Mines commissioner grilled

Mines commissioner grilled

MASERU-COMMISSIONER of Mines, Pheello Tjatja, was not expecting an easy ride when he stood before the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) this week.
And indeed he got a rough ride. As he was pelted with tricky questions, Tjatja began to trip himself. He is not alone. Dozens of civil servants talked their way into trouble as they fielded prodding questions from the committee.
Some just crumbled.

“Does the Ministry of Mines have a record of diamonds confiscated from suspected smugglers?” one MP asked him.
“Yes,” Tjatja said.
“Does that record tally with the number of diamonds in the safe?” asked another MP.

When Tjatja insisted that they matched, the PAC members trooped to the Ministry of Mines to verify his answers.
The record presented to the committee showed that there were 74 stones but the safe had 114.
This was the ‘smoking gun’ the PAC wanted to prove that the Ministry of Mines was an incompetent custodian of Lesotho’s diamonds.

Their reasoning: if the ministry’s records are so shabby that it’s possible that some diamonds could be easily pilfered.
The case of the Minister of Mines’ private secretary who was recently caught with a parcel of diamonds was quickly conjured.

“He said there were 74 stones but we could see 114. We were shocked. There was clearly a mismatch between the stock list and the stock on the safe,” said PAC chairperson Selibe Mochoboroane.
“The public can make their own conclusion from that. We will not say anything as a committee because we have to present a report to Parliament first,” he told thepost.
“There is something fishy about those records,” said another MP who is a member of the committee and was present during the inspection.

A senior official at a local mining company told thepost he found it suspicious that Tjatja did not know the exact number of stones in the safe and his records understated what is in the safe.
“These are diamonds, not coins,” he said.
But Tjatja doesn’t see it that way. The records, he said, are clear that no diamonds are missing. He said the committee refused to look at other records that show how many diamonds the ministry has. His explanation is that there are three documents in which the stones are recorded.

“The first is a register that shows the number of diamonds confiscated from 2008 to 2015. I compiled that because we wanted to create records.”
The second is a savingram from the Commissioner of Police to the Commissioner of Mines listing the number of diamonds confiscated from 2015 to 2018, he said.

The third record is that of diamonds from Mohokare Mine, a company that surrendered its prospecting licence. The mine was owned by controversial British businessman Aaron Banks.
Tjatja said during the inspection the PAC zeroed in on the 2008 to 2015 records and refused to look at other documents.
“That is why they concluded that there was a mismatch. All the diamonds in our custody are accounted for,” Tjatja insisted.

Back at the committee the interrogation continued. The committee was stunned to hear that Tjatja is the only individual who keeps confiscated diamonds.
Even the Principal Secretary of the Ministry, Ntahli Matete, did not know anything about those diamonds.
“Since my arrival at this ministry, I have always wanted to know and see where those diamonds are but the commissioner did not allow me. It is my first time to see these diamonds,” Matete said.
Mochoboroane seemed to be interested in the source of the diamonds that the Minister’s private secretary had when she was caught in South Africa.

He said if the commissioner is the only person who knows about the confiscated diamonds and that he should be in a position to state how Lesotho’s diamonds ended up in South Africa.
It is curious that those diamonds were in a car owned by the ministry, he said.
The Member Parliament for Qhalasi, Palo Leteetee, asked Matete why the commissioner still had his job.
“I wonder why Mr PS you still have a person like this in your office, I am just wondering,” Leteetee said.

Thooe Ramolibeli

Previous PAC quizzes ex-police boss
Next Judge’s appointment faces legal challenge

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