Phori blasts BKB over ‘disrespectful’ comments

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Mohalenyane Phakela

THE Minister of Small Business, Cooperatives and Marketing, Chalane Phori, has accused South African wool and mohair auctioneers, BKB of disrespecting him and making ill-advised statements regarding the proposed changes to the marketing of Lesotho’s wool and mohair.

Mr Phori’s comments come in the wake of claims by BKB’s wool and mohair general manager, Isak Staats that the minister had been ill-advised to amend the legislation to prohibit Lesotho’s wool and mohair from being sold to international buyers from South Africa.

For the past 44 years, BKB has been selling wool and mohair on behalf of 40 000 local wool and mohair farmers through an auction in the Eastern Cape province. The company only recently opened a local branch as part of efforts to be allowed to continue trading with local farmers.

However, the government argues that the entire wool and mohair operation which is conducted in South Africa disadvantages Lesotho as the country does not receive any taxes from BKB hence the decision to have the transactions with international buyers conducted from Lesotho.

Mr Staats criticised the government decision, saying Mr Phori had been ill-advised to make a short-sighted and ill-informed move to stop the wool and mohair transactions in South Africa.

“The intention of the minister to change the law in order to prohibit the direct export of wool and mohair to South Africa is short-sighted and ill-informed,” Mr Staats said in a recent interview with this publication.

“We operate in a free market system where any company has the right to exist if it adds value to the business of the customer.

“Lesotho producers and traders have been making the choice to do business with BKB for all these years for purely economic reasons.”

However, Mr Phori said Mr Staats’ comments were “disrespectful” and ill-informed.

He said the company had not even bothered to visit his office to get proper information on the proposed legal changes and this was despite the fact that his door was always open to all small and medium enterprises.

The minister said he would welcome a visit from BKB so that they would be given the correct information and stop speaking on the basis of false rumours.

“BKB should do business, which is what they know, and not politics which they know nothing about,” Mr Phori told the Lesotho Times.

“They are in no position to throw stones when they have never even tried to meet my office. What they need to understand is that as the government we are not here to kill any business but protect the rights of Basotho through the rule of law.

“We cannot allow one company to enjoy the monopoly of selling the wool and mohair on behalf of the farmers and we will give equal support to all companies. We have done our research and discovered that there is a huge market for wool and mohair in Europe and Asia and that we can be able to ship from Lesotho straight to the buyers. But then, if BKB feels we are ill informed, they should come and advise us,” he said.

The minister also said that BKB had been trading illegally for more than 40 years as they had not been registered in the country until they corrected that anomaly last month.

“I also fail to understand how they managed to open a local bank account which they use to pay farmers when they were not registered in Lesotho.

“We say ‘Basotho and Lesotho first’, therefore we cannot allow South Africa to claim to be the point of origin for our products. We are drafting the law to ensure we are identified as the point of origin for our products. Further down the line we will work on other issues which will benefit the wool and mohair industry and these include local processing.

“BKB is free to do business in Lesotho as long as they abide by the rules. It is a good thing that they finally registered so that they can bank the money they make from Lesotho’s fabric here and also pay taxes. In that way the money will circulate in the country and boost our economy,” Mr Phori said.

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