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Mofomobe escalates fight against mining firms

by Lesotho Times
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Seithati Motšoeneng / Tokelo Khausela

BASOTHO National Party (BNP) leader, Machesetsa Mofomobe, has launched a broadside at Prime Minister Sam Matekane and two of his ministers, accusing them of allowing the country’s four top mines to flout Lesotho’s laws because they allegedly benefit from these companies.

Mr Mofomobe made the attack during a press conference held yesterday afternoon in Maseru. He said he had since formed a movement which would expose the exploitation of the economy by the four diamond companies.

The BNP leader accused Mr Matekane, Minister of Public Works and Transport Matjato Moteane, and Natural Resources Minister Mohlomi Moleko, of benefitting from Letšeng Diamond, Storm Mountain Diamond, Mothae Diamond and Liqhobong Diamond mines, hence their failure to reprimand the companies.

He however did not produce a shred of evidence to back his claims.

Yesterday’s attack by Mr Mofomobe followed the two letters he wrote on 9 July 2023 to the London Stock Exchange (LSE) and Australian Securities Exchange (ASX) requesting them to act against the mining firms that have been accused of violating Lesotho’s laws which “bind” them to charter local airlines when exporting diamonds from the country. The laws in question are the Mining and Minerals Act 2005, as well as the Civil Aviation Act 2008.

Letšeng Diamond and Liqhobong Diamonds are owned by England-based Gem Diamonds and Firestone Diamonds respectively, while Mothae Diamond belongs to Australian company Lucapa Diamonds.

Lucapa is therefore listed on the ASX, while the United Kingdom-based Gem and Firestone, are on the LSE.

Mr Mofomobe said he had already invited all political parties and independent organisations to unite in the fight against the mines for the benefit of Basotho.

“The purpose of this invitation is to collectively exert pressure on the government of Lesotho and the four biggest diamond mine companies operating within our borders, namely Letšeng, Mothae, Kao and Liqhobong, for them to uphold the laws of Lesotho, particularly the Minerals Act of 2005 and the Civil Aviation Act of 2008,” said Mr Mofomobe.

He also said Mr Matekane and his government were in power to loot state resources and not to uplift the country as they claimed.

“Prime Minister Matekane and Moteane have never addressed the issues pending around the aviation saga involving Mohahlaula Airlines and the four diamond mines because the current ministers are directly benefiting from these companies.

“The prime minister is paid a M30 million cheque every month from those mines. Not so long ago, (Mohlomi) Moleko (Natural Resources Minister) went on a fully paid vacation with his spouse sponsored by the same mines,” Mr Mofomobe claimed.

Mr Matekane’s company, MGC Mining, has been a long-term earth moving subcontractor of Gem Diamonds at Letšeng Diamond Mine, hence Mr Mofomobe’s M30 million claim.

Mohahlaula chief executive officer, Phafane Nkotsi, claimed at a press conference in Maseru earlier this month that his company was the only airline entitled to transport diamonds out of Lesotho.

Mr Nkotsi also accused Mr Moteane of usurping the powers of the Director of Civil Aviation, Motsoale Lesupi, to issue the permits. Mr Moteane has since dismissed the accusations, saying Mr Nkotsi wants to force the government to illegally legislate against competition among airlines competing for business. Mr Nkotsi has also been accused of not owning any planes as he claims. He has been accused of being a middleman who hires planes from South African based airlines whenever he gets a job to do. He therefore does not have any capacity to transport the diamonds.

However, Mr Mofomobe seems to support Mohahlaula’s argument after the aviation firm on 28 March 2023 petitioned the High Court to order government to compensate it for losses worth M10 million which it claims it had suffered as a result of being sidelined in the ‘illegal’ diamond transportation operations by South African airlines.

Mr Nkotsi has also claimed to have opened a criminal case against Letšeng Diamonds, Storm Diamonds Mine, Mothae Diamond Mine, and Liqhobong Diamond Mine, through their respective executives Kelebone Leisanyane, Kelebone Leisanyane, Stian Van Blerk, and Motsi Chele, as well as the Department of Civil Aviation, under case number MCCO RCI: 17/04/2023 for not using Mohahlaula.

And yesterday, Mr Mofomobe further said he had filed for a motion in parliament for the reinstatement of the Value Added Tax (VAT) Amendment Bill of 2021. The bill has the potential of saving Lesotho over a billion maloti annually.

“The current exploitation of the zero-rating on VAT by the diamond mining companies results in the Revenue Services Lesotho refunding around M40 million to these mines combined every month, but I am putting my head on the block to see this situation overturned.

“You (mines and government) do not know what is coming to you, so do not take it lightly. We will march for those diamonds to benefit Basotho and I am not bluffing on this one. It is about time you and your cahoots were taught a lesson,” he said.

A united front comprising of all political parties and civic organizations would be instrumental in achieving their objectives, Mr Mofomobe said.

Contacted for comment last night, the prime minister’s press attaché Thapelo Mabote dismissed the allegations by Mr Mofomobe as baseless.

“No one has ever put those mining companies before the prime minister for them to say he has failed to address the issue. The M30million is a baseless allegation.. They did not furnish you with any proof to  back the claim. It is therefore difficult to comment on such allegations,” said Mr Mabote.

On his part Mr Moteane said he did not have much to say on the allegations, while Mr Moleko’s mobile phone rang unanswered.

“I cannot really comment much on the matter because it is still in court but what I can say is that their issue is competition. These people want monopoly over the airspace, which is what I think is the issue between them and the mining companies,” Mr Moteane said.

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