GOVERNMENT has called off an all-stakeholders conference to deliberate on the Mines and Minerals Bill following heavy criticism on some of its provisions.
Official sources told the businessdigest this week that the conference, which had been scheduled for Bulawayo from October 24-27, was indefinitely postponed because of the massive criticism passed on it.
There are also fears the government was planning to withdraw the Bill altogether. The Bill fundamentally 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 (Mining Affairs 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 the individual will be issued with the licence to go and explore for any minerals.
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 national Constitution. The section obliges the state to ensure that local communities benefit from resources in their areas.
The 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
Presently, the right to access mining rights by ordinary citizens is provided for in sections 20, 21, 23, 24, 26 & 27 of the existing Act.
The Bill proposes to repeal them and replace them with a board which will grant these rights to candidates whom it considers fit to mine.
A senior Ministry of Mines official said the main reason why the stakeholders’ conference was cancelled was because of the negative reaction expected at the meeting which could have been greatly embarrassing for the ministry.
“To be honest the ministry is afraid of the small-scale miners so we wanted to hold an all stakeholders conference in Bulawayo which we unexpectedly cancelled because of the negative reaction we were getting from the miners over this bill,” the ministry official said.
“We knew that the Bill had negative feedback, that is why we decided to cancel it because miners countrywide were protesting against the Bill,” the source said.
The official also revealed that the ministry had secretly sent emissaries to the miners in a ploy to get their input and push for a secret amendment.
“We secretly sent emissaries to miners, right now in the ministry’s corridors they are saying there is no longer that Bill in the legal department, so what they are doing is they are soliciting the miners’ input and trying to amend it secretly,” the source said.
“We of course know that the Bill has to be amended to accommodate certain things like digitilisation, but what you have is that most politicians always want a piece of the pie. So by appointing a cadastre there will simply be able to monitor where miners want to mine and take that rich mineral land for themselves or just pass it on to the bigger companies.”
Another government source alleged political interest as the main reason for the insertion of such a controversial clause in the bill.
“If one does this favour to the big names in the mining sector, that is why many people who will be on the board here see it as a golden goose,” the source added.
Efforts to get a comment from the Ministry of Mines were fruitless as calls to the minister went unanswered.
The mining industry is currently the backbone of the economy and has been a leader in export earnings in the past decade after agriculture crumbled.
The mining sector is critical in generating foreign currency, contributing about 70% of the country’s forex earnings.