Minister deflects mine criticism

Minister deflects mine criticism

MASERU-THE government has rejected criticism that it was to blame for Mothae Diamond Mine’s failure to resume operations after the first Covid-19 lockdown that ended in May.

Mining Minister Serialong Qoo told a press conference on Tuesday that the mine had its own reasons for not resuming operations.
He said the government should not be blamed for the mine’s failure to resume production.

Qoo’s remarks follow widespread reports that the mine stopped operations because the government declined its request to change the agreement on the sale of diamonds.
“It is not true,” Qoo said.
Mothae Mine, because of Covid-19 induced lockdowns across the globe, was not able to market its diamonds through its regular tender channel in Antwerp, Belgium.

So, according to Qoo, the mine approached the Ministry of Mining with three requests of which two were granted.
“On May 20, the mine approached us asking that their royalties for the year 2020 be payable in the year 2021,” Qoo said.
“Another request was that it should be allowed to stop paying ground rent in 2020 and also resume in 2021,” he said.

Thirdly, Qoo said, the mine asked to be allowed to seek other avenues to sell diamonds as the international market in Belgium is still closed due to Covid-19.

Qoo said the ministry granted the mine their first request and the third request.
According to Qoo they only refused to have the mine stop paying ground rent from May 2020 to February 2021.
Qoo further said that after the two requests were approved the mine approached them again with a proposal to sell diamonds to Lucapa mine for the next five years without a tender system and without giving anything to Basotho.

“This is the same company that co-shares the mine with government, holding 70 percent and government owning 30 percent,” Qoo said.
On this new request, Qoo said, the ministry did not give the mine a yes or no answer but preferred to consult relevant stakeholders as they had never had a request of that sort.

“Basotho must understand that we will not in any way allow anyone to sell Lesotho diamonds in an illegal way or even put Basotho jobs on the line,” he said.
What we want is to make sure that both parties emerge satisfied from the negotiations without one party being compromised or succumbing to pressure, he said.

“Next week Monday we will have a meeting with the mine owners to discuss their requests, especially the issue of giving diamonds to Lucapa.”
Qoo said as it is, contributions from the sector are down by M340 million as mines have asked not to pay royalties this year due to the Covid-19 crisis.

He added that they will try by all means to minimise job losses in the mines.
Efforts to contact Mothae Mine management were not successful until last night when we went to print.

Lemohang Rakotsoane

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