Mining amendment Bill draws heavy criticism

GOVERNMENT’S proposed Mines and Minerals Amendment Bill has drawn heavy criticism from stakeholders over a clause requiring miners to appear before a board in order for them to be licenced.

Chipa Gonditii/Cloudine Matola

The Bill seeks to amend the outmoded Mines and Minerals Act (MMA), which was drafted in 1961 and enacted in 1965.

The proposed amendments seek to formulate a Cadastre Registrar (board) so that an individual or company will have to submit an application for an exclusive prospecting licence, attend interviews before the board and if the board deems an individual capable of mining, then one will be issued with the licence to go and explore for any mineral.
Should the company or individual fail to satisfy the board, the application will be rejected.

The Bill isolates other critical stakeholders like Environmental Management Agency, Rural District Councils, civil society organisations and traditional leadership, which is in violation of Section 13(4) of the constitution, which obliges the state to ensure that local communities benefit from resources in their areas.

Mining Affairs Board will be chaired by the permanent secretary of Mines and Mining Development. All directors in the Mines ministry will sit on the board, as well as at least two other ministry officials recommended to the board by the minister

The Association of Small-Scale Miners Association (Assa) has since written to the Clerk of Parliament Kennedy Chokuda questioning the intricacies of how the board will be run, which they argue is vague.

“… What reason justifies the involvement of a board in granting mining rights? How many times will that board sit and how many people will be interviewed weekly, monthly and annually? Is this not creating a needless bottleneck in mineral searching and mine titles administration?

“How inclusive is the board system judging from similar boards elsewhere? How many people will qualify before a board? If the board knows how lucrative and promising the area that I want to mine is, will it not be tempted to decline my application and later sell my find to the highest bidder,” the letter reads.

The association said the whole process was bureaucratic and would result in inordinate delays and frustration.

Small-scale miners are considered the pivot of the sector as they are responsible for producing over 60% of the minerals in Zimbabwe.

Assa chairperson Blessing Togarepi said although the new bill addressed the issue of mineral leakage, it still was curtailing the decentralisation of power in the sector.

“Section 27 of the Bill states that an exclusive prospecting licence shall not entitle the prospector to remove or dispose of any mineral except for purpose of having it assayed or for determining its nature and must get permission to do so from the Cadastre Registrar. This provision is critical in stamping mineral leakages that have taken place in alluvial mining of precious minerals like diamonds,” he said.

“However, the composition of the board weakens the oversight function of the board and does not provide representation to diverse interests in the mining sector. The Mines and Minerals Amendment Bill (MMAB), however, violates the separation of power, an important pillar of good corporate governance as the permanent secretary of Mines ministry is both the registrar of the Mining Cadastre and chairperson of the MAB,” Togarepi added.

He also said the Bill centralises power around the Mines ministry officials in making decisions in the MAB.

Mining expert Hugh Chatyoka said the availability of a board could mean strict monitoring and this could simply be avoided by digitalising co-ordinates input and map plotting.

“The new Bill needs to provide for digital location co-ordinates input and digital map plotting. There is therefore a need to have a computerised portal accessible online for mine title experts or peggers to feed their intended mining locations with the system able to accept or reject applications automatically without human assistance.

“The French word cadastre involves map plotting and land use auditing for tax purposes. The Bill proposes the establishment of a board manned by humans called Cadastre Board. The only modern thing in the proposed system is the word cadastre which might suggest that there will be strict monitoring on mineral exploitation, but since this is done by a board, in a few years’ time we will inevitably need to amend the law again to provide for proper digitalisation,” he said.

Chatyoka also said the board should be discarded in favour of a fully computerised mine title allocation system.

“The board will create serious bottlenecks and invite unwarranted court challenges such that it will be wise to establish a cadastre court in our judicial system to handle the numerous court cases that will arise because of this proposed board,” he added.

An attempt by government to amend the MMA in 2007 failed to sail through the National Assembly. The draft mineral policy, which was spearheaded by the then Mines minister Obert Mpofu in 2013, was not adopted after it was totally rejected during consultations.