â€¦ Remains unshaken in his stance to deny Mohahlaula a role in diamonds transportation
The Minister of Public Works and Transport, Neo Matjato Moteane, is standing his ground in denying a local aviation charter company, Bohlokoa Aviation, trading as Mohahlaula Airlines, an opportunity to transport diamonds produced by local mines to South Africa by plane.
This decision has led to a legal battle, with Mohahlaula Airlines suing the government in the High Court for damages of M10 million plus interest, citing the breach of the countryâ€™s mining laws that prioritise local services if available over similar services procured abroad.
The Mines and Minerals Act, according to Mohahlaula Airlinesâ€™ court papers, mandates the use of services available in Lesotho, â€œwith due regard to the need to ensure safety, technical, and economic efficiencyâ€.
The local aviation company alleged that the governmentâ€™s issuance of Temporary Air Service Permits (TASP) to South African airlines through fraudulent means has resulted in potential revenue losses of M10 million between January 25, 2023, and March 28, 2023.
The Chief Executive Officer (CEO) and founder of Mohahlaula Airlines, Phafane Nkotsi, has taken further action by opening a criminal case against major diamond mines in Lesotho, including LetÅ¡eng Diamond Mine, Storm Mountain Diamonds, Mothae Diamond Mine, Liqhobong Diamond Mine, and the Department of Civil Aviation.
Nkotsi accused them of collectively and unlawfully acquiring fraudulent TASP, leading to the potential revenue loss for his airline. The company demands that the government stop issuing these permits.
Minister Moteane, however, on Wednesday this week maintained that there is no law that requires him to halt the issuance of permits to South African airline operators.
â€œThere is nowhere in the law where it is said that you can deny anyone who wants to come to Lesotho a temporary permit,â€ he said.
â€œOwners of the mines say the changing the policy to give preference to local airlines is going to be costly. If they are currently pay M60,000, they will be forced to pay M120,000,â€ he added.
He continued: â€œIt means the costs will jump from M60,000 to M120,000 because of the policy shift. So there is a need for discussions between the mine owners and local airlines to reach an amicable solution.â€
Questions Raised Over Mohahlaula Airlinesâ€™ Practices
The Lesotho Chamber of Mines shares this sentiment and has raised concerns that Mohahlaula charges nearly 100 percent more than a South African-based company for the same service.
The Chamber also highlights that Mohahlaula Airlines does not own helicopters and relies on South African-based companies to provide these services.
Moreover, the company uses South African pilots and resources, raising questions about local empowerment and capacity building under this arrangement.
Moteane said he appreciates the idea of prioritising local businesses but disagrees with charging double the fees compared to foreign companies.
He pointed out that the policy shift, aimed at giving preference to licensed local companies, may result in doubling costs for mine owners. Despite his support for local airlines, he said he believes that the costs should be reasonable and not lead to a sudden spike.
The minister acknowledged that there is a need to finalise the policy and determine a reasonable margin of payment when diamonds are transported only by local airlines.
However, previous attempts to find common ground between airlines and mining companies have not yielded successful results.
Moteane Emphasises the Importance of Fairness
Moteane emphasised the importance of maintaining a reasonable figure, suggesting that the margin should be between 10 percent and 30 percent.
While he awaits a study from Civil Aviation on the practices of other countries, he asserted that the Director of Civil Aviation executes powers of issuing temporary permits under his policy direction.