MASERU – Controversial Chinese businessman, Stone Shi, has signed an acknowledgement of debt in the amount of M10 530 766 to the government of Lesotho after failing to pay thousands of wool and mohair farmers in the 2018/19 financial year.
This is the amount approved by cabinet on April 6, towards payment of wool and mohair farmers who did not receive any payment during that period.
The Minister of Small Business Development, Cooperatives and Marketing, Chief Thesele ’Maseribane, revealed on Wednesday, saying Shi could face serious consequences if he fails to pay.
This, after the businessman failed on several occasions, since the 2018/19 fiscal year, to pay wool and mohair farmers who were at the time forced by government to take their fibre to Shi’s Maseru Dawning-run Thaba-Bosiu Wool Centre, thereby creating a monopoly in the local industry.
Farmers were forced to hand over their fibre to the centre, following regulations which were imposed by the government, prohibiting them from trading outside the country.
However, the regulations were later amended in 2019 allowing the farmers to once again trade from anywhere they want. This was after a huge outcry from players in the industry who accused Shi of lack of honesty and poor financial returns from their fibre, among other things.
Since 2018/19, Shi has been struggling to pay farmers until recently when the government decided to intervene and pay farmers on his behalf. To date, scores of wool and mohair farmers are yet to receive payments from the centre, having delivered their fibre back in 2018.
But on Wednesday, Chief ’Maseribane announced that the payments of the farmers will begin sooner than later. Exact dates will be announced later this week.
While some payments were supposed to be effected on April 7 this year, the minister said there were some unforeseen challenges that the ministry still had to deal with.
However, he added, that the processes that had to be undertaken in order for the payments to begin have been completed. One of those processes included that Shi signs and agrees that he will pay back all the money the government has allocated towards paying the farmers.
“Stone Shi has acknowledged and signed the agreement and in order for the payment vouchers to be processed at the Ministry of Finance, the agreement has been sent to the Principal Secretary also to sign and ministry to witness,” ’Maseribane added.
At the moment, he said a total of 759 payment vouchers have been processed for payment, awaiting the contract to return from the Ministry of Finance.
Out of the 759, a total of 643 are for Standard Lesotho Bank, 114 for Lesotho Post Bank and only two vouchers for the First National Bank (FNB) Lesotho.
A total of 1 810 farmers have been found to have no accounts, inactive accounts or closed accounts. Shearing sheds will compile lists for the above farmers so that single payments are made to the sheds directly.
“Wool and mohair farmers with wrong banking details and inactive account numbers will be paid directly through shearing sheds. These shearing sheds will compile the list of such farmers,” ’Maseribane explained.
The Ministry of Small Business Development, Cooperatives and Marketing was authorised to use a multi payment government of Lesotho expenditure account by the Ministry of Finance to pay the farmers.
Payment vouchers of Standard Lesotho Bank, Lesotho Post Bank and FNB Lesotho have been submitted to the Ministry of Finance to disburse funds to the banks.