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Let’s be more accountable about our natural resources

by Lesotho Times

ON March 2 and 3 governments will be meeting in Paris, France, to share their experiences on how accountability can enhance democratic governance in their countries.

Lesotho will, sadly, not be part of the meeting.

With its unique natural resources, Lesotho should have been at this important meeting.

Lesotho, a proud constitutional monarchy, is not part of the countries that have declared their intentions to ensure that windfalls from the extractive resources benefit their people.

Besides, Lesotho should be open to monitoring by external bodies in order to end the culture of secrecy and entitlement that we see in the extractive industries.

If the current practice is allowed to go on, our resources will be depleted leaving us with nothing to show for our troubles.

The government is supposed to work for the people and the people should be given assurance that the government is committed to executing that mandate.

We know that companies can be corrupt and any corrupt company can corrupt any government.

We have seen how large multinational corporations have influenced decisions regarding projects in Lesotho.

Accountability is the single most important principle that we can follow to protect and promote the integrity of Lesotho in the eyes of investors.

This will ensure that we only attract interest from investors who adhere to business ethics.

The office of the auditor-general should be involved in the monitoring of the mineral wealth of the country.

From time to time, in collaboration with other stakeholders, the department should provide reports about how our natural resources are being utilised for the benefit of the nation.

We need constant updates of how much money we are making from the extractive industries.

We should not wait for leaks and whistle-blowers to tell us who is looting our mineral wealth and who is misappropriating the windfalls from our precious stones. 

We also need to see tougher punishment being meted out against companies that break our laws within the extractive industries.

Unfortunately we have failed to amend our laws to ensure that individuals and companies are held accountable for their behaviour.

The Mining Act was amended in 2005 in an effort to boost investment in the mining sector.

In my opinion, the law still falls far short in clamping down on individuals found in the wrong.

There is a saying: transparent governments tend to produce just governments.

The manner the government dealt with the corruption scandal at the Lesotho Highlands Development Authority in the 1990s gave people the impression that this country does not tolerate corruption.

Groups such as Transparency International and Heritage Foundation continue to report about the LHDA matter as if it happened yesterday.

This gives an impression that Lesotho is fighting hard to clamp down on corruption.

I wish to challenge these organisations and many others that continue to cite the LHDA saga as a yardstick for Lesotho’s checks on corruption to deploy representatives in order to monitor corruption in this kingdom.

There is need for the windfall coming from the trade of minerals to be properly invested in order to create future industries.

Diversification of the economy is one of the most important targets that the country should meet so that it becomes central to its industrialisation agenda.

Mineral proceeds have the potential of generating enough jobs for our people.

The mining, tourism and agriculture sectors have the potential of generating permanent employment opportunities.

The importance of mining in Lesotho in creating employment is very critical as the industry is capital intensive.

However, the contribution of the Ministry of Natural Resources to the national economy remains a mystery.

The Minister of Finance Timothy Thahane stated in his budget speech recently that the Ministry of Natural Resources contributed only M154 million to government revenue in the 2011/12 fiscal year.

The question is whether this includes all revenue generated from water royalties, mining licensing, mining royalties and electricity generated by the  Muela hydropower station. 

The March conference in Paris would certainly help answer all questions of this nature.

It is therefore in the best interest of Lesotho and Basotho for the country to participate at this conference.

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