Arresting Mangochi gold miners should not be the final remedy
Mangochi, which is well known for fishing and tourism activities, has as well become an attractive destination for those who want to make a kill out of gold panning.
Since May, gold buyers from neighbouring countries have flocked Makanjira in the district where small-scale miners have been mining gold along Onga River, which is sold to the foreigners for K23,000 per bottle top.
The government has termed the practice illegal because the small-scale miners engaged are not licensed implying the government is getting nothing in terms of licence fees and taxes from the gold sales. Furthermore, the miners, who are extracting gold using primitive tools such as handheld hoes are causing severe damage to the environment.
The social consequences are also imminent at the site as problems of HIV and sexually transmitted infections, environmental issues that could arise as the tailings are being dumped into Onga River, bad sanitation related diseases as there are no toilets in the mining area, and other social issues such as alcoholism and theft have emerged.
As reported in our main story, the Department of Mines in the Ministry of Natural Resources, Energy and Mining, which learnt about the situation in May this year, has effectively played a leading role in containing the situation.
It is said the gold miners and buyers, who were reluctant to stop their trade after being initially confronted by officials from Mines Department, Immigration and Police, have now given in to the demands of the government and stopped the practice after some arrests have been made.
According to the Department of Mines, this operation called “OPERATION CEASE ILLEGAL GOLD PANNING” will continue until there is authentically zero illegal gold panning activity in Mangochi District.
We commend the Department for initiating this operation to clamp down on illegal mining operations which are of little benefit to the country besides being associated with grave socio-environmental challenges.
However, we would like to urge the government that this operation should not be the lasting solution for the Mangochi illegal gold mining saga. The government needs to move ahead and license eligible small-scale miners to continue with the gold mining activities in a legally acceptable manner which will enable government collect taxes and ensure that socio-environmental concerns are taken care of.
The current arrest operations should just be a temporary measure because as a country, we need gold, which is a precious resource, to be legally mined and sold in regulated markets in a process which will allow the government collect enough taxes.
It will be absurd for a poor country such as Malawi which lacks adequate foreign exchange reserves to procure essential commodities like fuel and drugs to sleep on gold reserves which can be sustainably extracted for the benefit of the miners and the government if appropriate regulations are employed.
We would also like to warn the government that continuance policing of the mineral reserves may bleed corruption as the impatient miners can opt to bribe the police officers, traditional leaders and government officials guarding the reserves.
Therefore, it is our request to government to immediately organise and licence the gold miners to resume their operations in a regulated manner as soon as possible. The poor miners desperately need the money from the gold proceeds in the same way the government needs the taxes from the gold sales.
This piece was initially published in Malawi’s Mining & Trade Review Issue Number 54 (October 2017).