Mining is not a new industry in the country, but it appears we have learnt a few hard lessons.
A former Reserve Bank of Malawi (RBM) senior official is on record asking for the Kayelekera deal to be re-negotiated.
The reaction from the investor was swift, and retractions of some sort followed. Issues raised included proceeds.
A fortnight ago, another public figure also called for the renegotiation of the deal. As expected, the mining company reacted and likened the situation to nationalisation. Senior government officials defended the deal. I do not think it is nationalisation as these are people of high standing in their respective professions. Not even after a few shots of forbidden drinks. The motivations may have been different, but what is clear is that Malawi got a raw deal. We can do better next time by being transparent enough.
Malawi needs a lot of foreign investors. Foreign investors inject a lot of capital in the country.
The cost of finance from our commercial banks is as high as â€˜street loan sharksâ€™.
Foreign investors have access to various forms of finance across the border. It can benefit Malawi as we seek to define the actual role of our local banks.
I do not mean investors that open noodle selling shops or fried rice. Such huge capital injectors do create jobs and bring with them new skills and technologies lacking in our economy. But deals involving our natural resources must be win-win situations done in transparent ways.
Our lack of capital, however, should not put us in a vulnerable bargaining position. Our tobacco industry has faltered. Even Zimbabweâ€™s industry has rebounded amid the chaos. Mining prospects are high in Malawi. It is high time government became transparent in how such deals are negotiated. We need an honest debate.
Mining is an industry that has a life span. It leaves the areas in huge environmental degradation, including destruction of eco-systems.
These are often not taken into account or vaguely in the environment impact assessment. They must be translated into part ownership by surrounding communities through public trusts besides government stakes.
While the deals take place behind closed doors, it must be known that once the mining is over, the people living around the mines bear the highest cost as far as the environmental impact is concerned. Whether one likes it or not, it will happen at Kayelekera in years to come. This should be the reason why the 15 percent stake tends to raise some questions that we got a raw deal.
With lots of prospects in the industry, it is important that Malawi benefits. So should the investor. Capitalism must wear a human face. This does not mean striking a deal with a mining company to drill boreholes, build clinics and schools around mining areas.
That is what government is supposed to do and should not be issues that government teams take to a negotiation table. We have budget lines and Parliament approves such things every year. Itâ€™s no brainer.
Serious consideration of public trusts representing the areas in which the mines operate must be made. The trusts should have shares in all new mining ventures. Some of these foreign investors are taking advantage of the shambolic land tenure systems. They know that much of our land is customary and there are no titles.
In other countries, they pay rents to land owners. Not here. Some of our bargaining positions should include shares to communities around the mining areas through public trusts.
These are the people likely to suffer more with respect to environmental damage and the best compensation is to be part of the owners of the mine.
Some of the current controversies would have been avoided if there was transparency in how the deals were negotiated.
While they involve private investors, it is important to note natural resources belong to the people of Malawi.
Government must at all costs guard the economic rights of its citizens in a manner that benefits both investors and the country.
Malawians have representatives in Parliament yet some of these key deals were never discussed. We do not need situations in which even Cabinet ministers or MPs have no idea how much their own government owns in a business venture.
There is no need to personalise or claim individual glory for bringing in foreign investors, but consult widely in transparent fashion to ensure we get the best out of our natural resources.
The tobacco industry is on its knees and we need a radical think and pragmatic approach to money spinners like mining.