Editorial with Marcel Chimwala: Table Mines and Minerals Bill or risk shaming the President

Marcel ChimwalaEDITORIAL

Table Mines and Minerals Bill or risk shaming the President

State President Arthur Peter Mutharika excited players in the minerals sector when he promised that the amended Mines and Minerals Bill would be debated and passed in the last sitting of parliament which happened to be the budget sitting in May this year.

Mutharika said in his State of the Nation Address:

Mr. Speaker, Sir, in recognition of the huge potential the mining sector has on the country’s economic growth and development, Government has been implementing a number of initiatives aimed at increasing investments in the sector.

Some of the initiatives include: capacity building in mining contract negotiation and in development of modern mining agreements. We want ensure that we enter into mining agreements that are balanced, equitable, fair and beneficial to the people. We have also adopted a regionally competitive Mining Fiscal Regime. This will ensure that investors will have confidence in the sector.

Increased investment in mining will result in job creation and more revenue for social and economic growth.

Mr. Speaker, Sir, we are reviewing the Mines and Minerals Act of 1981 and the Petroleum Act of 1983. We want to improve the legal environment of the mining industry to enhance development of the sector and increase its benefits to the people. The Bills are expected to be tabled in this sitting of Parliament.

However, it was surprising that just like the Revised Petroleum Act, the Amended Mines and Minerals Bill, prepared by an international consultant James Otto in January 2015 with input from various stakeholders including government officials, traditional leaders, faith organisations, civil society organisations, mining investors, small-scale miners and members of the community in mining areas, was nowhere to be seen until the House of Assembly adjourned.

We do not have the facts on whether it was an oversight on the part of the government officials not to bring the Bill to parliament after such a promise by the country’s Head of State or there was a kind of emergency that prompted the government to decide to exclude the Bill from the order paper at the eleventh hour but the fact is that the government continues to make unnecessary delays to enact the new mines law.

This is certainly retarding development in the sector, which Mutharika as quoted above, agrees has overwhelming potential to turn around the economic fortunes of this impoverished country.

Our interviews with a number of investors pursuing large-scale mineral prospecting projects across the country have revealed that they are waiting for the new law to make investment decisions. Therefore, the question that comes to mind is that in continuing to sit on the new law, is the government serious in attracting investment into the mining sector?

Besides investment issues, the other facet of the new law is the provision for mining companies to sign community development agreements. As reported in this edition, studies by a civil society group Norwegian Church Aid has revealed that companies are implementing disorganized corporate social responsibility projects that do not meet the needs of communities in mining areas because of lack of  community development agreements.

This certainly calls for the enacting of the new law as soon as possible otherwise these communities that are at the receiving end of the effects of mining activities will continue to suffer in the watch of the government.

Artisanal and small scale miners (ASMs) are also going through problems due to lack of strong laws and regulations, and poor monitoring and enforcement of existing laws by the government.

For instance, peasant farmers have taken advantage of the lawlessness to lease out their land for gold panning activities to unlicensed miners mainly foreigners, who are putting the locals out of the market.

All in all, we feel the government is aware that all these problems have emerged because of a weak legislative environment and weak enforcement of laws and just as the President said in SONA, the way to go is to pass the new law, and scale up monitoring and enforcement.

Therefore, we urge the government to promptly bring the new Mines and Minerals Bill to parliament or risk shaming the President who made the promise

***

This piece was initially published in Malawi’s Mining & Trade Review Issue Number 65 (September 2018).

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

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