Lesotho: Govt Has Itself to Blame for Wool and Mohair Debacle - Mokhothu

19 November 2019

Democratic Congress (DC) leader, Mathibeli Mokhothu, says the Thomas Thabane regime only has itself to blame for the wool and mohair debacle which saw thousands of angry farmers take to the streets of Maseru in June 2019 to protest the delays in paying them for their produce.

Mr Mokhothu also said the wool and mohair saga should serve as a lesson to the farmers and other Basotho that the governing coalition did not have their interests at heart and therefore they should overwhelmingly vote in a DC government in the next elections. The opposition leader said all this while addressing hundreds of DC supporters at a weekend rally in the Bobete constituency.

Last week, Mr Mokhothu joined other opposition and government legislators in endorsing the report of the Kimetso Mathaba-led parliamentary ad hoc committee which recommended, among other things, the amendment of the controversial 2018 wool and mohair regulations to allow farmers to sell their produce from anywhere in the world and through brokers of their choice.

The ad hoc committee, comprising of 17 legislators drawn from the governing parties and the opposition, said that the wool and mohair regulations should be amended because they had impoverished thousands of Basotho and it also called on the government to ensure that all farmers are paid their dues for the produce they delivered to the Lesotho Wool Centre (LWC).

From May 2018 when the regulations were gazetted until August 2019, farmers could only sell their produce through the LWC in Thaba Bosiu which enjoyed a monopoly in the wool and mohair industry. The LWC's monopoly was eventually struck down in the aftermath of massive street protests by the farmers in Maseru in June 2019. The farmers staged the "mother of all demonstrations" to force the government to repeal the regulations and allow them to sell their produce via South African brokers, BKB, as they had done for 44 years until last year when the new laws were passed.

The farmers argued that they were assured of quick and higher payments by BKB than those offered by the LWC. The LWC is co-owned by the Lesotho National Wool and Mohair Growers Association (LWMGA) and controversial Chinese businessman, Stone Shi. Mr Shi is said to enjoy close ties with several cabinet ministers and the 2018 regulations were widely seen as an attempt to give him a monopoly in the wool and mohair sector.

And on Sunday, Mr Mokhothu said the government had itself to blame for the regulations which had made it unpopular with the farmers. He alleged that some cabinet ministers were on Mr Shi's payroll and they even moved around the country's shedding posts to ensure that all the wool and mohair was delivered to the LWC to enhance Mr Shi's unfettered dominance in the sector.

"If it were not for the governing coalition of the AD (Alliance of Democrats), ABC (All Basotho Convention), RCL (Reformed Congress of Lesotho) and the BNP (Basotho National Party), farmers would not have been defrauded of their wool and mohair," Mr Mokhothu told the cheering DC supporters on Sunday.

"They (government) stole your only means of income and gave it to their Chinese friend. He (Mr Shi) hired cabinet ministers who moved around the shedding posts to force farmers to sell their produce to him and he has disappeared with the money.

"He has to pay the farmers. But if doesn't pay then the government should pay. They are better off paying Basotho than spending money on expensive international trips."

He said while the wool and mohair debacle was "very unfortunate", it should however, serve as a lesson to the electorate "to never again vote for the wrong people".

"Go and tell your fellow villagers, especially wool and mohair farmers to never elect the current coalition parties again. Be wise because elections are a matter of life and death."

Mr Mokhothu's DC has thrown its weight behind ongoing moves by the Professor Nqosa Mahao-led ABC faction to topple Dr Thabane in a no confidence vote in parliament.

Although the DC supports the Mahao faction's nominee, Samuel Rapapa, to replace Dr Thabane as caretaker prime minister, the opposition party believes that Dr Thabane will not hand over power in the event of a successful no confidence vote. It believes that Dr Thabane would rather advise King Letsie III to dissolve parliament and call for fresh elections, hence its ongoing countrywide rallies to drum support ahead of the possible polls.

At the weekend rally, Mr Mokhothu promised that a DC government would assist wool and mohair farmers by subsidising the purchase of rams and ewes.

"We will also establish a water fund to promote irrigation so that farming and food production can continue even during the drought. We should be able to produce our own food and stop importing from South Africa. That way we will create employment for our youth and end their plight as domestic workers in South Africa.

"These are some of the policies that the DC will implement when we get into power. Some say that I want the elections because I am eager to become the prime minister. The truth is that I am sick of the dire poverty and misery that this government has brought upon the people. All they have mastered is to fly in and out of the country and they have not done anything to bring any investment into the country," Mr Mokhothu said.

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