With forecasts showing that in 10 years, mining could contribute 30 percent to the country’s GDP, up from the current three percent, government, last week, launched a Mines and Mineral Policy to regulate mining venture in the country. EPHRAIM NYONDO caught up with Mining Minister John Bande to find out how the policy will help address public questions surrounding the country’s mining industry.
Q: Why has it taken so long for government to come up with the policy?
A: We should also understand that Malawi has traditionally been considered as an agro-based rather than mineral-based economy because of the policies that government pursued since attaining independence in 1964. As a result, there was lack of mining culture, little technical capacity and inadequate foreign and local investment which contributed to the slow development of the industry. Added to that is the lack of political will. But the Joyce Banda administration, through splitting the ministry so that mining stands on its own, has provided [political will] and that is why this policy is now in place.
Q: At the heart of mining in Malawi is the country’s failure to market itself to the global world regarding the opportunities it has in the mineral sector. In Rwanda, for instance, they even have a website that details the opportunities in their mining sector. What strategies has the policy put in place to make sure that Malawi markets itself?
A: We understand that the mineral sector has not been adequately promoted and marketed; as a result the resources remain unknown and largely unexploited. This is changing now. In the first place, we want to scale up exploration. And I am happy to tell you that we currently have a Mining Governance Project which is being funded by the World Bank. What the project entails is that we will have planes with sensors flying over the country to detect where minerals are. After this process, then we will start large-scale marketing of our minerals. One of the things we will be doing is to publish catalogues that will be detailing mining venture in Malawi. Beyond that, we are working to establish a website specifically to publicise mining opportunities in Malawi.
Additionally, we will be working with the Malawi Investment and Trade Centre (MITC) and international bodies as well. Among others, they include Kimberly Process, Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency (Miga) and the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI).
Q: The coming in of Kayelekera has generated a lot of questions from the public, mostly, regarding the way in which contracts are signed. There is a general agreement that the process of signing a contract with mining a company is too secretive. What is your comment on this, and what new, transparent mechanism is the new policy advocating?
A: I will not comment on a specific issue. But generally speaking, it is my ministry’s wish to see that mining deals are done in the most transparent manner. Right now, we have come up with an interdepartmental committee that will even comprise local people, civil societies and international institutions. This committee is the one which will have the powers to scrutinise mineral processes in the country. What we want is to have a participatory process of the way mining contracts are signed. We will have large-scale consultation, globally, even on the best practices in our mining sector.
Q: Another hot issue is on how local people have always been angry with mining companies regarding environment issues and corporate social responsibility. How is the new policy treating this issue so that there is a healthy co-existence between the locals and mining companies?
A: I should really agree here that there has not been a healthy relationship between communities and mining companies. The fear is that if this attitude continues we will appear like we are a country that is hostile to mining. Basically, I do not blame the communities for this. I understand [their feelings]. But I am to report to you that this trend will not continue. What we are doing is that we are establishing a corporate office for mining in the country. This office will have different professionals, for instance, lawyers to help us negotiate and a public relation office to help us disseminate relevant information to the communities. I strongly believe that this set up will help ease the misunderstanding that we have been observing for some time.
Q: How much is government working with big companies like Kayelekera to make sure that they become our mining flag carriers?
A: We are working with all the companies. We don’t segregate. Our goal is that every company that comes to invest in Malawi receives the best treatment as long as it works within the defined framework of the country.
Q: Any other remark?
A: We want to have a Chamber of Mines in the country. This will act like a parent to all the mining ventures in the country. We want all the stakeholders in the mining sector to speak with one voice. It is my hope that every Malawians will support this.