Oxfam organises stakeholder debate on Malawi’s natural resource governance

201711 Malawi Mining & Trade Review Oxfam Malawi Extractives Debate

Oxfam organises stakeholder debate on natural resource governance

…EITI implementation hailed as a step in the right direction 

…Govt urged to expedite passing of revised legal framework

By Chiku Jere

Oxfam in Malawi, through civil society umbrella bodies for the extractive industry, the Natural Resources Justice Network (NRJN) and Publish What You Pay (PWYP) Malawi Chapter, last month organised a round table debate for Malawians to discuss how the country can adequately benefit from its diverse natural resource base in light of the reforms the government is undertaking to develop the extractive sector.

The discussion which took place at Crossroads Hotel in Lilongwe was aired live on Zodiak radio station and attracted over 35 participants, among them, private sector representatives, the Civil Society, members of parliament, donors, journalists and members of the general public.

The two-hour debate included contributions from Zodiak radio listeners via 155 SMS, which gave a platform for citizens from different parts of the country to air out their views on how transparency and accountability can be upheld in the extractive sector.

According to Oxfam, which is running an Extractives Industry (EI) Governance Project that aims at promoting effective management of the sector, the panel discussion was aimed at giving a platform for policy makers to explain efforts the government is making towards establishing a viable extractives industry that will remit inclusive benefits to the nation and the citizenry.

Oxfam in Malawi Extractives Industries Programme Coordinator, Elyvin Nkhonjera Chawinga, explained that the rationale behind the debate emanates from a number of recent developments that Malawians have experienced in the extractive sector.

“The question we are asking is: ‘What should Malawians do to transform the resources from the extractives industry into sustainable development?’”

Chawinga said in July, this year, Malawi Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (MWEITI) Secretariat launched Malawi’s first ever EITI report which detailed the payments companies made to government, and receipts of what the government received from companies in form of royalties and other taxes.

The report also revealed which companies did and did not comply with the EITI reporting process.

The production of the EITI report is a positive step towards promoting transparency and accountability in Malawi,

Chawinga said.

Furthermore, Chawinga said as a way of ensuring that Malawi is able to negotiate better deals in the Extractive sector in Malawi, Oxfam conducted an analysis on the Oil and Gas subsector which criticised the terms of the Petroleum Sharing Agreements the government signed with oil prospecting firms and the state in which the contracts were signed.

The government through the ministry responsible for mining responded by saying that the signed contracts are under renegotiation to address the identified flaws. However, up to date, the status of the renegotiation is not known to the public,

she said.

Chawinga said it is against this background that Oxfam in Malawi through NRJN and PWYP initiated the debate to afford Malawians the opportunity to appreciate the developments as well as seek clarification from authorities on the direction the sector is taking and the progress being made.

Moderating the engagement was ZBS’s veteran broadcaster, Owen Lupeska, while revered experts in the extractive industry, among them Chamber of Mines President Dean Lungu, the Chamber’s Coordinator Grain Malunga and an Independent analyst and a mining consultant James Chatupa, were brought in as panellists.

Other equally important individuals on the panel were Civil Society representatives PWYP Chairperson Moses Mkandawire of Livingstonia Synod Church and Society, a member of MWEITI Multi-Stakeholders Group (MSG) Peter Pangani, who is also Actionaid’s Head of Programmes and Policy, and Chairperson of Parliamentary Committee on Natural Resources and Environment (PCNRE) Werani Chilenga MP.

The deliberations started with Malunga, a geologist and former minister of Natural Resources, Energy and Environment, giving a presentation of the EITI report which Malawi submitted to the EITI International Secretariat in April 2017.

He was followed by Pangani, who shared with the audience experiences on the implementation of EITI.

Pangani zeroed-in on both the achievements and shortfalls, and was full of conviction that the EITI was a viable path for Malawi to adhere to as one of the complementary steps that need to be taken if Malawi is to attain good extractives industry governance and maximised benefits from its natural resources.

He stated that the most important thing is to make the nation aware of the benefits the extractive sector has for national development.

This can be achieved through proper awareness and dissemination of information. There is need to create an enabling environment that will make the EI sector very transparent,

Pangani stressed.

And if the sentiments of government officials, the private sector, civil society and the majority of those who took part the debate on EITI are anything to go by, then there seems to be an apparent consensus on the need for the country to remain committed to the EITI process.

In his contribution to the debate, Lungu, who represented the private sector, was all praises for EITI, saying implementation of the initiative has led Malawi into making tremendous progress in as far as ensuring that there is transparency and accountability in the extractives sector.

He said:

At least for a start, this will help address the issue of corruption within the extractives sector licensing system.

The Chamber believes that the recent developments, in as far as extractives industry is concerned, are positive. We need to maintain this path but also we need to move cautiously but quickly to provide necessary frameworks and incentives that will guide the sector towards achieving its full economic potential which will help in addressing the issue of endemic poverty in this country.

In his remarks, Mkandawire emphasised on the need to first pass the revised Mines and Minerals Bill to provide a legal framework on which the foundation of other equally important regulations can be built.

We can talk about developing the sector but if we do not have permitting legal structures then we are doing   nothing. We should also vest our focus in developing the capacity of Malawians who will be able to competently converse and implement projects in the interest of the people of this country rather than depending on foreigners,

he said.

Mkandawire proposed putting all mining licensing on hold until the country is ready in terms of legal framework and capacity to handle extractives sector projects, a suggestion that was shot down by other panellists, prominent among them Chatupa.

Chatupa enlightened the audience that halting mining licensing will pull Malawi away from drawing closer to realising the development of its extractives industry, which will effectively mean delaying the benefits that generations to come could have enjoyed if things were done quickly.

Delaying the development of the sector means subjecting the people of this country to continued suffering at the jaws of the pangs of poverty. Instead, we should move cautiously fast to trigger the potential that the industry possesses to rid us from this economic quagmire we are wallowing in. By the way, we are way behind than our neighbouring countries,

he said.

Another bone of contention in the discussion emerged when Chilenga queried the exclusion of parliament in the EITI implementation process.

The panellists responded to the parliamentarian that the issue of EITI implementation was highly publicised and even President Peter Mutharika repeatedly mentioned it in his State of Nation Address so any interested member of parliament could have picked it and made follow-ups.

Oxfam in Malawi is running an Extractives Industry (EI) Governance Project that aims at promoting effective management of the sector so that Malawians are able to adequately enjoy economic benefits from its natural resources.

***

This piece was initially published in Malawi’s Mining & Trade Review Issue Number 55 (November 2017).

The full edition is available for download here. This monthly publication is edited by Marcel Chimwala.

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