MASERU — MPs from the ruling Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) party and their allies from the National Independent Party (NIP) allies on Friday ganged up to foil a motion to investigate the block farming scandal.
The Lesotho Workers Party’s Sello Machakela had proposed a motion calling on parliament to set up an ad hoc committee to probe the alleged maladministration of block farming funds.
But the motion was met with resistance from the majority of LCD and NIP lawmakers.
“I have listened to the collection of voices. We have voted for the motion to be blocked . . . the motion has been disposed of,” Deputy Speaker of Parliament Sephiri Motanyane said after the vote.
Leader of the House and Home Affairs Minister Lesao Lehohla, who had remained mum during the debate, quoted standing order 95 (1)(a), dealing with Powers and Functions of Portfolio Committees, as having the power to bar the motion.
“I would be convinced if the motion was proposed following failure by the relevant portfolio committee to assess this matter,” Lehohla said.
“When the portfolio committee tasked with the responsibility of dealing with this matter has failed, having consulted professionally, it will say so.
“What is being proposed today is a replica of what already exists. It is at committee level.”
Machakela had suggested in his motion that the “committee should ascertain reasons for low recovery (of loans) and recommend to the House measures to be effected for the successful implementation of the programme”.
Machakela said it was imperative for parliament to set up an ad hoc committee “because the public trusts us to look after its interests”.
“We should put aside our political differences and together fight to curb the noise being made in the media about this issue,” Machakela said.
“The committee should launch investigations into what caused the excellent government agricultural programme to fail.
“The committee will also help in preserving the dignity of parliament and its members.
“We need to know the truth.”
He added that MPs needed to “ensure that public funds are not diverted from purposes they were initially intended for”.
“When public taxes are abused it is our duty to protect them,” Machakela said.
“This matter has to rise above politics because it affects us all.”
At this juncture LCD chief whip Thabang Pheko interjected by asking Machakela if he was aware that the government had announced its intention to conduct a forum on agriculture in Lesotho.
Machakela replied that he was not aware of it.
Then the hostility started.
“Hurry up and stop dilly-dallying,” said LCD MP for Tele, Ndiwuleni Ndlomose, in reaction to Machekela’s explanation.
“Can we really afford to put up with all the noise?”
The LWP’s Sello Maphalla supported Machakela’s motion.
“Agricultural issues in Lesotho are very sensitive because it is this country’s backbone,” Maphalla said.
“I have a document showing that M74 million has not been accounted for from the 2006 season because there are farmers who have not paid back even a cent of their loans.
“Some are MPs and ministers.
“The executive will be addressing agriculture in general in that forum, whereas we want to specifically talk about block farming.”
Matsieng MP Mootse Lehata came down hard on Maphalla for getting his facts wrong regarding the period within which the block farming programme started.
“The motion’s initiator is in the dark with regard to when the block farming programme started,” Lehata said.
“It is obvious he is not clear about these things.”
Lehata and his father, Assistant Minister of Agriculture Ramootse Lehata, are among farmers who are accused of defaulting on their block farming loans.
“What scares you about talking about block farming? There is something wrong with block farming,” said an irritated LWP leader Macaefa Billy in response to Lehata.
Mt Moorosi MP Kose Makoa, a member of the portfolio committee on finance, said they were already “working on the issue”.
Maphalla later told the Sunday Express that he was “neither shocked nor surprised by the turn of events”.
“It is a common trend for them (ruling party MPs) to reject motions when they involve prominent people’s names,” Maphalla said.
According to Maphalla, in 2002 the Famine Relief for the 2002-2003 Summer Cropping Season programme was introduced “but went askew”.
“A Select Committee on Agricultural Inputs was established to investigate circumstances which could have led to its failure,” he said.
“The committee submitted its report but it was never tabled before parliament because prominent people even then were said to have been involved.”
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