THE National Assembly this week passed the Mines and Minerals (Amendment) Bill, 2021, which legalises artisanal and small scale (ASM) mining.
The Bill must now be okayed by the Senate before the King can approve it as a law.
The Bill 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 last November by the august house.
The regulations gave limited amnesty to persons in possession of undocumented diamonds to hand them over to the government to sell on their behalf, culminating in a diamond auction in May 2021.
Kimetso Mathaba, the chairperson of the parliamentary natural resources, tourism and land cluster portfolio committee which recommended the bill’s adoption, said small scale mining would play a significant role in boosting rural development.
Previously allowed in Lesotho in the past, small scale mining was outlawed by the Mines and Minerals Act, 2005.
He said the Bill sought to alleviate poverty by empowering locals to venture into mining.
“The objective of the bill is for the government to work towards recognising and repositioning the artisanal and small-scale miners (ASM) sub-sector in mining of precious stones to alleviate poverty,” Mr Mathaba said.
“The Bill seeks to remedy the lacuna in the 2005 Act where artisanal or small-scale miners of precious stones had no recognition, were not licensed or permitted to mine. The Bill therefore, seeks to include them.
“This will enable the ASM sub-sector to fulfill its potential of alleviating poverty and contributing to development, particularly in rural areas.”
The All Basotho Convention (ABC’s) Hololo legislator, Tlokotsi Manyooko, said small scale mining would facilitate local beneficiation of diamonds.
The local trading of the diamonds from small scale miners would also allow for a diamond viewing business targeting both domestic and international tourists.
Basotho Action Party (BAP) legislator for Berea, Motlatsi Maqelepo, recommended further amendments to the Mines and Minerals Act, 2005 to allow for the government to increase its shareholding in each of the country’s diamond mines to 51 percent.
The Mines and Minerals Act, 2005 dictates that the government must control a minimum of 20 percent in each of the local mines but Mr Maqelepo wants it amended. He said there was no better time than using the on-going national reforms to amend the law.
“Increasing local shareholding to 51 percent in the diamond mines would allow for increased control of our naturals resources and ensure that we play a bigger role in the industry as locals,” Mr Maqelepo said.
The government currently owns 30 percent of Letšeng Mine, 25 percent in Liqhobong, 30 percent of Mothae Mine and 25 percent of Kao Mine.
Mr Maqelepo’s sentiments were echoed by Mechechane constituency legislator, Nyapane Khaya, of the Movement for Economic Change (MEC). Mr Khaya called for the Bill to be returned to the Mining Ministry to review the current shareholding ratios.
Mr Khaya said eSwatini has increase government shareholding in the mines without necessarily increasing its equity in the mines, as has been cited to be the stumbling block for the government to increase its shareholding in mines.
On his part, Mining Minister, Serialong Qoo, said his ministry was already working on reviewing sections of the Act which deal with local shareholding as well as addressing the issue of alluvial diamonds which Lesotho losses to countries downstream the Senqu River. He said the Bill would soon be in tabled in parliament.
The Mines and Minerals (Amendment) Bill, 2021 was eventually passed after the National Assembly made minor amendments to it.