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Small-scale miners propose changes to law

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THE Zimbabwe Miners’ Federation (ZMF), has recommended, among other measures, the establishment of special courts for the resolution of mining disputes.

DUMISANI NYONI
ZMF, an umbrella body of small-scale miners, made the proposals in a draft position paper on the Mines and Minerals Amendment Bill, a key piece of legislation expected to bring sanity to the mining sector.

The draft Bill, which has been stuck in parliament since 2015, contains provisions to resolve disputes between farmers and miners and will also regularise artisanal mining activities, among other policy outcomes.

According to the ZMF draft proposal, the Bill should provide for the establishment of special mining courts of first instance presided over by seasoned practitioners to ensure that disputes do not unduly short-change economic players.

“This will buy the industry confidence from investors as well as minimise business disruption,” it said.

Currently, Zimbabwe’s legal system is unpredictable with artisanal miners having no collective rights under the law and, in the event of dispute, the authorities often apply the law unevenly, failing to hold politically connected parties to account and inflicting damage on mining companies.

Gang violence flourishes around gold mining sites where the rule of law is weak. Disputes over mining site ownership are frequent, and police often do not take decisive action against intruders and violent gangs in mining areas, particularly where the thugs are politically connected.

ZMF said the Mines and Minerals Act is correct in the powers it vests in the government to administer mining and the stipulated processes used in mine title acquisition are very inclusive and need to be retained with a few amendments meant to accommodate digitalisation and accuracy in mine location plotting.

The law must also prioritise eliminating human interface, managing incidences of double allocation and disputes and differentiating between those who are titled to the mining heritage and investors who need to meet set criteria and deserve the opportunity to mine.

The body said the vestment of mining rights in the state President in section 2 of the principal Act must not be tampered with or qualified in any way without going to a national referendum because the wording suggests that it is people who repose such rights in the President for the unconditional enforcement of the law in future.

“The contract between the people and government on vestment time was for safekeeping and nothing more. We hope the proposed Bill will recognise the spirit of this contract between government and its people in the Act and respect it,” the proposal reads in part.

It said miners are against the idea of having to seek consent to prospect or search for minerals from land owners.

They would want a continuation of the prevailing situation where a notification letter from a pegger is sufficient to continue with business.

However, in the interest of peaceful co-existence with farmers, miners have come up with some concessions whereby they are proposing that operational mines pay a land levy deductible from mineral sales and collectible by the respective land owner upon the successful claiming of such levy.

“The justification is to compensate for the inconvenience occasioned on farming by the additional human traffic on the farm which is attracted to the farm by mining,” ZMF said.

“Miners are further appealing to farmers, in turn, to forego the automatic right to issue letters of consent to miners on land holding hectarage below one hundred hectares which is mandatory right now.”

Miners want farmers to offer a reciprocal concession to miners for paying farmers land levy and forego the right to be consulted for land holdings below one hundred hectares considering the subdivisions in the farms borne of the agrarian reform.

“Our appeal is for farmers to meet us halfway in reciprocation and we expect the government to adjudicate fairly on this issue between two critical players in the economy,” it said.

On the need to ensure there is no disturbance to food security, ZMF said the Bill must ensure existing land use is not affected by proposed mining projects and land owners do not experiment with unjustified land use change without following due process to assure the nation of food security.

Further, ZMF said the Bill must stipulate transparent land-use change with relevant ministerial departments playing a meaningful role than leave land-use conversion from farming to mining at the mercy of farmers who are at times more of gamblers than committed farmers.

In the spirit of national development, where a valuable mineral is discovered whose contribution to the national good outweighs the current land use, the organisation said the Bill should ensure mining rights enjoy priority over other land uses.

“In all such cases, may the Bill provide for community social investment in order for both the mining houses and ministry to manage their images especially where the decision occasions displacement on communities or economic activities,” it said.

On the Sovereign Wealth Fund, ZMF said the Bill can provide for a 1% levy on all mineral sales to raise capital for investment in strategic national infrastructure. Further, it said those who contribute to such fund should be treated as shareholders of the Sovereign Wealth Fund.

“Only in this way will our actions be fair to generations to come who have entrusted these resources into our hands,” the paper reads.

ZMF also proposed that the Bill introduce a law which reserves certain mining areas for exploitation by indigenes.

It said the reservation can be of a particular mineral and if any other mineral is later discovered, it can be explored and exploited by non-indigenous people provided it is on land open to prospecting.

If not, the miner can partner the respective indigenes to exploit the new discovery.

ZMF said investors do not need to come and hold ground for speculative purposes or experiment with mining; they need to show seriousness and preparedness to mine.

“So far our observation is that some of them are unfit to own mines as they end up owing our people salaries, they are reluctant to pay Nssa (National Social Security Authority), the MIPF ( Mining Indistry Pension Fund) and accident compensation fund and, worse, they deliberately mistake them (workers) for game and begin to shoot them for demanding their dues.”

ZMF proposed that the Bill stipulate that people with disabilities be automatically allocated 10% from the mining-backed Sovereign Wealth Fund collections for their use in skills acquisition and investment in their commercial projects.

The paper notes that the core business of the ministry of Mines is the administration of the Act and so the department of mining law should not be removed, replaced or dwarfed by any technical department.

It said technical departments should revert back to their respective core functions as the ministry has glaring shortcomings in geology and exploration, mine survey plans and metallurgical process research which render the ministry a mere spectator as minerals are being abused and stolen by unethical people.

“Again these technical departments need to help the ministry to audit mines and help the ministry appreciate how the Act is actually applied practically. We have lots of minerals that have not yet been discovered and it’s shaming as illegal miners are running away with the trophy on mineral discoveries ahead of our graduates from universities,” it said.

On ways to arrest fatalities in the mining sector, the body proposed the Bill introduce and formalise community mining projects along the lines of the Campfire model.

In Zimbabwe, environmental legislation with regard to mining is being administered by more than 10 different ministries.

ZMF said there is a need for harmonisation and to walk the talk on the ease of doing business concept by the introduction of a one-stop shop at either the Mines office or Environmental Management Agency offices.

ZMF said Zimbabwe Mining Development Corporation (ZMDC) and the department of mining promotions are holding onto a number of mining concessions for speculative purposes as they are not adequately capitalised to exploit the resources and this will adversely affect national economic development.

Government should unbundle some of these and offer them to people who can utilise them for the benefit of the nation.

An audit should be conducted to determine this, said the mining organisation.

ZMF proposed that government come up with a “Homelink” concept for mining whereby financial resources are pooled by people in the diaspora to mine capital-intensive minerals.

It also proposed that the Gold Trade Act be incorporated into the Bill and come under the direct ambit of the ministry of Mines so as to eliminate instances where non-licensing institutions like Fidelity Printers end up licensing their own competitors, thereby making compliance policing a nightmare for law enforcement officers of the Minerals Unit who find it hard to deal with licensed people who offer producers a premium, which obviously suggests the product is being smuggled.

On exclusive prospecting orders, the Bill should provide for them to take just six months from submission, approval to confirmation and not longer.

On people with disabilities, ZMF proposed that the Bill provide for them to access all mine title application services in the ministry and industry at a 50% discount for their ease of entry into mining and to enable them to become competitive in the attraction of both capital and partners to their projects.

On the contentious issue of mining inside national parks, ZMF said ecologically sensitive as these game sanctuaries are, they carry vast mineral resources that can propel the economy to prosperity in record time.

“Can the Bill provide for the Department of Parks to either lease mines in the parks for a fee to indigenes or issue Special Grants for indigenous people to mine in the National Parks with strict supervision from the relevant authorities? Surely if people can make way for mining, then animals can co-exist with supervised mining as well,” it said.

“Lastly, we are very disturbed with budget deficits which have become a perennial blight in our annual financial planning. We are therefore proposing that a miner master file be used to ensure miners submit tax returns for the right to mine must come with responsible citizenship.”

Artisanal miners also proposed that the Minerals Marketing Corporation play an active role in regulating mineral prices, especially of base metals.

“Right now, the discrepancy between international prices and those offered to miners does not support the growth of miners, especially considering miners need to buy capital equipment for sinking shafts as each shovel of minerals sold is proportional to the deposit becoming more and more inaccessible,” it said.

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