. . . as 4 000 bags of subsidized input vanish from govt warehouse
Maseru – A crowd of angry farmers from across the country yesterday thronged the ministry of agriculture offices trying to buy fertilizer which has become hard to come by.
This amidst reports that an estimated 4 000 bags of subsidised fertiliser disappeared from the ministry’s warehouse this week.
According to Public Eye inquiries, the alleged discovery of missing fertiliser follows a tip-off from some officials in the ministry, that fertiliser bags had disappeared from the warehouse and was being sold on the black market.
The fertiliser is part of a government consignment meant to benefit farmers but reports say unscrupulous officials had taken advantage of the low-cost fertiliser to exploit them.
Police spokesperson, Senior Superintendent Mpiti Mopeli, confirmed these developments to Public Eye yesterday, indicating that following receipt of information on the alleged theft the police have been hard at work investigating the matter. He, however, could not be drawn into discussing other details surrounding the case, referring this paper to the Ministry of Agriculture.
At the ministry one bag of fertilizer sells for M144 and the legal selling price by retailers is about M181 even though one Lephola Lehohla, a farmer in the crowd said in Thaba-Tseka a bag retails for as much as M570.
“I am a farmer from Thaba-Tseka, I have been sleeping on the streets of Maseru for six days now waiting to get fertilizer because the nearest warehouse in our district has run dry and this is the second year now. “So, for me farming comes with extra costs because of the ignorance of our leaders, and to get this inputs we have to stay under the shadow of those holding contracts.
“The corruption in this ministry is frustrating us as farmers, so much that one day while on the queue only 10 people were served and after they went in we were told the ministry has run dry of fertilizer again. “Yet 10 people have helped themselves to 4 000 bags of fertilizers while they tell the public one person is not allowed to purchase more than 100 bags.”
Farmers from around the country have been crying foul over shortage of this crucial farming input. Several spots along the Roma Road at Ha Makhalanyane, according to media reports, have been identified where this government-subsidised fertiliser is allegedly being sold to unsuspecting farmers at exorbitant prices.
Reports suggest the traders are working in cahoots with rogue ministry of agriculture officers, leading to fertiliser shortage around the country.
The angry crowd milling along the perimeter fence of the ministry yesterday was disgruntled about what they label “biased service and fraudulent practices in the purchase of fertilizers from government.”
The farmers say this mess comes after government changed processes in purchasing the subsidized fertilizer by individual farmers, calling the new process stressful.
They claim government now sells only to people in possession of a tax clearance certificate and a trader’s license and have acquired valid business contracts with the ministry.
During this reporter’s visit to the office of the Minister of Agriculture yesterday, an official who identified himself as Motlatsi Motlatsi rubbished the allegations of theft of 4 000 bags of fertlizer. He attributed the stampede at the office to panic buying since the planting season is upon us and many farmers want to secure the fertilizer.
“The allegations of 4 000 bags of fertilizer that disappeared is a lie and an impossible act. The cargo came in through six trucks of a super-link model and each truck was carrying almost 680 bags which were offloaded in Berea at Ha Foso at the ministry’s warehouse.
“When the warehouse was filled to capacity the trucks then moved the fertlizer to a nearby warehouse in Masianokeng.
“If we say 4 000 bags of fertilizer have disappeared, that is to say six trucks carrying 680 bags of cargo have been offloaded and to my knowledge that would have taken the entire night to offload, and how could such an act taken place without anybody witnessing it? There is no such thing, it is a lie,” a raging Motlatsi said.
But claims of fertilizer being offloaded at Masianokeng were refuted by Lebitsa Tšehlana, from the office of the Ward Council in the Koro-Koro constituency – he also complained of the new system of purchasing fertiliser.
“The minister’s office can’t seriously claim the consignment was offloaded at the Masianokeng warehouse, this is disturbing and is unlikely because I believe I could have seen the trucks offloading when I passed there on my way here as the warehouse is adjacent the road.
“Not even a single person talked of seeing a truck today. “This system of buying agricultural inputs this year by the government is stressful and it slows everything down. For instance, it’s already lunch time yet on the list we use for queuing it reads only 50 people have been served so far,” he said.