PRIME Minister Pakalitha Mosisili has called for a new approach to mining sector regulation to stem the smuggling of illicitly-acquired diamonds into neighbouring South Africa.
Dr Mosisili made the remarks while officially launching a mining sector indaba held at a local hotel in Maseru yesterday. Organised by the Ministry of Mining, the two-day conference was attended by development partner organisations, private sector, non-governmental organisations and government officials.
The premier said the mining sector contributed 10 percent of gross domestic product as well as directly and indirectly employing 3 000 people.
“The sector is amongst the top contributors to the fiscus,” Dr Mosisili noted.
“This simply goes to show the importance of the sector to Lesotho.”
He said government had last month approved the Minerals and Mining Policy formulated in line with the Africa Mining Vision which advocates for “transparent equitable and optimal exploitation of mineral resources to underpin broad-based sustainable growth and socio-economic development”.
Dr Mosisili added that it had come to his government’s attention that a new “diamond rush” had hit Leribe and Butha-Buthe districts characterised by illegal diamond trading and smuggling into South Africa.
“This is an unfortunate situation because Lesotho signed the Kimberly Process Agreement as a way of curbing illicit diamonds,” the premier noted.
“It is therefore not only the duty of the diamond squad in the LMPS (Lesotho Mounted Police Service), but the duty of us all to ensure that this comes to a stop.”
Dr Mosisili said Lesotho’s legal system and the fines charged for the crimes were “too small that they do not discourage this practice”.
“It is my understanding that while we review our legal framework, we will also revisit the fines that go with illegal diamond dealing,” he said.
“I want to suggest that we should look into opening legal opportunities and avenues for people who happen to acquire diamonds to dispose of them legally. Otherwise, we leave them with no option but to engage in illegal diamond dealing.”
He continued: “Here I want to pause and say, while we want people to acquire diamonds legally, but once they have acquired them, we should ensure that they dispose of them legally.”
Lesotho, the premier said, was blessed with natural resources “which form part of the backbone of the economy of this country”.
“It is our responsibility as Basotho to look after them and cherish them so that they can be used in a sustainable and responsible manner for the benefit of us all.
“We are all aware that resources such as diamonds will not be with us forever, therefore while we are still enjoying the proceeds from the diamond industry, we should also join our heads to think of how best we can use the money accruing to the sector in a way that will benefit generations to come,” he said.
The premier further noted that the mines were located within communities facing economic challenges in terms of social development and infrastructure.
“The costs and benefits of large mines to local communities and their relationship with the mining industry is a subject of debate around the world,” Dr Mosisili said.
“It is our firm belief that the opening of new mines and the discovery of other minerals will not be used to widen the gap between the rich and the poor, but rather improve the livelihoods of every Mosotho, particularly those communities around the mines.”
However, the premier said, communities should also have a clear understanding that those resources belong to the state, “and whoever is given the right by government to mine should be assisted to do so”.
“Government has also pronounced itself through the Minerals and Mining Policy that there is a need to engage in beneficiation to add more value to our diamonds, create more jobs, get a better deal from our resources and in fact boost the tourism sector,” said Dr Mosisili.
“We are all aware that the mining industry is more capital intensive and therefore does not employ as many people as we may have wished. The mining industry therefore will, from time to time, complement their workforce for those skills which are not available in the country with highly-skilled labour.
“While there is a need to do so, our expectation as government is that within a short period of time, there would be Basotho skilled enough to undertake such jobs. We will therefore urge that first priority be given to Basotho where skills are available.”
On his part, Mining Minister Lebohang Thotanyana, said of Dr Mosisili’s remarks: “We appreciate this gesture and hope it will give us more courage and direction in our deliberations.
“Most importantly, issues which will be deliberated here have a great impact on different government ministries as they work very closely with us (Ministry of Mining) as well as industry at large.”