By Bereng Mpaki
LOCAL diamond dealers have called on the government to permit diamond trading while it works on reforming relevant trading laws.
The dealers, who spoke to Lesotho Times recently, say they live in constant fear of being tormented by police as though they are criminals.
They said as a result of the hostile treatment they get in the country, many of them have since migrated to neighbouring South Africa which has kinder diamond trading laws. They are therefore enriching South Africa instead of Lesotho, which needs job creators.
The government criminalised diamond dealing in 2004 under the recommendation of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank on account of curbing trade of conflict gems that could be smuggled in and out of the country.
However, according to the Minerals and Mining Policy of 2015, government indicated it would work towards recognising and repositioning the artisanal mining sector (ASM) sub-sector.
The policy said this would be done by creating a legal and regulatory framework to facilitate the process.
Government further said it would restrict the sector to Basotho. These players would also be capacitated with skills, technology and financial resources.
At the time when diamond trading was outlawed, many small-scale dealers who held diamond trading licenses became stuck with licenses which they were unable to renew and had unsold stock.
“We have been turned into criminals in our own country, while foreign investors are allowed to come in and trade in the same diamonds yet they are not regarded as criminals,” said one of the dealers who declined to reveal identity due to his nature of work.
The change in government policy also blocked artisanal miners from continued operations and made way for foreign investors to occupy those areas. The presence of the private investors lead to closure of artisanal mines and they lost income.
The dealers met the minister of Mining, Keketso Sello,last week where he wanted their input in the on-going legal reforms meant to mainstream the small and ASM.
The minister said it is important to speedily amend the legal framework regulating diamond trading in order to decriminalize ASM in the country. He promised to expedite the process by sensitising relevant authorities about the need to process laws on time.
Asked to comment on the speech made by Mr Sello at the meeting, the dealers said while it was a positive speech, the actual implementation of enacting new laws that will ultimately decriminalise diamond trading is what they will wait for.
“What the minister said did not address the immediate challenges we have right now. We want to be free to trade right now and not tomorrow, as we are aware of how long the processes involved in reviewing laws can take in this country,” said another dealer.
“The government should just come up with an interim solution to allow traders currently stuck with stock to freely carry on their business without any fear.”
The dealer emphasised that government should not mistake genuine with unscrupulous dealers.
“There are bad apples who are giving this trade a bad reputation and it is sad that government has painted the rest of the sector by the same brush,” he said.
“We live in a country naturally blessed with diamonds such that one can discover a diamond while digging a toilet pit in his backyard. Why should possessing such a diamond be criminal?”
On the intended establishment of a diamond centre in the country, the dealers accused the government of trying to run before it can walk. They said government should start by opening a gateway through which small diamond dealers can safely sell and buy diamonds as they have lots of diamonds waiting to be traded.
The dealers also alleged that they do not only source their diamonds from within the country but also from outside. However, the said the police seem to be unaware of this as each time they arrest them, they want to know from which local mine the diamonds were smuggled.