MASERU – Owners of the beleaguered Lesotho Wool and Mohair Centre are finalising plans to pay growers who sold their produce through the brokerage from private resources, officials said this week.
Public Eye can report the Centre – managed by the Chinese-owned Maseru Dawning – confirmed paying at least 15 000 out of the 20 000 farmers captured on its data base, in part or in full.
Another 12 000 farmers are yet to be captured on the system.
Company officials said this week they had shelled out M150 million to some farmers for the 30 000 bales of joint wool and mohair delivered to their Thaba Bosiu centre.
At least 22 000 bales of wool and 3 000 bales of mohair were auctioned in November 2018, earning about M500 million.
The brokerage is expecting more money from its overseas buyers as soon as all the wool and mohair has been shipped out.
The move follows an outcry from farmers and government about late payments.
Centre spokesperson Manama Letsie said the late payments were partly because of difficulties in capturing farmers’ data.
He noted that the verification process and actual transfer of monies into individual farmers’ accounts was “a nightmare” as some farmers had tendered inactive or dormant accounts.
To sidestep this problem, the Centre plans to issue cheques to farmers whose accounts were inoperable which will be delivered to shearing areas by the end of this month.
Letsie said this gesture was a show of commitment to Basotho farmers and an unwavering willingness to develop the Wool and Mohair industry.
Letsie also noted that initial plans had been to pay farmers within three to four weeks after delivery of their wool and mohair to the Centre, provided the Centre did not meet logistical and legal challenges when transporting their produce to ports in South Africa.
Further, payments could be delayed by red tape at the Central Bank and farmers providing insufficient documentation.
Stone Shi of Maseru Dawning rounded on his detractors, pleading for a chance to properly set up his business.
He scoffed at reports his company was broke, and rumour that he was wanted for murder in his native China and that he had fled the country without paying farmers.
“The main reason we are selling directly to international firms is to ensure that Lesotho Wool and Mohair gets to the last buyer in the market and not thorough middlemen who have in the past been unfairly benefiting from the hard work of Basotho farmers, charging commission after commission after commission to cut farmers’ incomes.
“Our account sales documents will prove that unlike before, there are very few deductions on the farmers’ pay slip. We have already cut out the cost of transport for farmers to transport their wool and mohair to the auction floors in Port Elizabeth.
“Many deductions such as VAT (tax) and others have also been avoided. Most importantly, with our first auction season coming to an end, the government of Lesotho will be able to get its legal levies from the sales of wool and mohair in the country and with the dipping levy to be directly utilised to buy farmers’ drugs and medicine to protect and improve their livestock,” Letsie noted.
This comes after the commercial court nullified the wool and mohair regulation, giving farmers the chance to take their wool and mohair to a broker of their choice, including BKB.
The nullified regulations barred farmers from taking their wool and mohair to South Africa and were compelled to take it to Thaba Bosiu Wool Centre.
Under the nullified regulations, it was illegal for anyone to engage in the business of wool and mohair: shearing shed; brokering; testing; trading and auctioning; processing; and exporting “unless the person has obtained a license to do so from the Minister responsible…”.
According to the regulations which came into effect on May 4, 2018 such a license obtained from the minister is “not transferable”.
The minister may amend, suspend or cancel the license in the event that an operation closes its business, or the license is not used appropriately or is used in fraudulent activities, or the holder allows another party to use the license.
Wool and Mohair farmers’ association leader, Khotsang Moshoeshoe, said farmers in Mokhotolong feel shortchanged as they have been paid less than what BKB used to pay them for the same amount of wool and mohair.
He said what is worrisome is that the sums deposited into their bank accounts do not correspond with the amounts on their pay slips.
“The amounts on the pay slips are more than the ones deposited into the farmers’ accounts. However, now that the wool and mohair regulations have been nullified, farmers will eventually get the money they deserve, which is more (when they sell to brokers of their choice),” he said.