Govt apologises for delays in wool farmers’ payments

MAMELLO SEBATANE

MASERU – The Ministry of Small Business Development, Cooperatives and Marketing has apologised to wool farmers over government’s failure to pay them by April 7 as promised.

However, it has guaranteed the farmers that the ministry will soon announce the exact date when the funds will reflect in farmers’ accounts.

Up to 759 payment vouchers have been processed for payment and the ministry is awaiting the contract to return from the Ministry of Finance.

In a statement issued today, the ministry said cabinet approved allocation of M10 530 766 on April 6.

“Since the Ministry of Finance has already received payment vouchers for the Standard Lesotho Bank, Lesotho Post Bank, First National Bank to disburse the funds payments for some farmers will soon be made.

However, up to 1 810 farmers without bank accounts, or whose accounts are inactive or closed, will be paid directly through their respective shearing sheds,” the ministry has said.

Unpaid farmers have been struggling after brokering company, Maseru Dawning, failed to pay them in recent years until government announced they will cough up the hefty sum.

Maseru Dawning, owned by Chinese national Stone Shi, had declared they will pay the wool and mohair growers before the end of December 2020.

Shi’s brokering license was suspended in October 2020 by the Ministry of Small Business Development over failure to pay the farmers.

In November of 2020 at the height of tension between Standard Lesotho Bank and the wool and mohair broker, Shi claimed he had raised funds to pay off some farmers he owed.

Speaking to Public Eye at the time he said he was also considering legal action against the bank for “unwarranted” service charges and double payments made to farmers.

The Chinese businessman had failed to clear farmers’ debts and arrears dating back to 2018.

Public Eye’s inquiries at the time had suggested that Shi had sourced some funds and planned to pay the farmers whose debts dated back to 2018/2019 by Christmas 2020.

The rest of the farmers would be paid by the end of January this year.

Shi assured this paper of his unrelenting efforts to ensure his license is reinstated as the suspension was damaging his reputation and the company’s goodwill.

He further claimed at the time that he would have started paying farmers but he had “to date not received any reconciliation from Standard Lesotho Bank, statements he urgently needs to process farmers’ payments.”

“Shi sourced money elsewhere to pay the farmers money for 2018/2019, that amounts to over M2 million.

“Expectation is that farmers that are owned money for 2018/19 will be all paid by Christmas, while those that are owned money for their 2019/20 fabric will be paid by the end of January (2021),” the Chinese businessman’s information office said.

Then small business ministry confirmed later that the decision to suspend Shi’s license was arrived at after both the broker and his banker failed to meet timelines set to pay farmers.

The ministry said they had numerous meetings with Standard Lesotho Bank and Maseru Dawning during which it was decided that they resolve their differences within a stipulated time “but the duo neither paid the farmers nor reported back to the ministry.”

“We gave these people more than two chances to resolve whatever problem they have. Timelines that we all agreed on were set but they failed to deliver.

“As a result, we decided to suspend their license to avoid accumulation of challenges and give them a chance to settle the money they owe these farmers.”

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