Parliament committee wants artisan miners protected

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By Lineo Ramatlapeng

The parliamentary portfolio committee on natural resources has recommended Parliament should order the ministry of mining to move swiftly on the formulation of a law to promote and protect Artisans and Small-scale Miners (ASM) in Lesotho.

The committee also recommended that all earnings from diamonds collected and confiscated during an amnesty period be used to assist the country’s GeoChemical Mapping to perform well.

In its report, the Portfolio Committee said it had invited the ministry of mining to brief the committee on their collection of diamonds (diamonds amnesty) from Basotho who were artisanal diamond diggers.

The report said the purpose of the collection was to allow all illegal diamond holders a chance to declare illegal diamonds in their possession and surrender them without prosecution.

Minister of mining Serialong Qoo while appearing before the committee said during the amnesty period, the ministry collected diamonds 77 stones from Botha-Bothe weighing 10.4 carats, 7 stones from Leribe weighing 0.55 carats, and 56 stones from Maseru weighing 24.69 carats.

Qoo told the committee it is worrying that the ministry has in its possession diamonds weighing 209.8 carats confiscated police, which he said is many times the size of what the ministry collected during an amnesty time.

He explained the mines and minerals act, 2005, prohibits the mining of precious stones by the ASM by limiting the issuance of mineral permits to these miners; criminalizing possession of the said stones by these categories of people.

Qoo said in October 2020, the ministry published precious stones amnesty in its prevention of illicit and theft of diamonds regulations of 2020 in order to formalize the ASM sector by giving them recognition.

He added the ministry’s intent is to clear diamond stockpiles, raise standards, capturing fair value, and tracing the origin of the diamonds in order to open up a new supply of diamonds from ethical sources.

But, Qoo said he suspects “the ministry was unable to perform well on its implementation due to Covid-19 restrictions”.

He said an extension was introduced by publishing precious stones prevention of illicit and theft of diamonds regulations of 2021, which were operational till the end of March 2021.

Most Basotho, Qoo said were not willing to surrender their diamonds due to lack of trust in the government ministries after the wool and mohair saga, fearing being arrested and suspicion that the ministry will not compensate them.

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