THERE is a need to overhaul the manner in which the country’s natural resources are managed to ensure they have a better impact on the country’s development.
This was said by the chairperson of the parliamentary natural resources portfolio committee Michael Molefe in a recent interview with the Business Journal.
Mr Molefe said this following the joint sessions his committee held with the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) last week where a lot of irregularities were exposed in the mining sector.
Among other things, the two committees heard how many expatriates are illegally issued with work permits to work in the mines, illegal awarding of diamond prospecting licenses and low collection of revenue from the mines among others.
Mr Molefe said Lesotho should be aiming to follow policies that allow the country to grow. He also said diamond dealers must be allowed to trade legally. He also said diamond trading must be legalised.
“I have a strong suspicion that our ministers responsible for mines are being cheated by investors,” Mr Molefe said.
“In the past, we used to have our diamonds auctioned at the commissioner of mines offices every month but now that process has been changed for the worst and we do not know for whose benefit that was done because Basotho dealers are now finding it difficult to trade in diamonds.
“Diamond dealers’ licenses have been suspended, while foreign investors are allowed to continue with their businesses while we wait for the amendment of relevant laws.”
He said it was wrong for government to block diamond dealing before amending the laws. He said if government had good intensions about the matter, it should have been done in a retrospective manner, such that laws are reviewed first and then suspension of licenses would follow.
Government criminalised trading in diamonds in 2004 by suspending diamond dealers’ licenses under recommendation of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank on account of curbing conflict diamonds being smuggled in and out of the country.
“By so doing, the government took many dealers out of business denying them an opportunity to feed their families and also to pay tax as they were doing. The dealers can even end up suing the government for this.
“I have advised the ministry of mining to allow diamond dealers to renew their licenses while laws are being amended. If and when the amendment comes, it should find dealers already in operation.
“However, I believe the minister has heard what I am saying about this matter,” Mr Molefe said.
Shifting attention to water and electricity, Mr Molefe said Lesotho cannot afford to continue importing bottled water from South Africa yet it is the initial source of the water.
“I believe we can use water bottling as a vehicle through which youths in rural areas can engage in to create jobs and make a living for themselves,” Mr Molefe said.
He said the country has opportunities to increase its power generation capacity and become an independent power producer. Currently, the country imports about half of its electricity needs from South Africa and Mozambique.
“Why don’t we upgrade our hydropower generation to start with? What would happen if these countries we depend on suddenly encounter problems that will make it impossible to sell us power?”
He said Lesotho has an average of 300 sunny days per year, which puts it in a good position to engage in solar energy generation.
“Solar is cheaper and convenient to use by the communities living in remote areas.”
We therefore need to prioritise management of these resources at our disposal to our advantage as a country.”
He also lamented that Lesotho is under utilising its land resources to a point where it finds itself importing the majority of agricultural products consumed in the country.
“If we can make use the land at our disposal, we will not need to import most of the agricultural products we are currently importing,” Mr Molefe said.