THE government is in the process of revoking nine mineral prospecting licenses after the holders failed to begin exploration work, Minister of Mining Lebohang Thotanyana has said.
In an interview with the Lesotho Times this week, Mr Thotanyana said the ministry assessed all the 19 mining companies holding prospecting licenses in the country to ascertain the progress they were making.
“The assessment was necessary because lack of progress was inhibiting job creation opportunities that would arise from the exploration of the mines,” he said.
“The study revealed that very little progress was being made. It was then presented to the new Mining Board which was appointed in January this year and has since recommended the cancelation of licenses for companies that are not prospecting.”
Mr Thotanyana said he could not divulge the names of the companies because they were currently being served with the cancellation letters.
He said the assessment was made after an outcry by the public that most prospective license holders were not making use of them.
“The performances of most of the mining companies awarded prospecting licenses has generally been very poor to say the least. That is why we had to review their status,” Mr Thotanyana said.
“Most of the companies have been holding the licenses for over two years, which is longer than the permitted period since there has been no renewals.”
Added to that, the minister said, the mining companies had not submitted progress reports with some not even based at the locations they claimed to be their offices as required by the law.
“Our motto is use the license or lose the license. That is why we are revoking the licenses of companies that have not made use of them,” he said.
“The Commissioner of Mines wrote to all mining companies that were not making any progress to show cause why their licenses should not be terminated.
“They were given specific targets to meet within a specified period of time. But the companies still failed to meet these requirements.”
Mr Thotanyana said most of the companies were unable to mobilise the money needed to embark on prospecting operations, while others did not have the requisite technical skills.
“The holder of a prospecting license has to meet financial as well as technical requirements,” he said.
“But it would seem some of the licensees misrepresented their capacity when applying for the licenses. It is clear that we awarded some of the licenses to the wrong people.”
Going forward, the minister said they would come up with more stringent criteria for awarding prospecting licenses such as following up on claims of financial backing made by mining companies.
“These wrong people are giving this industry a bad reputation because they end up trying to sell (transfer) the licenses to desperate investors at inflated prices,” said Mr Thotanyana.
“The ministry will soon invite applications to mining companies interested in taking over the licenses.”
He also emphasised that the revoking of the licenses was above board and not politically motivated.
“We are not being malicious or anything of that sort as some people have claimed. The process is fair and transparent as it is based on merit,” Mr Thotanyana added.
Meanwhile, operators of Vinm Minerals and Diamonds, a company awarded a prospecting license in February 2015 for diamond exploration in Sekubu, Butha-Buthe told this paper they started operations later than planned due to disruptions by the surrounding community.
“The people were accusing us of stealing their land. They were clearly ignorant of what the law says regarding this process. And the chiefs were also to blame for failing to explain such issues to their subjects,” the company’s founder, Vincent Mabolu, said.
He said they had managed to construct access roads to the prospecting site and initialised the process of exploration.
“We are hoping to increase the intensity of our prospecting work within the next month as more resources have been raised,” Mr Mabolu said.