Pascalinah Kabi/ Moorosi Tsiane
INCOMING All BASOTHO Convention (ABC) spokesperson Montoeli Masoetsa has been fired from the board of Letšeng Diamonds and he suspects that the decision could have been caused by the infighting which has divided the ruling party and threatens to bring down the government as well.
Mr Masoetsa, who was elected spokesperson of the ruling All Basotho Convention (ABC) at the party’s hotly disputed 1 and 2 February 2019 elective conference, yesterday told the Lesotho Times that he had been fired from the Letšeng board along with fellow director, Moeko Maboee.
Incidentally, Mining Minister Keketso Sello is one of three ABC legislators, along with Habofanoe Lehana and Mohapi Mohapinyane, who have filed a High Court application seeking the nullification of the ABC’s national executive committee (NEC) elections which ushered in Mr Masoetsa, Professor Nqosa Mahao as the deputy leader as well as several others into the NEC.
Mr Masoetsa, who was appointed to represent the government on the Letšeng board last September, said he was not given any reasons for his dismissal.
He said his dismissal could have been the political decision since he was in same ABC camp with Prof Mahao.
Mr Masoetsa also suspects another factor behind his dismissal could have been the government’s delay in renewing the lease of the United Kingdom- based Gem Diamonds which owns 70 percent shares in the mine. The government owns the remaining 30 percent shares. He said as a result of the delay in renewing Gem Diamonds’ lease, Letšeng Mine could close shop in 2024.
However, his claims that Letšeng Diamonds could shut down in 2024 after the expiry of Gem Diamonds’ lease were yesterday shot down by the Letšeng Diamonds’ Chief Executive Officer, Kelebone Leisanyane.
Mr Leisanyane said there were no plans to shut down and instead, Letšeng Diamonds was in “advanced talks with the government for the renewal of its mining lease upon its expiry in 2024”. He said he expected that an agreement would be reached very soon to enable the company to adequately plan for the future in good time.
Mr Masoetsa had told the Lesotho Times that he and his co-directors representing the government had learned of the possible closure of the mine from discussions with some of the mine’s representatives.
“I got a call from the Chief Legal Officer for mining (Mathealea Lerotholi) today (yesterday) and she gave me my dismissal letter from Letšeng Diamonds where I represented the Lesotho government,” Mr Masoetsa said, adding, “there were no reasons given for the dismissal”.
“Besides the political issue, I suspect my dismissal could have been caused by the issue of the renewal of the mine lease which has taken longer than we had expected. As a government representative along with Moeko Maboee and Selimo Thabane, we held a meeting with mine representatives in Mokhotlong on 26 February 2019 where they told us that the shareholders said they didn’t think the issue of renewing the lease was still of any importance to them as they were already working on winding up their operations ahead of closing the mine when the current lease ends in 2024.
“We attempted to contact the Chief Legal Officer Mathealea Lerotholi and the Principal Secretary in the Ministry of Mining, Ntahli Matete, because they were the ones who were supposed to meet with mine’s representatives but unfortunately, they were all away in Belgium with the Commissioner of Mining Pheello Tjatja and the Mining minister Keketso Sello,” Mr Masoetsa said.
He said they finally met Ms Lerotholi a week later and she informed them that the new lease agreement would be signed by the 15th of March but this did not happen.
“Last week Tuesday we had a tele-conference with Letšeng representatives; one in London and another in Johannesburg and we were also with Letšeng’s chief executive. They told us they were working on closing the mine.
“Thereafter Mr Maboee went to see the Prime Minister (Thomas Thabane) on a different issue concerning his work elsewhere and the premier asked him about the Letšeng issue. It was then that Mr Maboee told him (Dr Thabane) about the problem (of the lease that had not been renewed. The Prime minister then called Mr Sello to ask why the lease hadn’t been signed when he had said it should be renewed. And I am told there was a heated debate between Mr Sello and Mr Maboee over the issue.
“Sello was angry and the premier ordered that there should be another meeting last Friday where I told Sello that we had already knew about the issue of the lease not being renewed from our meeting with the mine representatives in Mokhotlong.
He (Sello) told me that he was the one who appointed us and we had no right to talk to the Chief Legal Officer or the Principal Secretary.
“On Monday I made an appointment at his office to see him (Sello) on Thursday (today) but unfortunately, I got the call today from the chief legal officer to come and collect my dismissal letter,” Mr Masoetsa said.
On his part, Mr Selimo Thabane said he was out of the country and although he had heard about the dismissal of his two co-directors, he had not received a dismissal letter himself.
Mr Maboee’s mobile phone rang unanswered while Mr Sello was not reachable on his mobile phone.