Diamond saga rattles Chamber of Mines

Diamond saga rattles Chamber of Mines

MASERU – THE Chamber of Mines says it is deeply concerned about the illegal trade of diamonds in Lesotho.
The chamber is worried that the diamonds being funnelled through the black market could taint Lesotho’s reputation as a diamond producer.
The concern comes after an official from the Ministry of Mines was arrested in South Africa for alleged diamond smuggling two weeks ago.
Refiloe Mokone, private secretary to Mining Minister Keketso Sello, was arrested in Ladybrand together with three men.

They were using a car allocated to Sello, who has since vehemently rejected insinuations that he could be involved in the scandal.
The chamber’s chairman, Mohale Ralikariki, says such incidents create an impression that Lesotho is unable to safeguard its diamonds.
He said the arrest was a “serious indictment on the Ministry of Mines which is supposed to be the custodian of diamonds in the country”.
The danger, Ralikariki says, is that the integrity of Lesotho’s diamonds might be compromised.

Of particular concern to the mining companies is Lesotho’s membership to the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme.
Established by a United Nations resolution in 2003, the scheme is meant to ensure that diamond purchases are not funding rebel movements and their allies working to undermine legitimate governments.

The scheme regulates the sale of diamonds from member countries by enforcing compliance with minimum standards.
Each stone sold from a member country is supposed to have a Kimberly certificate stating that it was legitimately mined and proceeds from its sale will not be used to fund atrocities, violation of human rights and subversive movements.

Diamond producers can only trade with countries that are members of the scheme.
Any diamonds that are not traded through the scheme are considered to be on the black market and therefore illegitimately acquired.
Members that don’t comply with the minimum standards are suspended from the scheme, rendering them rogue traders hawking their stones on the black market.
In Lesotho the mining ministry is the custodian of all diamonds and therefore responsible for maintaining the Kimberly standards.

That a senior official in the ministry is now accused of illegally trading in diamonds brings the ministry’s integrity into question, Ralikariki says.
He says the arrest of the minister’s private secretary could have “a serious implication for Lesotho’s standing in the Kimberly process”.
“It raises questions about the ministry’s commitment to curbing illicit trade of diamonds. The question is whether the ministry is able to maintain the minimum standards set by the Kimberly process.”

Ralikariki says mining companies are worried that the sector might crumble if Lesotho is suspended from the Kimberly process.
“If Lesotho is kicked out of the Kimberly process local mining companies are finished because there is no way we can sell our diamonds on the international market.”
“Nearly all the countries that have been kicked out of the scheme have struggled to get back in. When officials at the ministry are caught with diamonds it opens us up to sanctions under the scheme.”

In a statement last week, a group of NGOs called on Minister Sello “to do the honourable thing and resign”.
The Transformation Resource Centre (TRC), Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace (CCJP) and the Policy Analysis and Research Institute of Lesotho (PARIL) said the arrest of Mokone is “by far the biggest scandal to have hit the mining sector”. “The Ministry of Mining has ignored or facilitated illegal activities within the industry and there is nothing that Mr Sello has done to address three longstanding issues.”

Staff Reporter

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