Mapesela sticks to his guns on farm equipment

. . . rubbishes proposed sale of FTCs as ‘all lies’

MATHATISI SEBUSI

MASERU – Despite a public outcry over the government’s sale of agricultural equipment mainly to state officials, instead of ordinary farmers as originally intended, agriculture minister Tefo Mapesela remains unfazed.

Mapesela, who approved the much-disputed sale, is adamant the transaction was part of the government’s effort to empower farmers to enable them to produce more. Critics, however, argue the transaction should face intense scrutiny, and be stopped.

The equipment sold comprises 84 government-owned tractors, 24 maize planters, 10 wheat drills, 68 furrow ploughs, 17 heavy duty disc harrows, 16 light duty disc harrows, 13 boom sprayers, 12 rippers and 8 seedbed cultivators.

Opposition Alliance of Democrats (AD), has since gone public with a strongly worded letter that there is legitimate controversy over this sale of government equipment.

The party says it is right to have intense scrutiny over the deal overseen by Mapesela. They called on the Directorate on Corruption and Economic Offences (DCEO), the Office of the Auditor General, parliament and the police to investigate the matter; particularly since buyers include MPs and government ministers, including Mapesela himself as agriculture minister.

A letter written and signed by party secretary general, Mahali Phamotse, argues the sale of the government property was generally illegal as it neither followed procurement regulations nor norms and procedures of good governance.

The letter charges that this sale of paints a grim impression that displays abuse of the office Mapesela holds, for the benefit of his friends and cabinet ministers under the pretense that the equipment was auctioned, while it was actually not. “We, therefore, urge the DCEO to thoroughly investigate the matter and take legal measures against those responsible.”

The letter suggests it could have been prudent for a thorough study to be undertaken to identify eligible farmers capable of promoting the country’s economy through agriculture which would be commendable and beneficial to the nation. Contacted for comment, Mapesela was adamant the sale was open to every farmer and “not just a selected group.”

He said this was government’s effort to empower farmers so that they can be able to produce more. “The sale was open to every farmer. I don’t know what these rumours that I sold the equipment to government ministers and my friends emanate from. Every farmer was allowed to buy,” Mapesela said.

These developments take place on the back of another questionable disposal of government assets. Last week Public Eye reported on the sale of the largely derelict state-run Farmers Training Centres (FTCs) across the country by the same ministry.

Similarly, this paper discovered that there were clandestine plans to auction FTCs to chosen cabinet members, which Public Eye indicated in the article could be viewed as illicit stripping of state assets, should that happen.

Mapesela rubbished the claims that the state-run FTCs dotted around the country were being sold or would be leased to private companies. “That is not true. Those allegations are all lies, there is nothing like that going on in the ministry. We are neither selling nor leasing the centres…they are all lying,” Mapesela said in an interview.

But the ministry’s Principal Secretary, Makara Nchakha, told this paper that the ministry was not selling the centres as suggested but “leasing the properties to an independent company.”

“Because of a dwindling budget, the FTCs are not executing their mandate well. They are now a liability to the ministry bringing in very little if any revenue,” Nchakha said.

He revealed, though, that one company has already been awarded the contract.

Public Eye had dug up information indicating that the government has such a project on the cards, indicating the agriculture hubs are already earmarked for sale to some government ministers, Mapesela included.

In the main the FTCs, which were set up during the Chief Leabua Jonathan era, are meant to train ordinary aspiring farmers, who were housed at the centres at very little or no cost at all during training.

It is at these centres that important knowledge about crops and plant varieties, where to buy seeds and chemicals, how to get high yields, and how much various crops are fetching in the market, was passed on to hands-on farmers.

Ironically, as watchers perceive attempts to strip the Ministry of Agriculture’s assets in his 2020/21 budget speech finance minister, Thabo Sophonea, recently noted that the country’s overall economic growth trajectory is underpinned mainly by agriculture, among other key sectors such as mining, manufacturing, and construction.

Sophonea said this growth is estimated to decline to 5.8 percent of GDP in 2020/21 before rebounding to the average of 4.7 percent in the medium-term.

“The expected increase in crop production will boost agriculture to the moderate growth of 2.6 percent in 2020/21. In the medium-term agricultural sector is expected to grow by an average of 2.3 percent supported by higher growth of livestock farming,” said the finance minister.

He continued that government will continue to focus its efforts and investments in agriculture, manufacturing, tourism and mining so the economy can recover.

The government plans to increase agricultural production and scale up commercialization efforts by broadening the scope of existing programmes financed by the World Bank, IFAD, African Development Bank, FAO and other partners, he added during his budget speech.

“These programmes include Smallholder Agricultural Development Project II (SADP II) to increase access to finance through matching grants scheme that stands at M100 million; development of value chains in partnership with the private sector for horticulture, leather, wool and mohair as well as spices and essential oils just to mention the first mover industries.

“We expect the trade hub to play a critical facilitatory role in this regard. The government is also finalising a M50 million financing facility for tractors and other agricultural machinery,” Sophonea said.

He said in the quest to invest in the commercialisation and diversification of agricultural production, the government will continue to subsidise agricultural inputs and promote climate smart agriculture for both livestock and crop farmers which would be replicated to farmers in other districts in support of a sustainable commercial agriculture.

He further noted that through strategic partnerships with key stakeholders and development partners, the government continues to develop climate change adaptation strategies and advise the farming community to adopt and use them.

“The Government through Small-Holder Agriculture Development Project II is implementing a Contingency Emergency Response Component, where Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) has been contracted to undertake the responsive intervention by providing agricultural inputs to small-scale farmers.

“Inputs include grains and vegetable seeds, shade nets, small-scale irrigation system and water tank. Funds amounting to M80 million have been disbursed to FAO as an implementing agency.

“Cereal crop seeds have been distributed in the three mountain districts of Thaba-Tseka, Mokhotlong and Qacha’s Nek targeting 5 000 farming households,” he announced.

Sophonea said the majority of beneficiaries have already planted maize.

Additional 200 metric tonnes (MT) of beans and 26.6 MT of fertilizer (2:3:2) already distributed to 15 000 lowlands beneficiaries in the four districts of Quthing, Mohale’s Hoek, Leribe and Botha-Bothe.

 

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