THE National Assembly on Tuesday adopted a subordinate law which gives persons currently in illegal possession of rough diamonds until 31 January 2021 to declare them to the government.
This will give the government an opportunity to clearing illegal diamonds off the black market.
The Precious Stones (Prevention of Illicit and Theft of Diamonds) Regulations, 2020, was tabled before the house by Mining minister Serialong Qoo in October this year. It paves way for the re-introduction of artisanal and small-scale mining (ASM) by the government.
Kimetso Mathaba, the acting chairperson of the Natural Resources, Tourism and Land Cluster Committee, which recommended the adoption of the subordinate law after scrutinising it, said under the regulation, dealers would not be arrested but would instead be assisted to securely sell their inventory of diamonds to the open market.
Mr Mathaba, who is the leader of the National Independent Party (NIP), said holders of such diamonds would be required to fill in forms on declaring the diamonds. The diamonds will eventually be sold locally through an auction.
"The main purpose of the regulation is to grant amnesty to all persons in illegal possession of diamonds, meaning those without dealers' licenses," Mr Mathaba said.
"The regulation is also meant to ensure traceability and source of our diamonds to prepare for the upcoming artisanal and small-scale mining."
The government will eventually introduce a new law to regulate small-scale mining after clearing all the diamonds that are currently floating on the black market.
Re-opening small-scale mining is in line with the minerals and mining policy of 2015, which says the government would work towards recognising and repositioning ASM to alleviate poverty.
"The regulation facilitates secure collection of all floating diamonds through registration for secure safe keeping and selling them through open and competitive processes where their owners will earn from their sale.
"This issue will also address the problem of illegal trading of diamonds... , which often leads to killings and fraud. The amnesty is meant to continue until 31 January 2021, so we appeal to those with the diamonds to come forward and submit their diamonds as soon as possible."
For his part, All Basotho Convention (ABC) legislator for Hololo constituency legislator, Tlokotsi Manyoko, welcomed the law saying it would facilitate better participation of locals in the diamond industry.
"This regulation leads to the opening of small-scale mining, which will be critical for improving local participation in the diamond industry for development of the country's economy," Mr Manyoko said.
Small scale diamond digging by licensed Basotho diggers was first introduced in 1961 at Letšeng-la-Terai. This later extended to Hololo, Kao and Liqhobong under Basutoland Diamonds Ltd until 1967.
However, in 2004 the government stopped issuing licences for small-scale mining due to the apparent safety concerns since the sector was largely informal and unregulated.