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PAC rules on mining tender dispute

Ntsebeng Motsoeli

THE Public Accounts Committee (PAC) has ordered the Ministry of Mining to award a diamond prospecting licence to Hololo Kimberlite Pty (Ltd) after the latter’s claims that it was fraudulently denied the licence in 2012.

Hololo Kimberlite was one of the companies that submitted bids for the tender to prospect for diamonds in Butha-Buthe district. The tender was subsequently awarded to Qholaqhoe Holdings and the licence expired in 2015 before Qholaqhoe had conducted any prospecting at the site.

Hololo Kimberlite recently appeared before the PAC where it alleged the documents it submitted as part of its application were doctored by the Mining ministry in 2012 to ensure that it lost out to Qholaqhoe Holdings.

The licence has since been awarded to another company, Letlaka Mining Company.

The assistant director of Hololo Kimberlite, Mekhoa Mohloboli, told the PAC that they later discovered that the then mining Principal Secretary, Clement Lerotholi had a hand in the fraudulent awarding of the licence to Qholaqhoe Holdings.

Ms Mohloboli said they opened a case against Mr Lerotholi after the Directorate on Corruption and Economic Offences (DCEO) “detected some element of corruption in the awarding of the prospecting licence to Qholaqhoe Holdings”.

Ms Mohloboli said that they sought the DCEO’s assistance after senior officers in the Ministry of Mining failed to convincingly explain to them how they lost to their competitors.

“We inquired from the Ministry of Mining why we had lost the job and how it was awarded to Qholaqhoe Holdings. No one seemed to have the answers. I suspected something was wrong when they denied us access to the score sheet to see where we had underperformed.

“I then reported the case to the DCEO who accessed the files and discovered that Mr Lerotholi had fraudulently awarded the license to Qholaqhoe Holdings. We opened a case against him at the Magistrate’s Court and in June (2018) he was found guilty,” Ms Mohloboli said.

Ms Mohloboli said that despite the court judgement the Mining ministry had not awarded them the prospecting licence.

On his part, the Mining Commissioner, Pheello Tjatja, said the court judgement did not mean that Hololo should be automatically given the prospecting licence.

Mr Tjatja said that Hololo would have to obtain a court order that instructs the mining board to grant them the licence or reapply for it.

“I was told by the mining board that the Hololo case was a criminal not a civil matter. As such, they (Hololo) would have to go to the civil court to get a court order for the licence or reapply for it. The current court judgement does not instruct to board or the commissioner to give them the licence,” Mr Tjatja said.

Mr Tjatja further said there was no instruction to revoke the prospecting licence that was awarded to the current holder, Letlaka Mining Company.

Letlaka Mining was awarded the license despite a warning from the DCEO not to award any company the mining certificate pending the outcome of the court case between Hololo and Mr Lerotholi.

However, Ms Mohloboli insisted that Hololo would not approach the civil court or reapply for the licence because “justice had already been served” for them.

“We were told to reapply but we will not do that. All we want is the licence. We will even go to His Majesty (King Letsie III if we have to get justice,” Ms Mohloboli said.

The chief legal advisor in the Ministry of Mining, Mathalea Lerotholi, concurred with the Mining Commissioner and said Letlaka’s prospecting licence could only be revoked if there was a court order.

“We cannot remove Letlaka on the basis of a criminal case judgement. Mr Lerotholi was judged and he has paid. The case ended there. Those who feel aggrieved by his actions would have to open a new case and seek compensation,” Ms Lerotholi said.

However, the PAC chairperson, Selibe Mochoboroane, told the principal secretary in the Mining ministry, Ntahli Matete that he had been ill-advised on the matter and he should award the licence to Hololo.

“You should go and do the right thing. Go and reinstate Hololo as the prospecting company. You have 21 days to report to us how you handled this matter. We are aware that there are people in the ministry who are blocking the revocation of Letlaka’s license. Now these people (Hololo) have to suffer because they are poor. They came here to seek our help,” Mr Mochoboroane said.

Mr Matete said he would seek advice from the mining board.

Mr Tjatja said neither Qholaqhoe Holdings nor Letlaka Mining Company had done any work at the mining site.

He said that Qholaqhoe’s licence elapsed in 2015 while Letlaka is waiting Labour Minister Keketso Rantšo’s approval before beginning work.

 

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