MASERU – The Wool and Mohair debacle spilled into parliament this week with MPs demanding answers from government on the inordinate delays in paying growers for their produce.
MPs grilled the minister of agriculture and that of small businesses, on the long queues of farmers that have been seen forming outside Standard Bank branches for over a month.
Senqu Member of Parliament (MP) Likeleli Tampane said some farmers from outlying districts are stranded in Maseru without a penny, after failing to access their money.
She demanded ministers address disgruntled farmers in Mokhotlong, explaining the delays in payment and the nuances of the payment system as some growers claim the net earning have dropped sharply since they switched to Lesotho Wool Centre from BKB.
Tampane accused the Ministry of Small Business of shifting blame on the delays in payment to farmers for reportedly not submitting valid accounts and proper documents.
Some Mokhotlong farmers are livid they were paid less than what BKB used to pay them despite sending more wool and mohair to the Thaba Bosiu-based Maseru Dawning Wool Centre.
MPs noted that these glitches have angered some farmers who have vowed not to shear their sheep and goats in formal woolsheds to avoid being gang-pressed into selling their produce through the Lesotho Wool Centre.
The Minister of Agriculture and Food Security, Mahala Molapo, said deliveries from shearing centres in the districts to the Lesotho Wool Centre were slow, while some farmers hid their produce until after the auctions.
He further noted some farmers did not have bank accounts.
Molapo said he had approached Standard Bank so it could commit more tellers to counters serving the farmers.
Addressing murmurs of disgruntlement among farmers that they were being shortchanged, Molapo said statements of accounts would be sent to shearing centres to show farmers how their wool and mohair was sold.
He added his ministry had sent officials to different districts to deal with farmers’ problems and to ensure everyone was paid.
The Lesotho Wool Centre last month announced it would pay farmers from its own coffers following an outcry from farmers about delayed payments.
It pledged to pay farmers for the 30 000 bales of joint wool and mohair it expected to have been delivered to the centre by the end of May.
Of this figure, 22 000 bales of wool and 3 000 bales of mohair were auctioned in November 2018, bringing in about M500 million.
The broker said he was waiting for external remittances, although the remaining 8 000 bales were yet to be shipped out.
But Remaketse Moloantoa, a Mokhotlong farmer, feels cheated.
He said the Lesotho Wool Centre entreated them into delivering their produce on promises of earning more than they used to when their produce was marketed through BKB.
He noted that he got only M2 000 this year less than half what BKB used to pay him for the same amount of produce.
Moloantoa was frustrated that the authorities had blocked BKB from trading in Lesotho through legislation which was confirmed in the Appeal Court last week.
“What surprises me is that this year I have sheared more goats and sheep than the previous time. With so much development, I was actually hoping for more money but unfortunately that did not happen.
“Last year I sheared 28 goats and 28 sheep and got M5 000 but this time around with 52 goats and 44 sheep I only got M2 000,’’ Molantoa said.
He said he now has to source funds to retire debts incurred in the hope of paying them off after getting paid.
“I am stressed even more now that the money is in my hands. I have to pay school fees because children have been staying at home because of the lack of school fess. I made debts trying to keep the family surviving while waiting for the money but now I cannot even pay half of the debts.
“If the impact on the sales of our wool and mohair has been caused by politics, I will never ever vote again,” he said.
Teboho Mashale of Moremoholo Shearing Centre was also unhappy with the amount of money he had been paid.
He charged the Wool Centre lacks transparency and emphasised that if the matter was not dealt with urgently, they would keep their wool and mohair at home or stop shearing altogether until they are satisfied with the sales.
But Mpho Matiea said he had earned more this year than when he used to sell through BKB.
Even though it took time for him to get paid, Matiea said he would continue delivering his wool and mohair to the Thaba Bosiu Wool Centre.
Lesotho Wool Centre spokesperson Manama Letsie, recently admitted not all farmers had been paid adding some farmers provided dormant accounts causing deposits to be rejected.
“The Centre is compiling a list of farmers whose money was returned to the Centre’s account and will send it to banks and shearing centres so that farmers can get the money,” he said.
The bank, Standard Lesotho Bank, said it was not responsible for the decision to switch from an automated payment system to a manual system to pay wool and mohair farmers which may have contributed to delays in paying some.
The bank has been using the automated method of payment with the previous broker BKB until 2018 when the government of Lesotho’s new regulations directed farmers to sell their wool and mohair through Maseru Dawning, the government’s authorised broker.
“These payments are being processed manually as demanded by the farmers as opposed to the usual online, faster payment transfers,” Standard Lesotho Bank Chief Executive Officer, Mpho Vumbukani, revealed during a press briefing recently.
Through the manual process, Standard Lesotho Bank staff members have to literally look at the information that comes from the woolsheds and then reconcile that with the committee leaders in the districts to confirm the information.
The bank then has to check whether the payment has been processed which is what caused the bottlenecks, according to the bank.
The system has since been blamed for the congestion caused by wool and mohair farmers in Mokhotlong district recently over delays in payments.