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PAC raps mining ministry

Ntsebeng Motsoeli

THE Public Accounts Committee (PAC) has rapped the Ministry of Mining for negligence in the monitoring of the mining companies to ensure that they operate within the provisions of the law.

In a report tabled in parliament on Friday, the PAC has also accused senior officials in the mining ministry of poor organisation and lack of consultation with other ministries.

The PAC rebuked the Mining Commissioner, Pheello Tjatja, for poor storage of diamonds which were under his care. The committee ordered the Principal Secretary, Ntahli Matete, to take measures against Mr Tjatja for negligence in keeping diamonds which were under his watch.

The PAC also mandated the Minister of Mining, Keketso Sello, to report to parliament the details and whereabouts of the diamonds that he once took for exhibition.

According the report, neither the mining ministry nor the Ministry of Labour has made proper vetting on the expatriates who seek permission to work in the mines and this has resulted in the mining companies hiring expatriates who do not necessarily have rare skills, there by contravening the labour code.

“The committee has discovered that the Lesotho Labour Code of 1992 is being contravened where expatriates without rare skills are employed within the mining industry,” the PAC report said.

“This is because only expatriates with rare skills are eligible for work permits. The committee is shocked that the National Employment Agency (NEA) has a poorly organised skills database. (It) was recommended in 2014 that the Ministry of Mining verify experts, specialists and expatriates’ registration statistics with the Ministry of Labour but there was no such verification,” said the report.

“The committee recommends that the Ministry of Mining must compile the experts, specialists and expatriates registration statistics and verify them with the Ministry of Labour with authentic copies of qualifications.”

The PAC report has also condemned the Ministry of Mining officials for lack of enthusiasm to follow up on the mining companies to ensure that they are abiding by the law.

The committee has recommended that the Ministry of Mining collaborates with the Police Diamond Squad to prepare a clear and updated reconciliation of diamonds stock.  Mr Sello has been ordered to submit a reconciliated report to parliament within 21 days of the report’s adoption by the national assembly.

Mr Sello has also been ordered to investigate and report to parliament within 21 days of the adoption of the report, why the diamonds stock list was last reconciled in 2015.

“The report must include why the diamonds are carelessly kept at the ministerial premises and why there are discrepancies between the stocklist and the actual diamonds at hand.

“Minister Sello must give a detailed report, with descriptions of the diamonds that he took for exhibition to Parliament within 21 days. The report must include details of where and when the exhibition took place.”

The PAC has again recommended that Mr Sello must report to parliament what measures he has taken regarding the diamonds which were confiscated in Ladybrand in possession of his private secretary.

In December 2018, Mr Sello’s private secretary, Refiloe Mokone, was arrested by South Africa’s elite crime fighting unit, the Hawks, after being found in illegal possession of diamonds that had been smuggled out of Lesotho.

Ms Mokone, who was traveling in the minister’s official vehicle, was arrested along with three men who are not public servants and the quartet briefly appeared in the Ladybrand Magistrates’ Court.

The committee said Mr Tjatja’s records of the diamonds which were in his possession did not match the actual stock of the stones. The report said that the lack of proper records and safe storage of the diamonds posed a risk of theft. The report said that Mr Tjatja has also failed to convince the committee if the diamonds which were seized in Ladybrand were not stolen from his office.

The PAC also raised concern that only one of the seven mining companies which are operating in the country was paying the legally stipulated 10 percent royalties.

The committee urged the mining ministry to tighten screws and collect as much revenue as possible from the diamond sale proceeds by ensuring that all the mining companies adhered to the Mines and Mineral Act of 2005.

The committee also called for the repealing of Section 60 (1) of the Mines and Minerals Act which gives the minister the sole discretion to reduce the percentage rate of royalties saying that it was a contradiction of section 59 (2) of the same act that requires 10 percent.

“The committee noted with concern that the Ministry of Mining is a spectator in the mining industry, while the mining companies do as they please. Hence, it recommends that the Minister of Mining must establish a monitoring plan and report on this plan within 30 days before parliament.

“The government does not have proper monitoring mechanisms, therefore, the committee recommends that the Ministry of Mining must implement a 24 hour seven days per week monitoring system from production until the last stage after the diamond has been sold.

“The committee has noted with concern, a very low shareholding of the government in the mining sector. Therefore, the committee recommends that the government of Lesotho have to mobilise resource in order acquire substantial equity to have control over our natural resources. The minister of Finance must report back to parliament within six months,” the report said.

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