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Mines Bill chaos must end

THERE has been chaos in countries that have struggled to transparently administer or share their resource endowments.

In Zimbabwe, the bloodshed that rocked Chiadzwa diamond fields a decade ago was a result of the government’s incapacity to avoid the development of an opaque industry that only benefited the elite.

When ordinary citizens realised that this was the game plan, they flooded claims and took the law into their hands.

Government’s response was heavy handed.

Soldiers ruthlessly descended against defenceless panners, leaving broken limbs, crushed bones and blood on the floor.

The good thing is, following the Chiadzwa bloodshed and chaotic scenes elsewhere, the government appeared to have realised legal gaps that existed in the Mines Act, a 1963 piece of legislation that has outlived its usefulness.

This is how the Mines and Minerals Bill came into the picture in 2015.

The Bill may have shortcomings, but it is an important step to reform the industry to benefit investors and ordinary people.

Agreements were made to push through important amendments like adding the “use it or lose it” clause.

This is important for exorcising the speculation scourge, which has created inequalities.

Now, the problem is that the Bill has been to many offices in the past seven years since stakeholder engagements were made.

This is not a problem.

It is a strength, because ultimately, the goal is to make a good law.

The problem is, since the President rejected it in 2019 and asked for refinements, there could be material changes that need a fresh round of engagement before it returns to Parliament.

This is why mining industry leaders have said the Bill cannot return to Parliament before they see what changes have been made since the President’s directives to the Attorney General’s office.

It would be unjust, and a total lack of transparency if this Bill is not put before a stakeholder engagement for the second time.

Small-scale miners, most of them Zimbabwean citizens, are right in demanding more stakeholder engagements.

They cannot wait for the Bill to be passed and then make noises demanding fresh amendments.

The Bill must be submitted to Parliament when everything possible has been agreed, so that if lawmakers pass it back to the President, Zimbabweans would be sure that they have enacted a law that addresses most of their concerns — everyone agrees that the 1963 law caters for the interests of the status quo.

Only this week, during the fallout between Chinese investors and NGOs over resources, Chinese investors indicated that they cannot be blamed for exploiting weak legislation in Zimbabwe to chase away villagers from mineral claims.

It is such gaps that must be filled to make sure that vulnerable groups are not victimised by big money.

Yet the Bill has taken too long to become law.

Seven years of working on one Bill is surely too long.

Government must make sure that it is completed this year for progress’s sake.

Remember that justice delayed is justice denied.

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