Fresh scandal hits mining sector

mining_1HARARE Zimbabwes troubled mining sector, still smarting from allegations of rampant smuggling and rights abuses at the controversial Chiadzwa diamond fields, has been rocked by another crisis this time involving accusations that the parent Ministry of Mines has not been following laid-down procedures in the issuing of mining claims.

The ministry is alleged to be operating without a properly constituted Mining Affairs Board, a clear violation of the Mines and Minerals Act.

Under the Act the board is supposed to ensure transparency in the issuing of mining titles and overall operations of the sector. It also provides technical guidance to and protection of the Ministry of Mines in the issuing of exclusive prospecting orders (EPOs).

A report by the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Mines and Energy noted that by operating without the Mining Affairs Board since taking office in April this year, the secretary for mines Thankful Musukutwa has operated outside the law and that all decisions he made on behalf of the ministry could be contested.

Other industry players however say the board has not operated for the past four years, raising fears that corruption in the mining sector has not been limited to smuggling of minerals but also extended as far as getting mining claims in the first place.

Chairperson Edward Chindori-Chininga said Musukutwa admitted to the committee under oath that the ministry had taken unilateral actions that would have required explicit approval from the disbanded Mining Affairs Board.

Chindori-Chininga said his committee was particularly concerned that Mining Affairs Board operations had been suspended since April 2009 and yet it has a backlog of issues that it has to deal with.

The Committee is also concerned during the nine-month period that the Mining Affairs Board was not meeting there were repeated violations of the Mines and Minerals Act by the secretary for mines and mining development, said Chindori-Chininga.

The committee said among the violations committed by ministry was its decision to reduce the size of an average EPO and special grants from 65 000 to 20 000 hectares without an accompanying statutory instrument to legalise the reduction.

Section 93.4(b) of the Mining Act requires the minister to publish a statutory instrument to give effect to his decision to reduce EPO and special grant sizes.

The Secretary for Mines and Mining Development charged EPO and special grant holders US$20 000 for 65 000 hectares and then reduced to 20 000 hectares without adjusting the fee of US$20 000. This was done without developing any legal instrument, following the Mines and Minerals Act or consulting the Mines Affairs Board of which he is the chairperson, the committee added.

Both Mines Minister Obert Mpofu and Musukutwa could not be reached for comment.

The parliamentary committee called for the immediate revival of the Mining Affairs Board to ensure transparency in the operations of the sector.

The Mining Affairs Board should meet regularly so as to assess progress reports and recommend abandonment of ground where applicable. This will in turn open ground for new applicants, it said.

It also recommended that the ministry adhered to the requirements stipulated in the Mines and Minerals Act in its performance of duty, noting that the inconsistent application and violation of the law could result is unnecessary litigation and prove detrimental in the drive to attract investment in the mining sector.

The allegations of lack of checks and balances in the Ministry of Mines come at a time Zimbabwe is desperately trying to shake off claims that the country is not following international standards in the mining of diamonds at Chiadzwa.

Human rights groups and the international diamond mining watchdog have reported rampant smuggling of the precious stone and the use of forced labour by members of the security forces.

Post published in: Economy

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