MASERU — Natural Resources Minister Monyane Moleleki has been accused of deceiving a group of local companies he allegedly told to form a consortium to secure rights to a diamond mine in Butha-Buthe.
One cannot operate a mine without getting the rights from the government.
The Basotho-owned companies allege that apart from promising to give the consortium the rights to Lemphane Diamond Mine the minister had also undertaken to find an investor to fund their operations.
They however say soon after they formed the consortium Moleleki instead gave the rights to a company owned by Sam Matekane, a local businessman who has also won several government tenders.
They also allege that Matekane’s company, Meso Diamonds, was given the claim to Lemphane Diamond Mine despite that it had not applied for the rights in the first place.
The companies say Moleleki’s decision means they will not benefit from the lucrative mining deal as he had promised in several meetings.
Initially there were five companies that formed the consortium at Moleleki’s behest after they had applied for the mining rights.
Mohau Thakaso’s Pegasus Mining, Kot Kol Mining, owned by lawyer ’Molotsi Kolisang, and Kenken Mining, controlled by Kennedy Lefothane, were among the companies that had applied for the rights before being advised to team up by Moleleki.
Majoe-a-’Nete, owned by Butha-Buthe businesswoman ’Makatleho Maepho, and Gems Lesotho, which belongs to Lefa Ntsike, were also part of the consortium.
Together they made up Motete Mining consortium and appointed Thakaso as chairman.
The Sunday Express however understands that while Motete Mining was waiting for the investor that Moleleki had promised four other companies that had not even applied for the mining rights were allowed to join the consortium.
The companies are Maximum Point and Dinaka tsa Moradi as well as the Lesotho Congress for Democracy’s Nonyana Ntsu and Vermogen, a South African firm.
The addition of these four companies gave birth to another consortium called Lihlaba Mining but Moleleki’s promise of an investor remained.
Thakaso said the minister had “convincingly promised to bring us a big investor from the Middle East if we formed the consortium”.
He alleges that while they were waiting for the promised investor they were shocked when Moleleki announced on national TV that Matekane’s Meso Diamonds had been given the prospecting rights.
Meso Diamonds began operations at Lemphane Diamond Mine about three months ago.
Thakaso says the minister could not clearly “spell out” how the other companies were going to benefit in the deal when Meso Diamonds had already been given the rights.
“We were waiting for Moleleki to bring us the promised investor when all of a sudden he announced on Lesotho Television that Matekane had brought an investor and had been given prospecting rights,” Thakaso said.
Moleleki has confirmed the row but insists the consortium has not lost out on the deal because he is planning to create an equal opportunity for the companies to have a stake in the mine.
He however admits that he had promised to bring an investor to partner the consortium but says his efforts were not successful until he approached Matekane to hunt for a reliable funder.
“This is for the benefit of the very same Basotho who are now crying foul,” Moleleki told the Sunday Express.
He said in the spirit of “inclusiveness” he had allowed the other four companies that had not applied for the rights to join in.
“It is in the interest of every Mosotho who wants to invest in diamond mining,” Moleleki said.
“None of the companies that had applied would qualify because they did not have capacities to do mining.
“To qualify, one needs to have a technical capacity and a financial capacity.”
Moleleki said he advised the companies to form a consortium saying he would find an investor who had all the required qualities.
“They agreed and I went out to find that investor,” he explained, adding: “It did not matter whether a Mosotho company had applied or not.
“My only wish was, and still is, that Basotho’s interests in owning a diamond mine should be protected.”
Moleleki said he initially found an investor from the Middle East but could not connect him to the consortium because he showed “signs of unreliability”.
“That was when I approached Ntate Matekane and asked him to find an investor for us,” he said.
“And now that the investor has come, I can assure you that we are working towards making all interested Basotho-owned companies have shares in the mine irrespective of whether they applied for prospecting rights or not.
“My policy is: let us protect Basotho’s interests instead of having a set of rules that will work against them.
“It is a departure from the normal practice. I am taking an approach that will empower the people.”