MASERU — Orphans and primary school children that get food assistance from government are likely to starve because truck owners hired to transport the food have pulled out due to perennial delays in payment.
The truckers were contracted by the Food Management Unit (FMU), a government department co-ordinating food distribution by relief agencies, to transport food to various schools and orphans around the country.
The government is providing food to about 1 000 primary schools under the school feeding programme meant to support the universal primary education scheme launched by the government in 2000.
The government also helps transport food from other aid organisations
The children get papa, vegetables and beans as part of the feeding programme.
In some primary schools, especially in Lesotho’s poor areas, children actually rely on this food because their families are too poor to afford any.
Some of the pupils are orphans that come from child-headed families making them highly food insecure.
Malnutrition is still a huge problem in Lesotho.
The food is transported to remote areas by truckers hired by the government on a temporary basis.
The Lesotho Times understands that at least 30 truckers have withdrawn their vehicles bringing operations to a near stand-still.
Some of the truckers have been providing vehicles to the FMU for the past two years.
They say getting payment from FMU has always been a problem.
The truck owners complain that they are unable to repair their trucks when they break down because the FMU does not pay them on time.
Some say they have lost patience with the FMU because the unit has disappointed them on many occasions.
Moeketsi Machabe, a Thaba-Tseka businessman who has three trucks, said he was forced to stop hiring them to FMU because he had incurred huge losses. He said the FMU owed him M28 000 for the two trucks they hired three months ago.
He said the FMU has never paid him on time for the past four years.
Machabe said fuel traders who used to fill his trucks on credit have stopped because he never paid them at agreed times.
“Some of them used to give me diesel on credit to the tune of M16 000 and above,” Machabe said.
“But now nobody wants to give me diesel on credit anymore because I have never paid them on the agreed time,” he said.
“This has jeopardised my business because I do not provide transport services to the FMU alone.
“It is not good to use my family money to repair these trucks when they are broken because the FMU has failed to pay on time.
“These are hired and should be able to raise enough money to cover their maintenance costs.
“A hired truck should be able to maintain itself but if rented out to FMU it will not,” he said.
Another truck owner, Tlali Ratlali, told the Lesotho Times that he went to the FMU several times seeking to be paid but he had been shifted from pillar to post by the staff.
He claimed that the FMU office in Thaba-Tseka had allegedly not processed his payment for a truck hired in February.
Ratlali said he wanted to continue letting his vehicles to the FMU but he was not able to do so because of poor service by the unit’s staff.
“It is true that I need them to hire my vehicles but I cannot cover the costs if they don’t pay me on time,” Ratlali said.
“Delaying to pay is tantamount to acquiring my services for free,” he added.
An officer from the FMU, who preferred to talk on condition of anonymity, said some officers at the unit delay payment to force truck owners to pay bribes before their money can be released.
Efforts to contact the FMU management were not successful.