MASERU — A former senior manager of Letšeng Diamond is accused of illegally acquiring a majority shareholding in a lodge that had been built for a community by the mining company.
Former Letšeng Diamond general manager, Moruti Mphatšoe, owns 51 percent of Maloraneng Lodge which the mining company helped construct as part of its corporate social responsibility initiatives.
The lodge in Mokhotlong was supposed to benefit the Khubelu community in whose area the rich diamond mine operates.
Mphatšoe owns the shares through his company Khubelu Valley Development Holdings.
The Khubelu community which says it was the intended beneficiary of the project holds 49 percent through Tlokoeng Tourism Association (TTA).
The lodge is operated by a management committee comprised of representatives of the association, Letšeng Diamond and another company called Alluvial Ventures.
Alluvial Ventures is the company that had previously agreed to build the lodge for the Khubelu community before Letšeng Diamond took over the financing of the project.
It is one of Letšeng Diamond’s contractors at the mine.
The Khubelu community alleges that Mphatšoe pinched its shares.
They say the fact that Mphatšoe now owns 51 percent of the lodge defeats the whole motive of the project which they say was supposed to be controlled by the community.
They argue that while the general perception is that Letšeng Diamond has empowered the community the truth is that Mphatšoe is the main beneficiary.
A project built for a whole community is now controlled by an individual, the Khubelu community alleges.
They say instead of empowering the poor, a lodge that the mine built for the community is now enriching Mphatšoe whom they view as considerably well-off compared to the people in villages in Khubelu.
The management committee appointed Art Industry, a local company, to run the lodge.
The Khubelu community is now putting pressure on Art Industry director Thabo Lerotholi to help solve its dispute with Mphatšoe.
On December 13 last year Lerotholi wrote to the Principal Chief of Tlokoeng, Qetho Sekonyela, asking him to intervene in the dispute.
Lerotholi also asked Chief Sekonyela to invite the Principal Chief of Mokhotlong, Mathealira Seeiso, and other stakeholders to a meeting to discuss the matter.
In the letter Lerotholi said it is sad that the people are made to believe Letšeng Diamond is giving back to them by financing the Maloraneng Lodge while Mphatšoe is the one getting the lion’s share.
“This thing really does not need one to go to school to understand that it is different from giving back to the people,” reads part of Lerotholi’s letter.
“The phrase ‘giving back to the people’ is self-explanatory.”
“Our opinion as the management is that the people of this valley have been cheated to further the business interests of this gentleman (Mphatšoe) and others perhaps.”
Lerotholi also complained that Mphatšoe had built a water bottling plant right inside the Maloraneng Lodge premises “without a clear contract” with the management.
“This has caused confusion among the people who seem not to have been consulted,” he said.
The presence of the bottling plant inside Maloraneng Lodge premises compromises the business security, Lerotholi said.
“This is indicated by several letters written to us by the Maloraneng headman and the murmurings of the people.”
He said the TTA has been asked to state its position on the matter but nothing was done, “perhaps because some members seem to have a peculiar interest to the gentleman’s business and so they misuse their powers to influence other members to carelessly disregard people’s opinions”.
The water bottling plant, Lerotholi said, was not approved by the Environment Department in the Tourism Ministry.
“The biggest fear is that this project could negatively affect this business (Maloraneng Lodge) which is meant solely for tourists.”
“We would like to examine the contents of the Environment Impact Assessment document if it was conducted.”
Mphatšoe told this paper on Tuesday that it was initially his company, Khubelu Valley Development Holdings, which held 51 percent shares of the lodge while the community through the Tlokoeng Tourism Association held 49 percent.
He however said when Letšeng Diamond showed interest in financing the project he closed his company and gave all his shares to Alluvial Ventures which partnered with the community because at the time he was a Letšeng Diamond employee.
“I figured that that would be conflict of interest,” Mphatšoe said.
“I was the one who approached Alluvial Ventures to help us financially after I partnered with the community but I left everything to Alluvial Ventures after Letšeng Diamond showed interest in the project,” he said.
“So, it is incorrect to say I am still holding shares in the project.”
Mphatšoe however confirmed that he represents Alluvial Ventures on the lodge’s management committee.
He says he gave the 51 percent to Alluvial Ventures for free.
Mphatšoe said he consulted the TTA, which represents the interests of the Tlokoeng people in the Maloraneng Lodge business project, when he planned to bottle water inside the premises.
“In my understanding the people have been consulted,” he said.
He said TTA members Lerotholi accuse of taking sides with him in opposition to the people were entitled to make decisions on behalf of the people as far as the project was concerned because they are their representatives.
He also denied that villagers were not consulted before the water bottling project was decided upon.
“The project has the full blessings of the people.”
Mphatšoe argued that he has always considered the interests of the Maloraneng Lodge in the running of the water bottling business.
“For example, when I realised that water was being scarce I stopped operations so that there would be enough water for guests at the Maloraneng Lodge,” he said.
“This showed that I was not only concerned about my profits but I put the interests of the lodge ahead of mine.”