Mine chaos will rock investor confidenceMine chaos will rock investor confidence

Mine chaos will rock investor confidenceMine chaos will rock investor confidence

MASERU – MINES Minister Keketso Sello should be having a pounding headache because of the chaos that has engulfed the mining sector. For months now Sello has been dealing with disturbances at Kao Mine where communities have risen to demand a pound of flesh from the mine.

There are similar skirmishes at other mines, albeit not at the same ferocity. Amidst the chaos, pangas have been drawn against the minister who finds himself accused of being too soft on Kao.
This week thepost spoke to the minister in an exclusive interview in which the first question was about the main grievances of the communities around Kao Mine.

The community at Kao has its list of grievances. The first is about compensation for their fields. The second is on the road from Ha Lejone to Kao.

This road issue is surprising to me because there are two mines in the area yet only one is being attacked over the road. The road is in an area that has Kao Mine and Liqhobong Mine yet the pressure to maintain it is all on Kao Mine. If this is a fair expectation then why are the communities silent about Liqobong Mine? In fact the road is more on the side of Liqhobong.

I have been told that there was an agreement for Liqhobong Mine to maintain the Ha-Lejone road while Kao Mine looks after the other road.

The other issue is that of toilets which I hear are already being built. There are also people affected by floods. What I know is that documentation for the relocation of those families has not been completed by the council.

It’s a simple logistical issue because money is there and plans for the houses are ready. The last issue is that of the dismissal of Tseko Ratia, the chairperson of the community committee, who was alleged to have been involved in intimidating colleagues and sabotaging mine operations.

Although I had asked the mine to wait until tempers had cooled off, the mine proceeded with the disciplinary action. But I must say that this is an internal issue that the mine has to handle on its own.

How true are the allegations that some politicians have now entered the fray and are making the situation worse.

That is true. Every time politicians approach this issue they only speak about the community and never about the investor. They add fire instead of pouring water. What I am saying is that they don’t seem to be trying to sort out the issues. It is easy for politicians to side with angry people.

The TRC (Transformation Resource Centre) is now in there as well. I don’t see what they want to achieve because it is clear that they are not being fair. They seem to be pushing their own agenda. There have been some allegations that the TRC thrives on unrest and for a long time I did not buy that idea. I am now beginning to change.

I say this because according to them the communities are always correct and the investor is always wrong. When they are meeting the community committee will dishonour the minutes and say different things. They will deny everything.

They never accept the minutes of meetings they attend. As far as I can see there are people enjoying this unnecessary unrest. They don’t seem to want a solution. They are pushing their own agendas.

Do you suppose there will be a solution if the community deals directly with the mine without intermediaries like NGOs and politicians?

That is the biggest challenge but let’s start from the beginning. When floods that affected some families happened I was out of the country. I sent another minister who was acting on my behalf. Remember there was that unfortunate incident where one person was fatally shot and the other was critically injured by the police. This minister went there to give the mine an ultimatum to deal with some issues within three months.

That time was too little. Now when we go there to try and resolve matters the people say they only want to talk to that minister because he is the only one who knows what they want. They say he is the one who sorts out their problem.

We know that is not true. Now you have these ministers who come into the area and cause more problems because they are influencing the community. You also have the parliamentary portfolio committee which is making the situation worse instead of resolving it.

All the people are not there to serve the interests of the mine and the community. They are politically pleasing the people. We will never sort out things as a country if we are one-sided. They want to keep stoning the investors.
They should be fanning the fires. There are not going to be miracles because some of the things take time to fix. If you want to sort out the problem you must be objective and have a clear timeline on when certain things should be done.

I was the first minister to try and deal with the community concerns. The communities now have the platform but they should not abuse it. If we are working on this together then we should be honest.

What is the role of the community committee in the issue?

We have to first consider how the committee is formed. My understanding, which is the ideal situation, is that the committee is supposed to stand for the community. The mandate and expectations have to be clear.
But in pushing for the interests of the community the committee should not be hurting the mine’s production. Production is important because it is only when there is production that the community can get what it wants from the mine.

The things they are demanding require money which can only come when there is production at the mine. This production is important for the community, the mine, the people of this country, the economy and the whole country.
The committee should not behave like hooligans. They should understand that they are partners in the operations and it is important that they live peacefully with the mine.

They are justified to make demands but this should not be done in isolation. We don’t want gangs. You cannot turn this country into a jungle. We are getting reports that some of the gangs are intimidating the police.
They accuse the police of being fed and transported by the mine. As far as I am concerned some of the issues are quite petty. They should understand the importance of working together.

Have you reported this matter to Cabinet?

I have never taken this to the Cabinet directly but I told the Prime Minister about it. Because there is a portfolio committee I was expecting that they would take the issue to parliament.
There are clear rules that should be followed on this issue. I was expecting the portfolio committee to help solve the problem and not behave the way they are doing.
The community’s issues should be addressed and the mine has to operate. We cannot be a country that doesn’t respect the rule of law and investment laws.

But how do you expect the portfolio committee to solve the problem when it is said to be part of the problem? There are reports that the chairperson of the committee Molefe is a diamond dealer.

It is going to be difficult for me to have confidence in them. Someone who deals in diamonds and also handles mine matters is clearly conflicted because he will always want a piece of the pie. He is a diamond dealer but I have not renewed his licence because I first want to understand where he will be getting his supply.

This is a question I have asked other people who have applied for licences. I think this explains his anger. The guy is hammering the companies in meetings with the public. It’s a sad reality.

Staff Reporter

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