DEMOCRACTIC Congress (DC) leader Mathibeli Mokhothu has promised that a DC government will lower the “prohibitive” medical cannabis licence fees to enable more locals to participate in the lucrative industry.
Mr Mokhothu is one of several leaders who have been holding countrywide rallies in anticipation of the possible collapse of the Thomas Thabane-led government and possible snap elections.
Over the weekend the youthful opposition leader took his whirlwind campaign to Mosalemane constituency- incidentally the constituency represented in parliament by Samuel Rapapa, an All Basotho Convention (ABC) who the DC is backing to take over from Dr Thabane in the event of a successful no confidence vote in parliament.
The government has been rocked by instability stemming largely from the ABC’s power struggle pitting ABC leader and Prime Minister Thabane against his party deputy, Professor Nqosa Mahao.
So serious in the infighting that ABC legislators loyal to Prof Mahao filed a no confidence motion against Dr Thabane. The motion was filed in June 2019 by the ABC’s Koro-koro legislator, Motebang Koma, and supported by the DC’s deputy leader, Motlalentoa Letsosa.
It remains to be seen when the motion will be tabled and voted upon. Should the motion succeed, it is envisaged that Mr Rapapa will take over as caretaker prime minister.
The DC’s support for Mr Rapapa’s candidature did not however, prevent the opposition party from invading his stronghold over the weekend to appeal for votes in the event that Dr Thabane refuses to resign and chooses to advise King Letsie III to call for fresh polls if the no confidence vote goes against him.
Bereft of economic opportunities, the Mosalemane constituency is said to be one of the hotbeds for the illegal cultivation of cannabis.
It was against this background that Mr Mokhothu promised that a DC government would lower what he says are “prohibitive” licence fees to enable more locals to participate in the legal and more lucrative medical cannabis industry.
According to the cannabis regulations issued by the government in 2018, M540 000 is required for a one year licence to cultivate medical cannabis for export. The renewal fee is pegged at M350 000 per annum.
The government has expressed the need to hike the fee to M5 million per year to discourage speculation and corruption in the transfer of cannabis licences to third parties. This is also to ensure that only those who have the huge capital outlay to begin production apply for licences.
Ever since Lesotho became the first African country to legalise the production of medical cannabis in 2017, there has been little progress in terms of actual production despite the country having issued over 140 cannabis licences. This is because most licence holders lack the funds required to begin operations. Some sources within the medical cannabis industry say as much as M150 million is required to begin operations.
But Mr Mokhothu was this weekend singing a different tune and blaming the “prohibitive” licence fees for most Basotho’s failure to enter the lucrative global medical cannabis industry which is projected by forbes.com to grow from US$7, 7 billion in 2017 to $31, 4 billion in 2021.
Addressing DC supporters in Mosalemane, Mr Mokhothu said the ‘exorbitant’ licence fees had relegated Basotho to labourers rather than entrepreneurs in the medical cannabis industry.
“When we return to power we are going to review the laws governing the medical cannabis industry because the M540 000 licence fee is not affordable to the ordinary man,” Mr Mokhothu said.
“We need to open up the formal cannabis industry and put an end to the fraudulent processes in the awarding of licences. We want the medical cannabis industry to be open to the people of Mosalemane because they have the experience in cannabis production yet they remain prejudiced.
“The Mosalemane people should be allowed to rely on cannabis; a product commonly available within their area. It will therefore be prudent for us to engage experts to guide the people on how to produce medical cannabis and as government we will help them to acquire the inputs so that Basotho produce and sell to those who need to process the cannabis produce.
“We are therefore saying that medical cannabis licenses fees should be affordable to the ordinary Mosotho because the current M500 000 is too steep,” Mr Mokhothu said.
The opposition leader said it was time Lesotho regained control of its natural resources which were mainly in the hands of foreign investors. “Our diamonds, water, wool and mohair and now the cannabis industry is being handed to foreigners.
“We therefore have to address this issue with utmost vigilance because if we are going to allow our unique commodities to be controlled by foreigners, we will be their labourers and we will not produce anything for ourselves from the textile factories, sand stone mining, water bottling and cannabis.
“Our water will be bottled by foreigners and they will sell it back to us. Right now we are importing almost everything. We are just a market for other countries like South Africa.
“If you do not change and vote in the DC, you will remain sidelined by foreigners and you will work for them. But a DC government will do everything in its power to stop the importation of eggs, chicken and pork. Our people do not need qualifications to start piggery and poultry projects. We just need to rekindle the spirit of communal production.
“We will set up a massive piggery farming project and supply our local butcheries with pork and export the rest. We will do the same thing with poultry.”
He said a DC government would also subsidise wool and mohair farmers to purchase high quality rams and goats by 50 percent.
He also said the current government should not only repeal the wool and mohair regulations of 2018 but also compensate farmers who were negatively affected by regulations requiring them to sell their produce through the Lesotho Wool Centre in Thaba Bosiu and not through South Africa Brokers, BKB who paid them more for their produce.
“Over and above repealing the wool and mohair regulations, the government should compensate the farmers who received low payments.
“Government is to blame for impoverishing the farmers with this law.”
Mr Mokhothu said his government would introduce free high school education for all learners in its schools.
He accused the government of “playing a dangerous game” by failing to effectively address the teacher’s salary grievances which have dragged on for over a year.
“If you want to kill a nation, you can do it in two ways: you can eradicate its culture and traditions since the strength of any nation lies in its heritage.
“Or you can suffocate its education sector. This is what this current government seems intent on doing. And by killing the country’s education sector, the current government has become an enemy of the state, an enemy of the electorate which voted it into power,” Mr Mokhothu said.