Lesotho Times

This is sabotage

IN this issue we carry a story about 100 block farmers who have failed to repay their government-guaranteed loans to a local commercial bank.
The block farming scheme, which began in the 2006/2007 season, was to provide capital to farmers to increase the country’s food security.
The project, it was hoped, would revamp Lesotho’s agriculture sector and wean the country from its dependence on food handouts from aid agencies.
The block farming scheme was a brilliant idea to rescue the agricultural sector which had been in continuous decline since the 1970s.
In 1980, Lesotho produced about 80 percent of its national food requirements, according to the World Food Programme.
Cereal production however took a slump in the 1990s, declining to about 50 percent of national needs.
By 2004, the national cereal production had further slumped to 30 percent of national requirements.
During the 2006/07 season, we saw a further slump in food production across the country due mainly to a devastating drought which was said to be the worst in 30 years.
What is clear from this brief analysis is that we have failed to feed ourselves as a nation and have increasingly relied on handouts from international relief agencies.
This is a shame.
So when the government, in conjunction with Standard Lesotho Bank, came up with the block farming scheme, we thought the project would have “a Lazarus effect” in resuscitating Lesotho’s agriculture.
Our hopes of a miracle appeared to be misplaced.
In fact, from day one the project has been dogged by controversy.
All in all, the government of Lesotho pumped in a total of M78 202 813.24 in the block farming programme.
But a paltry M4 432 832.70 has been repaid by the farmers, representing a mere 5.67 percent of the total owed.
This is scandalous.
This surely raises serious questions about the manner the whole scheme is being managed.
What worries us most is that those who failed to service their loans have been allowed to borrow more from the bank with the government continuing to act as the guarantor.
In our analysis, we are left with no choice but to conclude that this is looting of state resources at a grand scale.
We think there is a serious anomaly in the manner the whole farming project is structured and is being managed.
Even former ruling Lesotho Congress for Democracy secretary-general Mpho Malie is not amused by the manner in which the project is being run.
Some of the issues that Malie raises are quite pertinent.
It is therefore important that the government deals with the issue in a level-headed manner.
It must muster all the guts to deal with this national shame.
While the government might argue it is still collecting the loans “bit by bit”, we think the money being collected is a drop in the ocean given what the farmers owe.
There are also allegations that in some instances no farming ever took place in the districts with some individuals using the money for non-farming activities.
If this is true we must query the general lethargy in administering the project by the government as guarantor of the loan.
Why was there no supervision to check if farming was taking place?
Was there any audit to verify that some serious farming was taking place on the ground?
In fact, was there any political will on the part of the government to ensure that government money would not sink into the ground without trace?
We think it is in the national interest for the government to provide a clear and coherent response to this shameful scandal.
Of course there have been, as explained elsewhere in this issue, some success stories.
But the success stories pale into insignificance when compared to the monumental failures of the whole farming project.
The government of Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili must seize this opportunity and explain to the nation how it intends to recover the looted public funds from these delinquent farmers.
We understand that some projects were hit by drought.
Fair and fine.
What worries us is the trend where farmers take government money and disappear like many have done.
This is tantamount to sabotaging a national project.

Lesotho Times

Lesotho's widely read newspaper, published every Thursday and distributed throughout the country and in some parts of South Africa.

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