Bereng Mpaki/ ‘Marafaele Mohloboli
THE government says it sold 493 diamonds at the first auction to be held in the country last weekend.
Lesotho’s diamonds are usually auctioned in Antwerp, Belgium. However, the government last week organised a physical auction of the diamonds at Manthabiseng Convention Centre in Maseru.
Launched by Deputy Prime Minister Mathibeli Mokhothu, the event attracted buyers from as far Holland and Israel. They were joined by others from neighbouring South Africa as well as locals.
The auction was part of the government’s efforts to clear off diamonds still on the market ahead of the opening up the industry to small scale and artisanal miners. Currently the industry is dominated by major players from Britain, Australia and South Africa who are operating large scale mines with the government as the junior shareholder.
The auction ran from 27 to 29 May 2021.
Mining Ministry spokesperson ‘Makananelo Motseko yesterday told the Sunday Express that preliminary indications are that all 493 diamonds on offer had been sold. Ms Motseko however, said a report on the final outcome of the auction was still being compiled and would be released at a later stage.
“The preliminary information I have is that all the diamonds have been sold. However, the ministry is currently compiling a report on the auction outcome and will be released soon,” Ms Motseko said.
She said of the 493 diamonds sold, 140 were voluntarily handed over by the public while 353 were confiscated from illegal dealers by the police.
The inaugural local auction follows a government declaration of an amnesty last November to enable all those in possession of undocumented diamonds to hand them over without facing any criminal charges. The amnesty was initially until January 2021 but it was extended to March to give more time to people in remote areas to surrender the precious stones.
Speaking at the launch of the auction, Mr Mokhothu congratulated the Mining ministry for successfully organising the first ever local sale of diamonds.
“It is laudable that the ministry has honoured its side of the bargain to sell the diamonds on behalf of the public and we hope that this has created a bond of trust that will see people voluntarily handing over more and bigger diamonds going forward.
“We hope this local auctioning will spell the end of illegal diamond dealing to enable trade to be conducted legally and securely. This occasion gives me hope that soon all of Lesotho’s diamonds will be sold in-country,” Mr Mokhothu said.
He said Lesotho should move towards ensuring that at least 51 percent of shareholding in the diamond mines is locally held with foreign investors holding the remaining 49 percent.
On his part, Mining Minister Serialong Qoo said all revenue from the confiscated diamonds will be forfeited by the state while the proceeds from diamonds which were voluntarily handed to the government will be paid into the holders’ bank accounts.
“The government had initially said it would deduct a 4 percent commission but upon review, it has been agreed that there won’t be any charges.
“I am very delighted that this day has finally come after it was initially delayed by the Covid-19 pandemic. This is a big move as parliament has now embraced the idea of letting Basotho mine with their picks and shovels legally,” Mr Qoo said.
Mining ministry principal secretary (PS) Tšokolo Maina said although the amnesty is officially over, the government would still accept diamonds without subjecting those who voluntarily surrender them to prosecution.
“Despite the expiry of the amnesty, we will conduct inter-district tours to urge those still holding onto illegal diamonds to surrender them to the state,” Mr Maina said.
Kimetso Mathaba, the chairperson of the parliamentary natural resources portfolio committee, hailed the initiative aimed brining sanity to the diamond industry.
“We also extol those who were brave enough to hand over their diamonds though they were not too sure of what would happen. We are now expecting the ministry to bring before parliament a bill that provides for the licensing of small-scale miners,” Mr Mathaba said.