LESOTHO Congress for Democracy (LCD) leader Mothetjoa Metsing has called for the arrest of businessman Stone Shi and some ministers for alleged corruption in the wool and mohair industry.
The former deputy premier, who is part of a parliamentary committee investigating the affairs of the troubled wool and mohair sector, wants Mr Shi arrested for exchanging local farmers’ wool and mohair for machinery. Despite bitter complaints and resistance by farmers, last year the government granted Mr Shi’s Maseru Dawning Trading company a monopoly in the brokerage of wool and mohair.
Three weeks ago, Central Bank of Lesotho governor, Retšelisitsoe Matlanyane, told the parliamentary committee that instead of receiving payments in line with its licence to broker wool and mohair on behalf of local farmers, Mr Shi’s Maseru Dawning Trading company “purchased two wool hydraulic balers in exchange for wool worth US$ 61 323,20 (about M798 000)”.
The proceeds from the sales of wool and mohair could have been used to pay restive local farmers who have complained bitterly about the monopoly given to Mr Shi to broker their produce in the aftermath of the enactment of the controversial Agricultural Marketing (Wool and Mohair Licensing) (Amendment) Regulations of 2018. The regulations prohibit the export of wool and mohair from outside Lesotho and the trade in the wool and mohair without a licence from the Ministry of Small Business, Cooperatives and Marketing. The net effect is that local farmers can no longer have their produce sold from South Africa through their preferred South African brokers, BKB, as they had done for 44 years until last year.
The farmers have also complained that Mr Shi’s company pays them far less than what BKB used to pay them for their produce and many of them say they have been impoverished as a result.
Mr Metsing and other opposition politicians have publicly voiced their opposition to the 2018 regulations that gave Mr Shi a monopoly in the sector, saying farmers should be left to decide who they want to sell their produce on their behalf.
And speaking at a recent LCD rally in Qalabane, Mafeteng, Mr Metsing called for the arrest of Mr Shi for prejudicing the farmers by exchanging their wool and mohair for machinery.
Mr Metsing also wants some unnamed ministers arrested for allegedly conniving with Mr Shi to prejudice the farmers of their potential earnings from their produce.
He said Mr Shi, a Chinese national, had to be urgently locked up so that he does not flee the country to avoid prosecution.
“He took four percent more than what he was supposed to take from the sales of wool and mohair,” Mr Metsing said of Mr Shi.
“If the police do not quickly not arrest this man who decided to buy machinery with the revenue from the sale of wool and mohair, he would have fled the country by the time investigations into his conduct are completed.
“Some ministers must also be jailed after the parliamentary committee has completed its investigations into the wool and mohair saga.”
Mr Metsing also used the rally to repeat his demands for a government of national unity (GNU) to lead the country throughout the multi-sector reforms process.
The LCD is one of the parties that is involved in the processes that are expected to culminate in the implementation of the constitutional, security sector, media, judicial and governance reforms that were recommended by the Southern African Development Community (SADC) in 2016.
Last year, SADC leaders gave Lesotho until May 2019 to have fully implemented the constitutional and security sector reforms but that deadline has already been missed.
The process has been delayed largely as a result of the bickering between the government and the opposition which for a long time refused to participate until the government meet their preconditions including the establishment of a GNU, a truth and reconciliation commission (TRC) as well as the release of the likes of murder-accused former army commander, Lieutenant General, Tlali Kamoli.
And in his recent address to LCD supporters, Mr Metsing repeated his demands for a GNU, saying it was the only institution that could bring peace and stability to Lesotho.
“As the LCD, we strongly believe that the Government of National Unity (GNU) is the only arrangement that can help us resolve our political problems as it shall be inclusive and the reforms process has come at an opportune time for everyone to be fruitful. We have had our fair share of problems and our problems are enough to drive us into a GNU.”
Mr Metsing once again denied claims that he had chosen to side with All Basotho Convention (ABC) leader Thomas Thabane in his fight for control of the ruling party with his deputy Professor Nqosa Mahao.
There are widespread reports that Mr Metsing has inked a deal to oppose the no confidence motion filed by pro-Mahao ABC legislators in parliament. The motion is expected to be tabled any time after parliament re-opened on Friday, two months after it was adjourned in June.
While other opposition parties have backed the no confidence motion against Dr Thabane, the LCD has been holding out for a possible deal to vote in favour of Dr Thabane on condition the latter agrees to the formation of a GNU.
At his recent rally, Mr Metsing said a successful no confidence vote would only result in Dr Thabane calling for costly fresh elections. He said it would be better for the country if an all-inclusive GNU was established instead of a change of government through elections.
“The Prime Minister can still call fresh elections (in the event of a successful no confidence vote against him) and (costly) elections would be very unfair on Basotho.
“We (politicians) spend most of our energy fighting each other and forget that we are mandated to look out for the welfare of the electorate. As the LCD, we will work with anyone who buys into the idea of a GNU.
“If necessary we shall work with the opposition. We shall work with those in government as long as it is for the good of the people. We want an inclusive government,” Mr Metsing said.
He blamed unemployment, poverty and the general malaise on the intra party fights that have plagued Lesotho since independence in 1966.
“The root cause of instability in Lesotho is the struggle for power amongst ourselves and that is why there have been splits in all the parties since 1966. The infighting impedes service delivery.
“Elections on their own cannot save us from our problems. It is only if we work together and iron out issues and past hurts that we can heal and grow,” Mr Metsing said.