Mining communities urge MPs to pass Mines Bill
“We are suffering due to lack of effective mining legislation”
By Chiku Jere
Communities from mining areas last month had an opportunity to meet Members of Parliament at an interface dinner in Lilongwe and had one demanding but common voice to the legislators – “Table and Pass the Mines and Minerals Bill and stop the suffering we are facing!”
Centre for Environmental Policy and Advocacy (CEPA) and Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace (CCJP) under the banner of Natural Resources Justice Network (NRJN) organised the meeting between 25 members of Parliamentary Committee on Natural Resources and Climate Change (PCNRCC) and 15 community representatives from three mining districts of Karonga, Mzimba and Phalombe at Lilongwe Hotel on December 14, 2016.
During the interface, the citizens gave passionate recount of unpleasant experiences and injustices they have encountered in respect to mining activities in their respective areas, which have remained unabated under the current legal framework deemed to be outdated.
Justice Mwaulambo, a community representative from Karonga’s Mwaulambo area where Eland Coal Mine Company Limited opened a coal mine in 2007 which it later unceremoniously abandoned said people continue to suffer in the area due to environmental complications as a result of the mining operations.
In his address to the MPs, Mwaulambo, who is a son to Group Village Headman of the area situated almost 30 kilometers away from Karonga business centre, said the Mwaulambo Coal Mine deal was a sham from the start.
The investor ignored the entire procedures. Even chiefs were not consulted. We only came to know about the existence of the investor at the site when work had already begun. When we questioned their mission on our land, their only explanation was that they had been awarded licences to mine coal in the area and that we should ask government for details,
Mwaulambo explained that before the communities could seek clarification from government, huge machinery had already been installed at the site.
This marked the beginning of a telling ordeal for the citizens, as they were subjected to unfair treatment in the whole process of the mining activity.
Imagine during what they termed Phase 1 relocation, 17 households were told to move and were given a meagre compensation of only K45,000 per household -K15,000 for the house and K30,000 for the land,
However, things improved during Phase 2 after the intervention of Church and Society Programme of the Livingstonia Synod with funding from Tilitonse Fund, which successfully pushed for fair compensation packages for 20 households ranging up to MK3million per household.
But the joy for the improved compensation packages did not last long though as the impact of immense environmental damage to the area begun to be felt.
First, he said, was the problem of water contamination on the area’s much-relied-upon Lufilya River, which led to the death of fish and exposed the communities to health implications.
The company has since closed shop and left the site without fulfilling mine closure obligations which demand that the investor rehabilitates the environment at the mining site.
Records indicate that the then Ministry of Energy and Mines, now Ministry of Natural Resources, Energy and Mining, granted a mining licence to Eland to mine coal at the site on December 19, 2007, after the Environmental Impact Assessment approval by Department of Environmental Affairs through National Committee on Environment.
But Mwaulambo told the PCNRCC that what is now left are heaps of useless coal and deep gullies filled with water believed to be toxic and is a health hazard to people and their livestock such as cattle, goats and pigs.
He also lamented that the coal spillage and dust has led to the loss of soil fertility in the area, rendering the land agriculturally less productive.
He claimed that a farmer, who used to produce over ten bags of rice before Eland’s mining activity, is now yielding less than five bags, because rice fields are now contaminated with coal dusts.
We expected development which could have brought happiness to our area, only to be left in tears. We suffered a lot when mining was going on and we are still suffering after mine closure. Please make sure that when formulating this new law, it should carry remedies for the problems we have faced,
A similar story came from John Nkhata, chairperson of Kanyika Mining Native Forum (KAMNAF), a community grouping formed to advocate for the interests of the people from areas surrounding Globe Metals and Mining’s Kanyika Niobium Project in Mzimba.
Nkhata said people had high expectations after they were told that a mining project was coming in their areas and they will cart home with handsome packages as compensation.
We were told to stop farming our land, which we obliged and 248 households were earmarked for relocation. When we saw heavy machinery arrive, we thought that was it but alas! We were cheated for that was the beginning of our miseries,
Nkhata explained that the heavy machinery exploration works resulted in pollution of their farming land.
The company cleared a large stretch of land, felling a lot of trees and we believe this is what has caused a widely-felt environmental glitch that has a disturbed the rainfall pattern, as we no longer experience good rains for our crops as before,
Five years down the line, Nkhata said, the project’s future is uncertain, so are all the promises of employment, business opportunities and infrastructural development.
It appears the promised infrastructure including schools, hospitals and banks will no longer become a reality despite years of sacrifice. We really feel abandoned and betrayed,
Nkhata implored the MPs to push the authorities to compensate the Kanyika people for the five years of disturbance they suffered after they were stopped from developing their households, let alone farming their land.
He also urged the MPs to make sure that the new mining law is quickly passed as the communities think that it could have prevented the injustices they have suffered as a result of mining activities in their areas.
On his part, Songwe Mining Action Group chairperson Joster Namonde, said though they have not faced major problems with Mkango Resources, currently exploring for rare earths at Songwe Hill in Phalombe, it is important that the legislatures pass the Mines and Minerals Bill (MMB) because communities view it as a tool that will safeguard the interests of communities in mining areas.
We are told this law addresses many aspects that will benefit us. We have heard that it includes issues of transparency, addresses dangers of mines, protects the environment, looks into revenue accountability and also tackles the issue of Community Development Agreements. Please do us a favour as our representatives, pass this law and we will be happy,
In response, the MPs gave a solemn promise to pass the law once it is presented in the House; saying hearing it from the people themselves, they feel compelled to do the needful.
We will do everything possible to pass this bill into law, but we’ll have to vet it first, and confirm that it addresses the interests of the citizens, let alone, that of the nation,
said Welani Chilenga, PCNRCC chairperson.
He said that there is a consensus within the committee to come up with a people centred mining law because they feel duty bound to do so, as they are representatives of the people.
How will we face our bosses – the people who sent us to Parliament – if we fail them on this?
Nevertheless, he highlighted what he described as shortfalls that need to be addressed before the Bill is passed into Law.
Chilenga, among other things, said that the committee is not comfortable with a stipulation in the bill that delegates the task of mining revenue collection to the Malawi Revenue Authority (MRA) which, he said, implies that the money collected will end up in government’s Account Number 1.
He said his committee and many other members in the house want proceeds from mining revenue into a separate account for easy monitoring and accountability.
We want people to be able to trace what development activity, particularly monumental infrastructural development – roads, hospitals, stadiums, and what have you, have been derived from mining revenue,
MP for Nkhata Bay North West Commodious Nyirenda said the passing of a mining law that serves the interests of the people and the nation will be a non-partisan endeavour in as far as the consensus of members of the committee is concerned.
We cannot afford to betray both our people as well as our conscious on this one, because the stakes are so high, as this law deals with the long term future of this beloved nation,
On the Kanyika issue, the committee promised to inform the Secretariat of Parliament to produce a report on the matter for further action, while on Mwaulambo Mine they assured the community that they will lobby for funding to have the gullies filled.
In his opening remarks, CCJP National Secretary, Martin Chiphwanya, said the interface dinner was planned to give a chance to people to have face to face encounter with their representatives in parliament on what they want to be in the bill in order to avert the problems they have faced before.
He said interaction will help the legislatures appreciate the needs of the communities in as far as the mining law is concerned by hearing it from the horse’s mouth.
Ideally, we want the bill to have input from the people from the grassroots, because they are the ones facing direct impact of mining activities in their areas. On the other hand, we want MPs, whom the communities elected as representatives, to champion what is in the best interest of the people of this country,
Chiphwanya stressed that mining communities’ needs need to be heard and upheld in the new mining law.
Coincidentally, the interactions took place on the same day parliamentarians passed the Access to Information Bill (ATI), and participants cheered as the MPs, one by one trickled into the dinner room after a long day in Parliament where they passed the ATI.
According to Chiphwanya, the passing of the ATI Bill was equally important as it will compliment the yet to be passed MMB in enhancing good governance in the minerals sector.
What I can say is that ATI is a sister to MMB, so we applaud our honourable members for doing the needful in passing the law that will facilitate access to information in all government dealings to ensure transparency and accountability, and we believe they will equally do the same once the MMB is presented to the House,
The country’s mining sector still operates under the 1981 Mines and Mineral Act which has been declared ‘archaic’ and ‘outdated’ by stakeholders in the sector as it does not address the dynamics synonymous with a modern mining industry.
The article above was initially published in Malawi’s Mining & Trade Review Issue Number 45 that is circulating this January 2017.