The Minister of Agriculture, Marketing and Food Security Tefo Mapesela says he will sell a lionâ€™s share of government tractors to the South African boers.
In an exclusive interview with this publication, Mapesela pointed out that the tractors that have already been sold to farmers do not even make up a quarter of the 90 tractors which he said have been put up for sale.
He indicated that the initiative was designed to be a kind of subsidy for Basotho with the buying price of M500 000. He said if the local farmers continue to drag their feet and talk without action, he would be forced to look elsewhere for buyers including to the boers.
Mapesela said that only less than 20 tractors out of 90 have been purchased. He mentioned that the initiative was designed to subsidies all Basotho who are interested in farming.
â€œThis opportunity is given to all Basotho farmers in a bid to capacitate them. The tractors are still available and are not finished, not even 20 tractors have been bought. I will sell them to the boers because it looks like Basotho are not interested,â€ he said.
â€œThose who have M500 000 will buy the tractors and I am not at the point to politicise things here. People should come and buy tractors if they want them and stop politicising things.
â€œMany offers were declined because people do not have cash to pay for the tractors, some have not even returned to collect the approval forms. So I will not let them to perish under my watch, I will have to auction them beyond our bordersâ€ he said.
Asked if the ministry ever considered engaging Basotho who are unable to purchase the tractors in a corporate partnership, he countered that, â€œit is not possible because the government has tried that in the past decades and it failed.
â€œThat is impossible because the initiative was done in the past decade but it failed. People were unable to purchase manure or seeds after being subsidised with ploughing. In 2002, the farmers were loaned Holland tractors for M125 000. They were told to pay a deposit of only M25 000, which they paid but never returned to pay the remaining balance.
â€œIn 2005 they were given the same chance and told to pay only M10 000 of deposit but they did not pay the outstanding amount.
â€œSo we are helping the farmers with subsidy here to own their tractors and work for themselves,â€ he said.
â€œWe will continue with other farming systems when we have completed this one. We are still going to help Basotho and subsidise them on poultry and other farming systems,â€ he said.
However, this he said after the Directorate on Corruption and Economic Offences (DCEO) ordered the ministry to halt the operation of selling the tractors as they are conducting investigations.
Although he heeded to the directive of the Directorate, he indicated that there is no corruption made by the ministry and that there is no problem in selling government-owned property because they were given green lights by the parliament and cabinet.
â€œIt is not a problem to sell the government tractors because the idea was tabled in the parliament and was approved there, parliament is a legislative arm.
â€œThe cabinet also gave thumps up to the idea, so this says DCEO ignores the law,â€ he said adding that they were ordered by the anticorruption body to issue out adverts to newspapers publicise the endeavour.
â€œLast year they (DCEO) said we should go to the newspapers to advertise the bid of tractors; we advertised the post on Lesotho Times and Sunday Express from December 14, 2020, to February 14, 2021 so that all Basotho will be able to see it and participate in the purchasingâ€ he said.
Meanwhile, DCEO Spokesperson Matlhokomelo Senoko confirmed that the Directorate ordered the ministry to halt the sale of tractors although she declined to disclose their suspicion of corruption and that it was not the first time they serve the ministry with the letter as they did during the reigns of the suspended Mahlomola Manyokole.
â€œWe issued the first letter last year after realising the selling of tractors, but after we observed that the same event is happening this year also we sent the second letter directing the ministry to stop,â€ she said.
â€œWe cannot divulge the full details but make such orders when we recognise some irregularities so that we initiate our investigations. We will share the results when we complete probing,â€™ she said.
This week the Ministry heeded to the command and sent word out to all District Administrators (DAs) to stop selling the tractors. In a Memo inked by the Principal Secretary of the ministry headlined; direct sale of Government-owned tractors and implements to the farming community.
â€œYour good offices are kindly requested to inform farmers that the sale of government owned tractors and implements to the farming community has been put on-hold until further notice. This is a directive from the Directorate on Corruption and Economic Offence which is conducting investigation on this matter,â€ the memo read.