, farmers are no longer liable to paying tax because their products according to the law should not be taxed,â€ the minister added.
He revealed, â€œWith all that I can confidently tell you that there is a criminal case before the DPP (Director Public Prosecution) and people are going to start being questioned for robbing the government.â€
Phori noted that during this sheering season, they sold wool for M470 million and mohair for M50 million.
â€œIt is imperative that we look at who are the loudest complainers on the ground and what exactly are they complaining about because really, there is a lot playing in the background.
â€œLesothoâ€™s Wool and Mohair worth for the longest time has been amounted to M400 million when all 48 000 bales are sold in the market, but look at our figures; with the bales, our sales are more than those previously recorded, that should show one the underlying truth about this governmentâ€™s decision,â€ the minister stressed.
He added, â€œWe have delivered 85% of wool and mohair and 15% of it is yet to be delivered.â€
Phori further explained that the government has reduced all the costs incurred by farmers to deliver their wool to the buyers.
â€œWe are saving farmers a lot of money and they will thank us. We have changed the procuring paradigm totally. When the farmers sold wool and mohair previously, they had to pay for transport from Lesotho to Port Elizabeth and incurred costs of about M16 000, now there is no such charge because the new regulations require for the buyer to also pay for shipping.
â€œAlso, annually farmers collectively paid M300 000 which was said to be for doctors and wool and mohair testing, now, that charge has been done away with because the Lesotho Wool Centre which my ministry instructed by law, has identified as a suitable market for Lesotho provides doctors.â€
â€œIt doesnâ€™t matter who says what, local farmers are yet to benefit hugely from this and as I have said previously, they are going to earn three times more than what they used to get from BKB.
The minister lashed out that in the previous years, brokers had more money than farmers citing the uproar around Stone Shi needed to be addressed.
â€œShi is a broker getting 4% commission after selling Lesothoâ€™s Wool and Mohair.â€
â€œPeople should be given their money and that is what we are now working tirelessly on.
â€œWe are in the process of paying the farmers with a new strategy of going by district. We earlier told them (farmers) to bring their banking details but that process failed. It was slow, so we came to a conclusion that we should pay all the districts, which have delivered their wool and mohair to Thaba-Bosiu. We have paid Qachaâ€™s Nek district and Friday we will be going to Mokhotlong, from there we will go to Quthing,â€ explained Phori.
â€œI want to emphasise that with the case concerning the Deeping Levy, justice is going to be served hot to those who are involved.â€
Defending his honour on the oppositionâ€™s concerns he said, â€œWe tend to make quarrels with crooks unnecessarily. Our mandate is to establish policies that protect Basotho interests before those of our own,â€ he said.
The minister explained that there are a lot of issues around the late payment of farmers citing sabotage.
â€œFirst auction was hosted on November 22, 2018 where most farmers hid their Mohair. We searched for hidden wool and mohair together with the police and immediately sold those we could find. Some of the collected mohair upon recovery were damaged, they were all rusty but farmers urged that it be sold anyway.â€
He added that the battle to stabilise the selling of Wool and Mohair continued to face a lot of huddles which involved South Africa and Agents, â€œâ€¦but all these are battles we won.â€
â€œAccording to my understanding and political ideology of using national issues to politics is not fair of politicians. They should not interfere with human rights. Their politics are unfair because they are defending criminals who we are stopping from robbing the poor people and the country off millions.
â€œTo them we are a ruthless government, a government that says Basotho should not pay VAT, our government is evil to them. We have hired more than 70 Basotho at the Lesotho Wool Centre in Thaba-Bosiu. We are a cruel government that increased the number people employer at shearing posts. We have also said the buyers should pay all the costs for wool and mohair, instead of farmers paying for everything, but still in their eyes we are cruel,â€™â€™ Phori said.