Ministers should answer to ABC: Mahao

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’Marafaele Mohloboli

THE All Basotho Convention (ABC)’s new national executive committee (NEC) may not yet be in office due to a dispute over the legitimacy of its election in February but this has not hindered its deputy leader, Professor Nqosa Mahao from outlining its ambitious agenda to ensure that the ministers and public servants account to the party for their official conduct.

One such minister who Prof Mahao wants to be immediately hauled before the ABC’s NEC, when it eventually assumes office, is the Small Business Cooperatives and Marketing minister, Chalane Phori. Prof Mahao wants Mr Phori to be taken to task over the controversial 2018 wool and mohair regulations which seek to ban the export and trade in the wool and mohair from outside Lesotho’s borders.

Mr Phori has vowed that no wool or mohair will cross the border without a permit from his ministry. This is despite the High Court’s nullification of the Agricultural Marketing (Wool and Mohair Licensing) (Amendment) Regulations No. 65 of 2018 which made it illegal for the farmers to sell their produce in South Africa through their preferred brokers, BKB.

On 4 April 2019, Acting Judge, Justice Moroke Mokhesi dismissed as “null and void and of no force and no effect” the regulations which came into effect last year and made it illegal for the farmers to sell their produce in South Africa through their preferred brokers, BKB.

Justice Mokhesi ruled that the May 2018 regulations were in contravention of the Agricultural Marketing Act of 1967 which allowed framers to sell their wool and mohair from wherever they chose and through the brokers of their choice. The Ministry of Small Businesses, Cooperatives and Marketing were the respondents in the case and they were ordered to pay the costs of the lawsuit.

“It is declared that the Agricultural Marketing (Wool and Mohair Licensing) (Amendment) Regulations No. 65 of 2018 are null and void and of no force and effect to the extent that they are ultra vires (in contravention of or outside the powers stated in the) Agricultural Marketing Act of 1967,” Justice Mokhesi ruled.

The net effect of the ruling was to restore the status quo as it existed before the promulgation of the 2018 regulations where farmers could sell their wool and mohair from South Africa or any other place of their choice.

Justice Mokhesi delivered the verdict in the long-drawn-out case which was brought to the High Court by the Lesotho National Wool and Mohair Growers Association (LNWMGA).

The High Court decision was immediately welcomed by the LNWMGA who however, said their joy would only be complete if the government obeyed the court decision.

However, a defiant Mr Phori recently insisted that as the minister in charge, he had every right to choose the best market for Lesotho’s wool and mohair. He said he had therefore decided that despite the court verdict, the Lesotho Wool Centre in Thaba Bosiu remained the ideal place for the local farmers to sell their wool and mohair from.

Early this week however, Prof Mahao broke ranks with his party and government’s support for the controversial 2018 regulations, telling party supporters a rally in Mokhotlong that Mr Phori should be taken to task over the wool and mohair regulations which have caused so much disgruntlement among farmers.

He said the ABC would have “hell to pay” in future national elections unless it changed its stance on the controversial wool and mohair saga.

“To you members of parliament, call the minister to come and explain why it is that people are crying this much over the wool and mohair regulations. I have a fear that if we don’t change our approach towards this issue, the ABC is going to lose immensely in the next elections.

“We told you that when you elected this new committee which is being barred from accessing office, we would change the (party) strategy. Our primary mandate (as the NEC) is to control ministers and public servants so that they may answer to things that happen under their watch. They should be answerable to the grassroots, not to someone who is based in Maseru. The NEC has to critique the government when it hurts the people instead of developing their lives,” added Prof Mahao.

Prof Mahao and the rest of the new NEC were elected to office at the ABC’s 1 and 2 February 2019 elective conference. However, they have so far been prevented from assuming office by the old NEC which says the elections were marred by massive vote rigging. Talks aimed at resolving the dispute have so far failed to yield a deal.

And on Sunday, Prof Mahao told ABC supporters that he had met with the party leader and Prime Minister Thomas Thabane that same morning and implored him to ensure that the party’s NEC is allowed into office without further delay.

He also pleaded for patience as the two NEC factions engage in dialogue. Although he did not mention her by name, Prof Mahao took a swipe at the Acting Chief Justice ‘Maseforo Mahase for what he said was her delay in delivering judgement on the court challenge to the new NEC’s election.

“Two weeks ago I also met party leader (Dr Thabane) at the State House and we talked about the outstanding issue between the two NECs. For the first time, we talked face to face following the February elective conference.

“My main issue was to bring to his attention that things were not going well in the party though the party followers had spent sleepless nights to elect a new NEC which is unfortunately barred from office and we agreed that there had to be talks between the two NECs in this regard.

“I know you are wondering why there have to be talks when you have spoken through your vote, but there is such need because there is someone who is not doing their job at the courts by causing this delay though the matter was filed as an urgent application.

“We have learnt that there are some people who have a plan to tear this party apart but because we want unity we opted for the talks.

“There is no salvation for Basotho except from the ABC which is the people’s only hope. So, I plead with you to be more patient as things may not happen as quickly as we wish them to. We shall do all we can to expedite the talks and it’s only then that we shall know whether or not we are on a path to save this nation,” said Prof Mahao.

 

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