FORMER Deputy Prime Minister Mothetjoa Metsing has attacked the government over what he says is its failure to address the grievances of teachers and wool and mohair farmers.
Mr Metsing told his party supporters at a weekend rally in Ha-Lesiamo, Leribe, that the government had shown little interest in reaching a compromise with the teachers over their demands for salary increments.
The teachers have been on strike since 18 February 2019 to press the government to award them salary increments and improve their working conditions.
The strike was instigated by three teachers’ unions, namely, the Lesotho Association of Teachers (LAT), Lesotho Teachers Trade Union (LTTU) and the Lesotho School Principals Association (LeSPA). Ahead of the strike, the Teaching Service Department in the Ministry of Education fired LAT chairperson Letsatsi Ntsibolane on 30 January 2019 for allegedly neglecting his teaching duties last November and inciting teachers to go on an illegal strike. The High Court has since granted an order for Mr Ntsibolane to be reinstated to the teaching service.
On the other hand, the wool and mohair farmers and the government have been at loggerheads ever since the government passed the Agricultural Marketing (Wool and Mohair Licensing) Regulations of 2018 last September. The regulations state that no one will be allowed to trade in wool and mohair without a licence from the Ministry of Small Business, Cooperatives and Marketing. They also stipulate that all the transactions should be done from Lesotho.
For the past 44 years, Basotho farmers had been selling their fabric in South Africa through brokers BKB until the promulgation of the Wool and Mohair Regulations of 2018.
The controversial regulations have been bitterly opposed by many local farmers who feel that they not only deprive them of higher earnings in South Africa but also that they were enacted to benefit Chinese businessman, Stone Shi.
The fabric is now auctioned locally by the Lesotho Wool Centre (LWC), a joint venture between the Lesotho National Wool and Mohair Growers Association (LNWMGA) and Mr Shi’s Maseru Dawning Trading Company.
The LNWMGA holds 75 percent shares while Maseru Dawning holds the remaining 25 percent in the LWC.
The farmers are now pleading poverty as a result of the delayed payments for their produce by the LWC.
Addressing LCD supporters in Leribe over the weekend, Mr Metsing said the nation was “in a crisis” because of the government’s failure to act on the grievances of the teachers as well as the wool and mohair farmers.
“Wool and mohair farmers are suffering because government has mishandled the wool and mohair affairs. People whose livelihoods depend solely on wool and mohair are now destitute because their product is not being sold. The farmers have failed to send their children to school. Others are not able to pay off their debts and may be vulnerable to threats from their debtors.
“They could be reserving death threats from their debtors because they fail to meet their agreements. Their property could be confiscated for failing to pay their debts,” Mr Metsing said.
He called on parliamentarians to help the teachers and farmers by holding rigorous discussions to find solutions to their concerns.
“We have to make sure that teachers go back to work so that the children get the education they deserve. We will do whatever it takes to make sure that it happens. “We are also committing ourselves to helping for the farmers. There are parliamentarians who are condemning the government’s mishandling of the teachers’ and farmers’ grievances,” Mr Metsing said.
He said his party could vote against the budget speech to force the government to address the teachers’ grievances.
“Teachers’ salaries were last reviewed in 2009. Their salaries have to be reviewed. They are demanding an eight percent increment for the years that their salaries were not reviewed. But there has not been any movement on the side of government.
“I am not saying that teachers should be given everything they are demanding. However, there should be a give and take. If the government is not negotiating in good faith, we will oppose the budget to force those in the administration to do so,” Mr Metsing said.
Finance Minister Moeketsi Majoro is expected to present the budget on Tuesday.