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Mine chaos will rock investor confidenceMine chaos will rock investor confidence

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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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City Council bosses up for fraud

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THREE senior Maseru City Council (MCC) bosses face charges of fraud, theft, corruption and money laundering.

Town clerk Molete Selete and consultant Molefe Nthabane appeared in the Maseru Magistrate’s Court yesterday.

City engineer Matsoso Tikoe did not appear as he was said to be out of the country. He will be arraigned when he returns.

They are charged together with Kenneth Leong, the project manager of SCIG-SMCG-TIM Joint Venture, the company that lost the M379 million Mpilo Boulevard contract in January.

The joint venture made up of two Chinese companies, Shanxi Construction Investment Group (SCIG) and Shanxi Mechanization Construction Group (SMCG), and local partner Tim Plant Hire (TIM), has also been charged.

Selete and Nthabane were released on bail of M5 000 and surety of M200 000 each. Leong was granted bail of M10 000 and surety of M400 000 or property of the same value.

The charges are a culmination of the Directorate on Corruption and Economic Offences (DCEO) investigation that has been going on for the past months or so.

The prosecution says Selete, Nthabane, Tikoe, and Leong acted in concert as they intentionally and unlawfully abused the functions of their offices by authorising an advance payment of M14 million to a joint-venture building the Mpilo Boulevard.

An advance payment guarantee is a commitment issued by a bank to pay a specified amount to one party of a contract on-demand as protection against the risk of the other party’s non-performance.

The prosecution says the payment was processed after the company had provided a dubious advance payment guarantee. It says the officials knew that the guarantee was fake and therefore unenforceable.

As revealed by thepost three weeks ago, SCIG and SMCG were responsible for providing the payment guarantee as lead partners in the joint venture.

The prosecution says the MCC was required by law to make advance payment after SCIG-SMCG-TIM Joint Venture submitted a guarantee as per the international standards on construction contracts.

It alleges that the MCC has now lost the M14 million paid to SCIG-SMCG-TIM Joint Venture because of the fake advanced guarantee.

thepost has seen minutes of meetings in which officials from the joint venture admitted to MCC officers that the advance payment guarantee was dubious.

SCIG-SMCG-TIM kept promising to provide a genuine guarantee but never did. Yet the MCC officials did not report the suspected fraud to the police or take any action against the company.

It was only in January this year that the MCC cancelled the contract on the basis that the company had failed to provide a genuine guarantee.

Despite receiving the advance payment SCIG and SMCG refused to pay TIM Joint Venture for the initial work.

SCIG and SMCG, the lead partners in the joint venture, are reportedly suing the MCC to restore the contract. Officials from TIM Plant Hire however say they are not aware of their partners’ lawsuit against the MCC.

Staff Reporter

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Scott fights for free lawyer

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DOUBLE-MURDER convict Lehlohonolo Scott is fighting the government to pay a lawyer to represent him in his appeal.
Scott, serving two life sentences for murdering Kamohelo Mohata and Moholobela Seetsa in 2012, says his efforts to get a state-sponsored lawyer have been repeatedly frustrated by the Registrar of the High Court, Advocate ’Mathato Sekoai.
He wants to appeal both conviction and sentence.
He has now filed an application in the High Court seeking an order to compel Advocate Sekoai to appoint a lawyer to represent him.
He tells the court that he is representing himself in that application because the Registrar has rejected his request to pay his legal fees or appoint a lawyer for him.
People who cannot fund their own legal costs can apply to the Registrar for what is called pro deo, legal representation paid for by the state.
Scott says Sekoai has told him to approach Legal Aid for assistance.
The Legal Aid office took a year to respond to him, verbally through correctional officers, saying it does not communicate directly with inmates.
The Legal Aid also said he doesn’t qualify to be their client.
“I was informed that one Mrs Papali, if I recall the name well, who is the Chief Legal Aid counsel, had said that Legal Aid does not communicate with inmates so she could not write back to me,” Scott says.
“Secondly, they represent people in minor cases. Thirdly, they represent indigent people of which she suggested I am not one of them.”
“Fourthly, there are no prospects of success in my case hence they won’t assist me.”
He says the Legal Aid’s fifth reason was that he has been in jail for a long time.
Scott is asking the High Court to set aside Sekoai’s decision and order her to facilitate pro deo services for him, saying her decision was “irregular, irrational, and unlawful”.
He argues that the Registrar’s role was to finance his case to finality, meaning up to the Court of Appeal.
The Registrar insists that the arrangement was to provide him a lawyer until his High Court trial ended.
Scott says his lawyer, Advocate Thulo Hoeane, who was paid by the state, had promised to file an appeal a day after his sentencing but he did not.
He argues that the Registrar did not hear him but arbitrarily decided to end pro deo.
Scott says he wrote to Acting Chief Justice ’Maseforo Mahase in 2018 soon after his conviction and sentencing seeking assistance but he never received any response.
Later, he wrote to Chief Justice Sakoane Sakoane in November 2020 and he received a response through Sekoai who rejected his request.
Scott tells the High Court that he managed to apply to the Court of Appeal on his own but the Registrar later told him, through correctional officers, that “the Court of Appeal does not permit ordinary people to approach it”.
He argues that “where justice or other public interest considerations demand, the courts have always departed from the rules without any problem”.
Staff Reporter

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Army ordered to pay up

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THE Ombudsman has asked parliament to intervene to force the Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) to compensate families of people killed by soldiers.
Advocate Tlotliso Polaki told parliament, in two damning reports on Monday, that the LDF is refusing to compensate the family of Lisebo Tang who was shot dead by soldiers near the former commander, Lieutenant General Tlali Kamoli’s home in 2014.

The LDF, she said, is also refusing to compensate the family of Molapo Molapo who was killed by a group of soldiers at his home in Peka, Ha-Leburu in 2022.

Advocate Polaki wrote the LDF in January last year saying it should pay Tang’s mother, Makhola Tang, M300 000 “as a reasonable and justifiable redress for loss of support”.

The Tang family claim investigation started in February 2022 and the LDF responded that it “had undertaken the responsibility for funeral expenses and other related costs”.

Advocate Polaki investigated whether the LDF could be held accountable for Tang’s death and whether his family should be compensated while the criminal case is pending.

She found that the soldiers were “acting within the scope of their employment to protect the army commander and his family” when they killed Tang.

Soldiers killed Tang in Lithabaneng while she was in a parked car with her boyfriend at what the army termed “a compromising spot” near the commander’s residence.

The three soldiers peppered the vehicle with a volley of shots, killing Tang and wounding the boyfriend.

Advocate Polaki found that the army arranged to pay for the funeral costs and to continue buying groceries and school needs for Tang’s daughter.

The LDF, however, kept this for only four years but abruptly stopped.

When asked why it stopped, the army said “there is a criminal case pending in court”.

The army also said it felt that it would be admitting guilt if it compensated the Tang’s family.

The Ombudsman said “a civil claim for pecuniary compensation lodged is not dependent on the criminal proceedings running at the same time”.

“The LDF created a legitimate but unreasonable expectation and commitments between themselves and the complainant which had no duration attached thereto and which showed a willingness to cooperate and work harmoniously together,” Advocate Polaki found.

“The LDF was correct in withdrawing such benefit in the absence of a clear policy guideline or order to continue to offer such benefit or advantage,” she said.

“However, she should have been consulted first as the decision was prejudicial to her interest.”

She said the army’s undertaking “fell short of a critical element of duration and reasonability”.

Tang was a breadwinner working at Pick ’n Pay Supermarket as a cleaner earning M2 000 a month.

Her daughter, the Ombudsman said, is now in grade six and her school fees alone had escalated to M3 200 per year.

She said an appropriate redress should be premised on her family’s loss of income and future loss of support based on her salary and the prejudice suffered by her mother and daughter.

She said M300 000 is “a reasonable and justifiable redress for loss of support”.

In Molapo’s case, Advocate Polaki told parliament that the LDF refused to implement her recommendations to compensate his two daughters.

The complainant is his father, Thabo Joel Molapo.

The Ombudsman told the army in August last year that it should pay the girls M423 805 “for the negligent death of their father”.

Advocate Polaki said despite that the criminal matter is before the court, “it is established that the Ombudsman can assert her jurisdiction and make determinations on the complaint”.

Molapo, 32, was brutally murdered by a soldier in Peka in December 2020.

Molapo had earlier fought with the soldier and disarmed him.

The soldier, the Ombudsman found, rushed to Mokota-koti army post to request backup to recover his rifle. When he returned with his colleagues, they found him hiding in his house. The soldier then shot Molapo.

The LDF, the Ombudsman said, conceded that the soldier killed Molapo while on duty and that he had been subjected to internal disciplinary processes.

“The LDF is bound by the consequences of the officer’s actions who was negligent and caused Molapo’s death,” she said.

She found that after Molapo was killed, army officers and the Minister of Defence visited his family and pledged to pay his children’s school fees. They also promised to hire one of his relatives who would “cater for the needs of the deceased’s children going forward”.

The LDF, she said, has now reneged on its promises saying its “recruitment policy and legal considerations did not allow for such decision to be implemented”.

Molapo’s father told the Ombudsman that the LDF said “the undertakings were not implementable and were made by the minister at the time just to console the family”.

All the payments in the two cases, the Ombudsman has asked parliament, should be made within three months.

Staff Reporter

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