- blasts cabinet colleagues for allowing Chinese meat wholesaler to endanger public health
- demands review of foreign investors’ contracts to run major companies
OUTSPOKEN DEFENCE and National Security Minister Tefo Mapesela has fired a broadside at his cabinet colleagues who he accuses of turning a blind eye to the unscrupulous activities of a prominent Chinese meat wholesaler that is allegedly endangering the public health by selling rotten meat which it would have washed with brake-fluid and detergents.
Mr Mapesela further accuses his colleagues of prejudicing the nation through their failure to act against foreign investors who have reneged on their obligations to pay dividends to the government.
The fire-spitting minister served in the Trade and Industry portfolio from the advent of the four party governing coalition in June 2017 until the December 2018 cabinet reshuffle which saw him moved to his current portfolio. His gripe is with his cabinet colleagues who he accuses of allowing prominent Chinese businessman Chen Jin Song who claims to run a franchise for Sky Country South Africa to go scot-free despite selling rotten meat which could endanger public health. Sky Country South Africa has however dissociated itself from the Lesotho meat wholesale owned by Mr Chen, saying he was not their franchisee and he was illegally using the Sky Country name.
Mr Mapesela recently appeared before the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) and pleaded with the parliamentary body to revoke the business licence of the Chinese meat wholesaler.
He was summoned by the PAC in his capacity as the former Trade minister after the Principal Secretary in the Ministry of Finance, Motena Tsolo, told the Selibe Mochoboroane-led PAC that Lesotho Flour Mills contract had been renewed despite concerns about its failure to pay dividends to the government.
The minister used the opportunity to lay bare his frustrations with his cabinet colleagues for failing to rein on foreign investors and companies that had allegedly either failed to pay dividends or are offering substandard products to local consumers.
“These companies like Lesotho Flour Mills, Avani Lesotho and Loti Brick are taking advantage of the fact that government is ignorant,” Mr Mapesela alleged.
“Avani Lesotho failed to pay dividends to government for many years yet it managed to pay M10 million in legal fees during the same period. We seriously need to review the contracts government has with these companies.
“Just look at Loti Brick, it is running losses because of mismanagement while ‘Sky Country’ is literally killing Basotho. Just go to the Sky Country’ warehouse in the industrial area of Maseru and you will find them washing rotten meat with brake-fluid and washing detergent.”
He warned that Basotho could likely suffer from cancer from consuming the meat sold by the Chinese wholesaler which grabbed the headlines last May when its owner Chen Jin Song was tied up with shoe laces by police officers who had come to arrest him for allegedly selling rotten meat. The police who were accompanied by Mr Mapesela to one of Mr Chen’s Maseru butcheries, did not have handcuffs and they tied him with the shoe laces and dragged him from his butchery despite his pleas to be released as he was not resisting arrest. Mr Mapesela said he had visited the butchery before to warn Mr Chen against selling expired meat but the latter “seemed to believe that he was above the law because he would bribe government officials to turn a blind eye to the complaints of the public”.
The May 2018 raid was not the first time that the Chinese meat wholesaler Sky Country had been in trouble with the law for allegedly selling rotten meat products.
In 2013, the then Trade Minister Temeki Tšolo also ordered the butchery to be raided and temporarily shut down.
And at his recent appearance before the PAC, Mr Mapesela said his efforts to shut down the business entity while he was still a Minister of Trade failed due to the lack of cooperation from other line ministries, namely, Justice and Correctional Service, Police and Public Safety as well as Labour And Employment.
He pleaded with the PAC to force the Ministry of Trade to cancel Mr Chen’s trading licence “before he kills Basotho with his rotten meat”.
“I am pleading with the PAC to interrogate this man (Chinese wholesaler Chen Jin Song) before he kills Basotho. Please compel the Ministry of Trade to withdraw the licence it issued to this man and the Ministry of Labour to also revoke the business permit given to him. His business needs to be shut down immediately. If he wants to start another company give him a new permit because I have learnt that he does not want to go back to China,” Mr Mapesela said.
PAC member and Qhalasi legislator, Palo Leteetee, said they had noted Mr Mapesela’s plea and they would discuss the matter behind closed doors.