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Plug all plunder loopholes

A MINISTRY of Mines and Mining Development probe into diamond exploration of big multinationals in the 1990s exposed shocking evidence of plunder. The big resources outfit, spirited away substantial tonnes of diamonds to South Africa, claiming that its shipments were only samples that were going to laboratories for studies.

It is difficult to tell how much Zimbabwe may have lost in the process. But government claimed that the figure ran into multiple millions of United States dollars.

At one point, government threatened to sue, but the hype fizzled out. The important thing was that there was a quick response.

When Walter Chidhakwa was appointed Mines minister in 2013, he noticed yawning gaps in resource administration and took immediate action. Chidhakwa began moves to transform the Minerals Marketing Corporation of Zimbabwe (MMCZ) into an exploration company.

This was important because as analysts said this week, exploration is a vital part of the resources sector which should not be left to private companies alone. Exploration gives a country the extent of its endowment. Exploration leads to knowledge and understanding.

Exploration is an important step in finding minerals so they can be potentially mined. Demand for minerals is increasing. For example, the world needs more lithium to manufacture batteries for electric cars, which are now in high demand.

This demand is helping drive an increase in exploration across the world, especially as new inventions bring demand for new minerals. Unfortunately, Chidhakwa’s dream died the moment governments changed in 2017, with focus now shifting to other issues.

But by so doing, Zimbabwe is making a huge mistake, a mistake that the country has lived with for four decades. By dropping the idea of an exploration company, the country is continuing to hand the stewardship of its resources to foreign firms, which will explore and use the data as they see fit. This week, there were concerns that exploration being carried out by multinationals cannot be trusted because they tend to use the data for their benefit. These reports are correct.

Zimbabwe must expend on technologies that give government capacity to carry out its exploration. There is nothing wrong with exploration by private companies. Not all of them are bad apples.

But improvements in knowledge for analysing reports and giving accurate feedback to government about the resources map must also be prioritised.

Already, there have been reports that data from many years of exploration in the past century is available, but it cannot be found. If government had taken the lead from 1980 to carry out its own exploration, the result would be different today.

This is why the push by tax experts this week to reactivate plans to establish a public exploration firm must be taken seriously.

The experts are worried that plunder and pillage may continue until the resource administration regime is strengthened. They are very correct. Zimbabwe’s wealth must be used to benefit its citizens, and those investors, who exploit minerals in a fair manner.

The time to act is now.

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