Minister under fire over new dagga fees

Minister under fire over new dagga fees

MASERU – HEALTH Minister Nkaku Kabi has come under fire from MPs and opposition politicians for suggesting that licence fees for cannabis growers should be increased 20-fold.
Kabi announced two weeks ago that he was considering increasing the cannabis licence fee from M500 000 to M10 million.
Lesotho is one of the few countries in the world that have legalised cannabis farming for medicinal and scientific purposes and became the first African country to do so.
The proposal to increase fees was announced shortly after Parliament had closed for the Christmas holidays, and MPs did not have a chance to debate the issue.
Some MPs say the issue should be among the first items to be discussed when Parliament reopens next year.
Thabana-Morena MP Selibe Mochoboroane, who is also the chairman for the Public Accounts Committee as well as Movement for Economic Change leader, accused Kabi of harbouring “hurtful ideas” meant to perpetuate poverty among Basotho.

He said if Kabi cared about Basotho, he would not consider the licence fee increase because the new fees would be out of reach for many locals.
“You would think that since this is Basotho’s soil that is going to be used, their interests would be put forward but you can see that this is for foreigners,” Mochoboroane fumed, adding that “there is no Mosotho that can afford M10 million”.

Deputy leader for the Basotho Democratic National Party (BDNP), Pelele Letsoela, said he did not understand why Basotho should pay such a huge amount to invest in their own country.
“This plant is the seed from Basotho, it is going to be planted by Basotho, why are they expected to pay a licence fee?” Letsoela said.
The official Leader of Opposition, Mathibeli Mokhothu, who is also deputy leader of the Democratic Congress (DC), said “Kabi wants to make profit for foreigners as they are the only people who will be able to afford the M10 million licences”.

“Cannabis is the product of Basotho so he should come up with a reasonable price that he knows Basotho will afford, unless he knows that he is creating opportunities for himself and not for Basotho,” Mokhothu said.

“There aren’t many expenses that government is going to incur for the production of cannabis.”
The ruling All Basotho Convention (ABC) MP for Mosalemane constituency, Sam Rapapa, who is also a member of the PAC, criticised the move “because already the M500 000 is high”.
“How do they think people will afford the M10 million?” Rapapa said. “First of all the reason for increasing the fee is neither really clear nor valid and we all know most Basotho will not be able to afford,” he said.

“This needs to be discussed in Parliament so that we can all know the real reason for increasing the fee,” said Rapapa.
The Secretary General of the Lesotho People’s Congress (LPC), Bokang Ramatšella, said the proposed increase “is madness and it shows how cruel the government of Lesotho is to Basotho”.
“It is only this year that cannabis was made legal, and before they even see any benefit of it they are being robbed of the opportunity,” Ramatšella said.
“This cannabis planting could be the only business opportunity Basotho have as all the business opportunities are being given to foreigners,” he said.
Speaking at a press conference two weeks ago, Kabi said he intended to increase the licence fees because “companies or individuals that will trade in cannabis will make a huge profit”.
He said the government needed money to bring in experts from abroad to inspect the suitability of soils for the production of cannabis.
Kabi also said some of the exporting costs will be shouldered by the government.

“When I first got into the ministry in February this year, the cannabis licences fee was free and then about 30 people were given licences,” Kabi said.
“We told the people that got the licences for free that licences are now M500 000 so they should pay the money or find sponsors or else they can give them back,” Kabi said.
“So far we only have about 15 people who we can say have paid for the licences they had gotten for free,” he said.
“We do not want to take food out of Basotho’s mouths but we will be forced to take them back if they do not pay the fee. Our cannabis is known as one of the best in the world,” he said.
Kabi said a workshop for cannabis investors held in Johannesburg, South Africa, earlier this month showed that there is a possibility that many investors might want to come to Lesotho.
“That will mean a lot of money for Basotho with licences,” Kabi said.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Thomas Thabane on December 9 officially launched the cannabis trade in Lesotho.
Thabane said Lesotho has a long history of growing cannabis plant although it was illegal.
He said thorough research showed that cannabis can serve as a medicine for various diseases.

“Many countries are already growing cannabis to serve as medicines for their nations,’’ Thabane said.
He said the plant can be used to produce medicine to cure cancer, high blood pressure, arthritis and other diseases.

Thabane indicated that demand for cannabis is so huge that Lesotho has already engaged Australia, Canada and many European countries as trade partners.
“Lesotho is the best country for growing this plant since it was found to have pure soil that has not been contaminated, it does not have many destructive pests and diseases,” Thabane said.
Medi Kingdom was the first firm to be issued with a licence to grow cannabis for medicinal purposes in the country.

“Medi Kingdom has engaged local people and they work together hence it is considered a local business,’’ Thabane said.
“The growing of this plant will have a positive impact on the economic growth of the country because many jobs will be created for Basotho,” he said.

“I was informed that this company will establish laboratories which meet international standards where different medicines that are highly demanded will be manufactured,’’ he said.
He said the company will also construct a state-of-the-art stadium in Qoaling, together with training centres where Basotho will be trained on producing medicines according to global standards.
“It is the mandate of the government to attract investors in the country who will turn Lesotho into gold so that Basotho can benefit from their fertile land,’’ Thabane said.
Thabane expressed his government’s commitment to the country’s economic growth.
“Recently, we were launching wool and mohair business and today we are launching cannabis plant business,” he said.

Kefiloe Kajane & Refiloe Mpobole

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