Lesotho urged to clamp down graft

MASERU — Lesotho’s natural resources can spur the country’s economic growth if the government clamps down on corrupt activities within the mining sector, a consultant has said.

Addressing a two-day workshop on Monday, a local development consultant Sehoai Santho, said it was imperative for the government to clamp down on graft to ensure Lesotho’s natural resources are used for the benefit of the people.

“In the past 10 years Africa has experienced a boom in demand for resources.

“However, there is nothing that we can show from the increased demand. This can be attributed to a lack of accountability and corruption on the continent,” Santho said.

The workshop, which was organised by Melupe Consultants, was called to discuss how the country’s natural resources could be used to enhance economic development.

Players from the sandstone and diamond mining firms as well as officials from the Ministry of Natural Resources attended the workshop.

Participants discussed the socio-economic impact of the mining industry in Lesotho as well as whether the current mining laws encouraged investment in the country.

Santho said for the continent to attain its development goals, there has to be more accountability and prevention of corruption at all levels.

“There has been a generally agreed consensus that natural resources can greatly increase the economy of the country if those resources are well managed,” he said.

“The spread of poverty in Lesotho is such that 55 percent of the people live below the poverty line with about 40 percent of those living in extreme poverty.”

He said a boom in the mining sector over the past 10 years had not translated into significant gains for the African people.

Melupe Consultants managing director Lehlohonolo Chefa told the workshop that proper management of the country’s natural resources could boost Lesotho’s economy.

“We want to see the country grow since there are resources that we can use to uplift the country.

“There are (numerous other) countries that have built strong economies through utilising their resources proficiently,” Chefa said.

He said it was important for Lesotho to emulate countries that have used their natural resources to develop their own economies.

He cited the case of Botswana which has used its vast diamond reserves to improve the welfare of its people.

The southern African country is regarded by economists as one of Africa’s major success stories with a per capita gross domestic product of US$14 100 in 2008.

Botswana has since transformed itself from one of the poorest countries in the world at independence in 1966 to a middle income country that is soundly managed, according to economists.

Lesotho’s mining sector employs about 2 070 people who are engaged in diamond and sandstone mining and quarrying.

“This means that there are about 13 000 individuals who are beneficiaries. These are small numbers.

“Most companies do not conduct proper beneficiation practices . . . there has to be more that companies are doing to uplift communities,” Santho said.

For example, Letseng Mine is the only diamond mine that is in full production with a processing capacity of 5 million tones and recovers about 100 000 carats every year.

The mine employs about 1 100 people.

Santho said the biggest challenge for mining firms in Lesotho was the rough terrain which makes it expensive to access mineral resources.

Kuena Mophethe, a legal consultant, said while the laws governing mining activities had improved over the years there were still some sections of the laws that needed to be addressed.

“There has generally been an improvement in the mines and mining Act of 2005 when we compare it to that of 1967.

“But we still need to improve these laws to ensure they cater for representation of local communities when making important decisions,” she said.

She said there must be specific provisions that cater for communities located around the mines as they are the most affected.

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