THE Senate has rejected the Mines and Minerals (Amendment) Bill 2021, which seeks to legalise artisanal and small scale (ASM) mining.
The upper house of parliament refused to approve the Bill on the grounds that it does not explicitly state that only those considered to be indigenous Basotho can be artisanal or small-scale miners.
The bill was passed by the National Assembly in November 2021 before referring it to the Senate for approval.
It seeks to alleviate poverty by empowering locals to venture into mining while increasing their participation and benefit in an industry dominated by foreign players.
All four of the country’s large diamond mines are controlled by international investors and the government has minority stakes in each of them.
London-based Gem Diamonds has a 70 percent stake in Letšeng Diamond Mine; Namakwa Diamonds of South Africa has a 75 percent stake in Storm Mountain Diamonds (SMD) which owns Kao Diamond Mine; London-based Firestone Diamonds has 75 percent shareholding in Liqhobong Diamond Mine and Australia’s Lucapa Diamond Company Limited holds 75 percent shareholding in Mothae Diamond Mine.
Presenting a report on the Mines and Minerals Amendment Bill, 2021, on Thursday, the Senate’s legislation committee chairperson, Peete Lesaoana Peete said the bill did not have a clause which specifically stated that ASM was strictly meant for indigenous citizens.
He said if naturalised citizens would have access to small scale mining, then the proposed legislation would not serve its intended purpose of empowering indigenous Basotho to alleviate poverty and reduce unemployment.
“The objective of the legislation is to facilitate small scale mining to help indigenous Basotho to alleviate poverty and reduce unemployment,” Senator Peete said.
“But there is no provision in the bill that categorically states that this law is for indigenous Basotho only. The bill is open for all citizens including naturalised citizens who can financially out-muscle indigenous locals from getting awarded ASM licenses.”
Senator Peete, therefore, recommended that the bill be sent back to be revised so that it includes a clause specifying that it is meant for indigenous Basotho only.
“There should be a provision in the bill which states that small scale mining should be for indigenous Basotho only. And on this basis, the committee rejects the bill.”
Mining minister, Serialong Qoo, has previously said the Senate’s “delay” in passing the bill was setting back his ministry’s progress.
“We had anticipated the bill would be passed by the Senate before the end of 2021 so that we would have already begun issuing diamond digging permits by now. We are just waiting on the Senate to give us the green light,” Mr Qoo said in a previous interview.
The tabling of the bill in parliament was preceded by clearing off of illegal diamonds in the market through passing of the Precious Stones (Prevention of Illicit and Theft of Diamonds) Regulations, 2020 by the National Assembly.
The regulations gave limited amnesty to persons who were in possession of undocumented diamonds to hand them over to the government and sell them on their behalf. This culminated in a May 2021 diamond auction.
The 30 May 2021 auction sale fetched M378 650, 52 against a target of M372 200, 95.