PARLIAMENT has found that the wool and mohair regulations of 2018 have impoverished thousands of Basotho and called on the government to immediately repeal the controversial regulations.
The ad hoc parliamentary committee, comprising of 17 legislators drawn from the governing parties and the opposition, also urged the government to ensure that all farmers are paid their dues for the wool and mohair 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 farmers bitterly opposed the regulations and in June 2019 they staged the “mother of all demonstrations” in Maseru 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 embattled government responded by adopting opposition Lesotho Congress for Democracy leader, Mothetjoa Metsing’s motion for the establishment of a parliamentary committee to investigate the state of the wool and mohair industry as part of efforts to address the farmers’ grievances.
This week, the ad hoc committee issued its adverse findings on the wool and mohair sector, saying the 2018 regulations should be repealed with immediate effect because they had caused untold suffering to more than 250 000 Basotho who depended on the sector for their livelihood. The 250 000 figure is more than 10 percent of the country’s 2, 1 million population.
The members of the parliamentary committee are Kimetso Mathaba (chairman), Ntlhoi Motsamai, Selibe Mochoboroane, Teboho Sekata, Thulo Mahlakeng, Limpho Tau, Vincent Malebo, ‘Mapulumo Hlao, Thuso Litjobo, Thabang Kholumo, Motlohi Maliehe, Mohapi Mohapinyane, Tšeliso Kalake, Kose Makoa, Tlokotsi Manyooko, ‘Marapelang Malefane and Likopo Mahase. The committee began its work on 2 July up to 21 October 2019.
In its report to parliament, the committee said that “farmers were not consulted prior to the enactment of the regulations…and the brokers deducted more than four percent from farmers” after selling their produce.
“The intention behind the localising of the wool and mohair industry was a good initiative, however the relevant ministry did not undertake any feasibility study and research for operationalisation of the regulations. The regulations did not have transitional period to allow farmers to prepare themselves for the change.
“There is inconsistency and delays in paying farmers at the Lesotho Wool Centre which was not the case during the BKB era…and this is an anomaly which has caused a lot of abject poverty, stress and frustration among local producers of wool and mohair.
“Ever since the enactment of the regulations, Lesotho’s wool and mohair production is projected to have declined due to unavailability of dipping medicines to the farmers, which cannot be provided by Lesotho Wool Centre even though it is deducted from their account sales.
“The regulations created an unfair monopoly for the Lesotho Wool Centre to the detriment of local producers. The committee further observed that Lesotho Wool Centre seems to lack adequate infrastructure, expertise, facilities or machinery, trained personnel and financial muscle to operate within the wool and mohair industry international standards as required by the International Wool Textile Organisation (IWTO).”
The committee therefore recommended the repeal of the regulations with immediate effect to enable “Basotho farmers to sell their product at the institutions or places of their choice”.
“The government is also urged to ensure that outstanding payments to local farmers are effected immediately. It should establish an independent authority that will be responsible for reforming, monitoring and regulating the wool and mohair industry. Such an authority should be composed of not more than five relevant stakeholders and experts in the wool and mohair industry and should be vetted by the National Assembly.”
The committee also urged the government to investigate and prosecute those who were found to have unfairly benefitted from the sale of wool and mohair at the expense of the farmers.