Meraka Lesotho wins eviction battle against govt

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Pascalinah Kabi

A LOCAL company, Meraka Lesotho, has won a High Court battle to stop Agriculture and Food Security Minister Tefo Mapesela and the government from interfering with its operations at the national abattoir in Khubetsoana.

Meraka Lesotho and its parent company, Kerchin Meat Industry Lesotho, successfully petitioned the court to stop Mr Mapesela from interfering with their operations after he allegedly sent soldiers to evict Meraka Lesotho from the abattoir early last month.

The director general of veterinary services, the principal secretary for Agriculture and Food Security, Nchaka Makara, Mr Mapesela, the Ministry of Agriculture and the Attorney General Advocate Haae Phoofolo were the first to fifth respondents respectively in the application.

In his 5 January 2020 judgement which was only made available this week, High Court Judge Moroke Mokhesi ordered that “the third respondent (Mapesela) is interdicted and prevented from unlawfully interfering with the applicant’s business and is specifically interdicted and prevented from using state functionaries and resources to interfere with the applicants business operations except through due process of law”.

Mr Mapesela had argued that Meraka Lesotho, a company linked to controversial Chinese businessman, Yan Xie, was controversially awarded the tender to operate the country’s only abattoir. He therefore wanted its contract terminated and awarded to “more deserving indigenous Basotho”.

The minister had even flighted an advertisement in the local media in November 2020 calling on interested companies to bid to take over the running of the national abattoir.

But it seems Meraka Lesotho will continue operating the abattoir for the foreseeable future. This after Justice Mokhesi ordered that “the decision of the first and third respondents (director general of veterinary services and Minister Mapesela respectively) of refusing to issue the second applicant (Meraka Lesotho) with application forms for import permits for the importation of livestock from the Republic of South Africa is reviewed and set aside as irregular and unlawful”.

Meraka Lesotho employee, Bernard Ntaote, who filed the application on behalf of his employers, alleged that Mr Mapesela first threatened to evict his company from its Selakhapane, Khubetsoana premises in an interview with one of the local radio stations.

He said the minister subsequently made good on his word early last month by sending the soldiers to evict the company. Mr Mapesela hotly denies this.

Mr Ntaote said Mr Mapesela and other respondents’ conduct had “contravened the principles of natural justice to the prejudice of the applicants” in that they had a long-standing 30-year contract from 1 April 2016 for the development and implementation of the Lesotho agriculture and livestock plan.

In terms of agreement, Mr Ntaote says government undertook to develop, equip and maintain the national abattoir to enable it to produce and distribute meat products. Kerchin Meat undertook to lease the abattoir for the production of meat products in partnership with a local company, in this instance Meraka Lesotho, he said.

“It was therefore an agreement between the parties that the applicant was given the rights to operate the national abattoir.

“In terms of clause 14 of the agreement, the agreement between the parties is due to subsist for the period of 30 years from the commencement date, namely 1 April 2016. It is significant to point out that the first applicant (Kerchin Meat) is a subsidiary of Inner Mongolia Kerchin Beef Industry, a company registered in accordance with the laws of China. This company was approached by the officials from the government of Lesotho to make substantial investments in the country with a view to developing a sustainable meat industry for local consumption and exports.

“The government of Lesotho approached the parent company of the applicant because it recognised it as an industry leader internationally in the beef industry. The government of Lesotho committed itself to collaborating, developing and implementing the Lesotho Agriculture and Livestock Development Project following the conclusion of a Memorandum of Understanding on the project signed by the parties on 10 December 2015. It was within that contract that the parties concluded the agreement,” Mr Ntaote said.

He said while the 2016 agreement between the Lesotho government and Kerchin was operational, the state published an advert in the Sunday Express newspaper on 22 November 2020, inviting bidders to tender for the operating of the national abattoir.

He said they first filed a court application on 30 November 2020 for an order interdicting the respondents from evicting them from the national abattoir.

He said even after they had been granted an interim order against eviction on 2 December 2020, Mr Mapesela later sent soldiers to evict them.

“The respondent, in addition and in contempt of court, instructed and or directed members of the Lesotho Defence Force to take possession and occupation of and to plough the grazing fields of the national abattoir, thereby depriving the applicants of the grazing fields they used to operate the abattoir,” Mr Ntaote said in his court papers.

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