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Commissioner of Mines accused of negligence

MANTŠALI PHAKOANA

The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) has accused Commissioner of Mines, Pheello Tjatja for negligence of duty in the safekeeping of diamonds.

Presenting report before the National Assembly on today, PAC has urged Ministry of Mining Principal Secretary, Ntahli Matete to report measures taken against Tjatja, for his behaviour before the same House within 21 days.

After the Auditor General, Lucy Liphafa had reported a plethora of discrepancies in the issuance of prospecting licenses, PAC asked Commissioner of Mines, Pheello Tjatja if he did keep proper records, but he responded in affirmation.

The discrepancies ranged from applications not meeting requirements but issued with licenses to no proper documentations of company registrations due to non-availability of proper documentation at the ministry.

“As a result, the committee decided to go and inspect his records at the office. Upon arrival, the committee was also shocked to discover that Tjatja, who is the custodian of all confiscated diamonds, did not have proper records (stock list) or knowledge of how many diamonds were in his custody.

“Furthermore, Tjatja claimed to have 74, in his custody, which he said were last recorded in 2015,” reads the PAC report.

In this case, the committee recommended that Minister of Mining, Keketso Sello “must investigate and report to the National Assembly within 24days why the stock list was last reconciled in 2015”.

“The report must include why the diamonds are carelessly kept at the Ministerial premises and why there are discrepancies between the stock list and the actual diamonds in hand”.

Keketso is also expected to report to the same House, within 21 days, measures taken regarding diamonds confiscated in Ladybrand in possession of his Private Secretary.

However, PAC reports that more diamonds appeared after the Diamond Squad Officers told the committee that they had delivered some diamonds in 2018.

“Mr Tjatja checked awkward places and some diamonds appeared to be stored in plastic bags, envelopes and drawers and his stock then increased to 84.

“The most surprising thing was that Mr Tjatja had sole access to the chub (safe), and was in possession of all three keys. Subsequently, the stock increased to 114 diamonds but there were no records to how the difference came about,” said PAC in its report.

Moreover, the committee was therefore sceptical, especially when these discoveries were made shortly after diamonds were confiscated in Ladybrand in possession of officers from the Ministry of Mining.

Quizzed about diamonds smuggled into South Africa, Tjatja failed to convince the committee that those diamonds seized in Ladybrand were not from his custody.

“Lack of proper records and safe storage pose a serious risk of theft because he would not know even if the diamonds in the custody went missing.

“Worse still, the PS in the Ministry, Mr Ntahli Matete was denied access to see the confiscated diamonds in the custody of Mr Tjatja at the Ministerial premises as Mr Tjatja told him that the custody of the diamonds is ‘no-go-area’,” said PAC in its report.

Tjatja was also accused by the committee for failing to make follow-ups on exported diamond.

The committee reported that it discovered the Labour Code Order of 1992 was being contravened when expatriates without rare skills were employed within the mining industry in Lesotho.

The PAC recommended that the Ministry of Mining should compile an experts and specialist expatriates registration statistics and verify them with the Ministry of Labour, with authentic copies of qualifications.

PAC said in its report the lists of experts and specialists lists and must be “reported back to the National Assembly within 14 days”.

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