ZIMBABWE Independent business reporter Taurai Mangudhla (TM) spoke to Mines minister Obert Mpofu (OM) on his experience since taking office in 2009 with focus on key roles and specific developments. Below are excerpts:
TM: When you came into office in 2009 I am sure you had a lot of ambition, but what would you say were your immediate performance targets?
OM: I don’t know whether I can say I had any defined targets at the time. What I knew was that we had a Ministry of Mines and Mining Development and the country had a lot of mineral resources but what was apparent was that there was really not much activity in that sector.
I just looked at the structure of the ministry itself and its activities at the time in view of massive development requirements yet there was not much activity on the ground with mines like Mhangura, Kamativi and many actually closing down.
I saw that we had either closed down or were operating below capacity and any activity was from the operators themselves with no direct ministerial involvement so there were all these things that came to my mind. I had to put up a team of experts to beef what was already in the ministry. We brought in a new permanent secretary and new directors.
I think you will also agree with me that at that time very little was known about that sector. Many people, including myself, though it was not a ministry to be given so much attention but we had to revolutionalise it through a lot of activities, we had to revamp the operations of the meteorological department, geological department, administration, human resources and even the Police Minerals Unit, which is part of this ministry. We got these together and I gave them my vision which I had just developed and it is on that basis that we started seeing some activity.
TM: Looking at those targets in general, how would you say you have scored?
OM: I don’t want to judge myself, but I think you have been following developments and can do the judging yourself. However, you should know that basically the ministry of Mines is the cradle of this country’s economy. It is the major contributor to GDP; it is the one sustaining our national economy. There is no one these days who says anything about our economy without mentioning mines despite the fact that we were monitored, criticised, of course in some cases encouraged to do what we are doing. It was not easy but we put all challenges behind and focused on the development of the ministry.
TM: Zimbabwe got Kimberly Process (KP) certification to export its Marange diamonds to the world during your tenure, can you give detail on your experience in that regard?
OM: It has been tough and I think that’s the biggest challenge that I had in my ministerial career. I think this is bigger than the first one when I was Minister of Industry and International Trade during the hyperinflation period with prices changing every hour. I was made to chair a powerful cabinet taskforce on pricing that I handled with quite some diligence and focus at the most difficult period of our economy. With mining, because of the challenges and the difficulties that the country was going through regarding the certification of our diamond mining, cabinet again set up a task force which was made up of senior ministers I chaired.
This was a difficult moment, but again the committee did its best. We didn’t do much in addressing the matter fully because there were divergent views on the approach and that’s the time when the NGOs were also having their onslaught on the operations.
Mind you, it is the time when de Beers had just abandoned their so called exploration and another company called ACR had come in under unclear circumstances and we had over 40 000 people on the ground and the place had been totally overwhelmed by the illegal diamond miners.
It was very clear to me that these were not on their own; there was a big hand behind. The sector sought assistance from other government departments to provide security in the area so that security forces could clear the ground for order to prevail.
I realised that the route through the taskforce was going to take long because we would spend time talking and I thought this was the ministry’s sole responsibility for a solution, so at some stage I abandoned the committee because it was not helping me solve the problem at all. Instead, it made difficult for me to operate.
TM: What were your specific reasons for abandoning the task force?
OM: It was moving slowly and people wanted to waste time on what should be done with some actually being sympathetic to NGOs and I realised some members were actually conniving with those that had imposed sanctions, but we needed practical measures so I got support from the police.
We were then able to focus on our issue of the KP with support from the African countries, Brazil, China and other countries that were on our side. We also had to do several review missions because Zimbabwe became a dominant topic within the KP to an extent a minister from Liberia who had been compromised was made to lead investigations. He would come here do some clandestine investigations which were outside the KP and at night they would sneak out to meet with some people privately to get proof on certain things but we still had to fight.
TM: What role do you think politics played in delaying Zimbabwe’s certification?
OM: The politics that could have contributed other than the KPs role was the sanctions. They were used effectively by those that had imposed them on us, they were now using the KP to impose their foreign policy on issues that had nothing to do with the KP, but the majority of the members saw this plot. Mind you all these so called NGOs registered with the KP are funded by countries that have imposed sanctions on us, for instance the Global Witness is a British Funded NGO then we have PAC which is fully funded by the Canadian government so you can’t separate them from those countries, but again they put up a fight funding local NGOs like the centre for Research and Zimbabwe Environmental Law Association.
We then said some of these countries have mining concerns in this country for example Zimplats is Australian, Anglo America and Unki are British, Canada also has some mines, so the main detractors were actually people who are benefiting from our resources. You will recall at a meeting in Israel I threatened to close down Rio Tinto.
That’s when they started relaxing their stance. Now Australia is on board, EU is also on board, but we have countries like the US and Canada that are still trying to fight us but they have failed.
TM: There have been allegations that diamond money is not accounted for and there is serious lack of transparency in diamond mining, what’s your take on this as a parent ministry?
OM: All those were not proven and the world really, including BBC, have tried to say things that do not exist and it turned out to be a false issue. What is happening now is we have said companies declare dividends at the end of the year, so we have said those that want to see what the mining sector is contributing should wait until end of year and apparently some of us don’t understand economics. They forget mines employ people, they pay taxes. Whenever people talk about diamonds they lose focus, they don’t even argue reasonably.
Look at whats happening around the country. Look at Harare-Bulawayo highway, we are a functional economy, we don’t have any foreign support, balance of payment support, meaningful investment support, but we remain a functional economy so this is where we get it wrong and we are so used to criticising ourselves and we can’t tell the difference between a good deed and a bad deed.
TM: Currently, how many companies do we have mining in Marange and what has been the impact of the so called sanctions to their operations because some of their funds are trapped.
OM: We have Ofac chasing us and other institutions are chasing our operations but we are fighting with about five companies still there.
TM: To round up where do you see yourself maybe five years from now?
OM: I honestly don’t know because I am a professional man, academic and at the same time a politician. Honestly I cannot say but I think I have a duty to serve my country, to liberate my country and I want to see this country being rated as one of the most successful economically and benefiting the majority.