Former Minister of Agriculture, Patrick Ralotsia says the withdrawal of an exemption he had granted allowing a South African producer to grow hemp in Kanngwe was done without his knowledge even though he was still heading the ministry at the time.
Ralotsia who granted the company, Fresh Standard, the exemption to grow the industrial plant and offered his farm for the crop, said he was not informed about the withdrawal.
According to High Court documents filed in a case in which Fresh Standard is suing government over the matter, the withdrawal of exemption was made on March 29, 2019 while Ralotsia was still a minister.
In his affidavit, Ralotsia says he only became aware of the withdrawal from the company director, Barend Daniel de Beer in May 2019 when an appeal reached his table. “At the time (May 22), my hands were tied as I was no longer the Minister. I was not aware of the withdrawal on March 29, nor was I aware that it was issued and or authorised by the Ministry whilst I was a Minister,” he said.
Ralotsia explained that on or about March 2019, the permanent secretary (PS) advised the Ministry to establish a committee, which would be responsible for establishing the value chain and management of the growth, processing and production of hemp products in the country to maximise the viability of the cultivation. He pointed out that the committee was made up of several government entities including Botswana Unified Revenue Service, Botswana Police Service and the Directorate of Intelligence and Security.
Ralotsia said at the time, the PS was of the opinion that in the meantime all operations at Kanngwe lands should be suspended pending conclusion of consultations with relevant stakeholders.
Ralotsia says he however advised that though it was a plausible opinion, it would be difficult to withdraw the exemption at that stage. The former minister said on May 6, 2019 there was a delegation of law enforcement officers who visited his ploughing lands in Kanngwe and informed him that they had expected a very large cultivation.
The officers allegedly said the 32 plants they found were suspected to be strains of ‘motekwane’, which he disputed.
”There were two police officers who were deployed at my ploughing lands and it was
Ralotsia said he was aware of the development proposed by Fresh Standard and that he and the PS granted the exemption letter in terms of Section 28 of the Plant Protection Act for the company to grow hemp for medicinal and industrial purposes in the country.
He explained that pursuant to the offer, the Fresh Standard had indicated in their proposal that they sought to cultivate hemp in the Shoshong area and that they also intended to do some cultivation in the north, more precisely in the SPEDU region. “They had also indicated that they were looking for storage facility in or around the Lobatse area.
“However, they had visited me requesting for ploughing lands where they could find good soil and water and they requested to use my ploughing field in Kanngwe for their hemp cultivation as a pilot project, for purposes of testing the quality of strands, and their resistance to the semi-arid climate and other variables.
“I accepted the same without any pecuniary reward or exemption,” he said.
Ralotsia said the acceptance of the offer was based on his interest in cultivation of hemp, which was motivated by an opportunity for employment creation and economic diversification in the country.
He however pointed out that upon acceptance of the offer he had advised that the company have all the necessary compliance from different government institutions for the purposes of cultivation.
“I was aware of the cultivation at Kanngwe at all material times and the applicant started with two tunnels and I had a chance to witness the growth albeit having not been aware of the number of the strains at that point,” he noted in his affidavit.