By Wahard Betha
Stakeholders in Malawi’s mineral sector had an opportunity to discuss pertinent issues crucial for sustainable development of the sector at the 2022 Malawi Alternative Mining Indaba which was organized by Perekezi ASM Consultants and Events in partnership with the Natural Resources Justice Network (NRJN) with funding from the United States Embassy.
The Indaba also received support from Norwegian Church Aid (NCA) and Danish Church Aid (DCA) joint country programme, IM Swedish Development Partner, Centre for Environmental Policy and Advocacy (CEPA), and Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace (CCJP).
The event which attracted participants from government, private sector, Civil Society Organisations (CSOs), traditional leaders in mining areas, communities in mining areas, Artisanal and Small-scale Miners (ASMs), the donor community and the media was held at Capital Hotel in Lilongwe under the theme ‘building forward together, pivoting Malawi’s extractives sector for sustainable development.’
Principal Secretary for the Ministry of Mining Joseph Mkandawire, who represented Minister of Mining Albert Mbawala as guest of honour at the event, hailed the conference saying it provided a platform to deliberate on how all stakeholders can work together to ensure sustainable development of the sector so that it substantially contributes to the country’s economic growth in support of Malawi 2063 long term vision and its implementation plan for the first 10 years.
“As you are aware, the current Government, under the sterling leadership of Dr. Lazarus Chakwera and the Tonse Alliance has singled out mining as one of the key transformative sectors for the upliftment of our economy. The Government opines that mining still remains one of the key priority sectors that can significantly contribute to socio- economic development of the country,” he said.
He, therefore, urged stakeholders to support the Chakwera administration by taking mining activities seriously to ensure economic recovery for the country in the aftermath of devastation by the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic.
Mkandawire said: “As we all know there are certain things that define people and nations. Things that are part of them and define their very identity. Things that are sometimes even taken for granted. Mining and resources fall into this category.”
“It is mining that permeates every aspect of our economy, society and daily lives. If we have been guilty of taking it for granted in the past, we certainly do not have to from today onwards because right now in the middle of this global pandemic and recession it is our resources and miners that can keep our economy going and leading the way to economic recovery.”
Mkandawire observed that Malawi’s mining sector is facing considerable challenges such as geopolitics and the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic which has impacted world trade.
He said in order to deal with the challenges, there is need for coordination among stakeholders in the sector to come up with tangible solutions other than pointing figures at each other.
Mkandawire stressed that his Ministry is taking bold steps to promote transparency and accountability in Malawi’s extractives sector which are symbolized by its commitment to the Extractive Industry Transparency Initiatives (EITI) process.
He also said his Ministry is committed to contract transparency hence will ensure that all the contracts signed with extractive firms are available in the public domain where all the interested stakeholders can review.
Mkandawire assured stakeholders at the Indaba that his Ministry will also ensure that communities in mineral rich areas substantially benefit from the extractive activities.
“This is imperative for the long-term sustainability of the industry. I therefore strongly encourage the responsible officers to ensure that there must be meaningful and sufficient engagement with communities in granting and issuing of prospecting rights, mining rights and permits to determine rights, obligations, impacts and benefits for communities,” he said.
In his remarks, Charge d’Affairs at the US Embassy Jeremey Neitzke said the United States was proud to support the mining indaba through a grant from US Fiscal Innovation Transparency Fund which has awarded more than 45 million dollars to projects in over 65 countries to improve budget transparency and advance public financial management.
Malawi was funded to improve the transparency of licensing and contracting in natural resource extraction. The US government support in Malawi is centered on three themes: democratic, accountable governance; private sector growth; and development of the skills and knowledge for the Malawian people to reach their full potential.
Neitzke said: “For the mining sector to contribute to this future, it will take the cooperation and inclusion of people from every level to identify resource reserves, to sustainably and transparently extract them, to develop the capacity to process them here so that Malawi maximizes its capture of the value added, and to facilitate trade in overseas markets to increase Malawi’s export-driven wealth.”
“That is why it is so important to bring together stakeholders as we have done today to work collaboratively to ensure that mining sector development in Malawi is managed in a way that benefits all Malawians.”
“Malawi has made progress in mining governance. The Mines and Minerals Act of 2019 was a key step in setting up a regulatory environment that promotes investment while ensuring that the industry is environmentally sustainable and that its benefits are shared by all.”
Neitzke also hailed the country for making progress towards meeting the standards of EITI which is the global standard for good governance of mineral resources.
He also stressed the need for all stakeholders in the sector to work in coordination and with dedication in order for the sector to adequately benefit the country.
He said: “It will require buy-in from local leaders who understand the value of the minerals within the land and who advocate and ensure that local populations benefit.”
“As nation, it will also require civil society organizations to provide outside oversight of the government’s management of these precious resources.”
“About the media, they will also be required to raise public awareness and provide clear and accurate reporting of developments in the sector.”
Chairperson for NRJN Kossam Munthali commended the US Embassy for bankrolling the event saying such meetings give the opportunity to CSOs, Government as well as the miners to voice out their challenges in the sector.
Munthali, however, lamented that despite the mining sector being considered as a key feature to make Malawi a sustainably developed nation, it is still lagging behind on accountability and transparency.
He expressed concern that Government is moving at a snail’s pace in dealing with corruption and in implementing some of the recommendations that were made in the fourth Malawi Extractives Industry Transparency Initiative (MWEITI) report.
“During the production of the last report, CSOs protested during the MWEITI Multi Stakeholder Group meeting because government wanted to launch it before addressing corruption allegations involving a government official and a private investor. Corruption in this sector needs to be given serious attention,” said Munthali.
He also called on the government to disclose all the agreements it signs with mining investors to the general public including communities in the respective mining areas.
Munthali urged government to also expedite decentralization of the sector and recruit Mining Officers in all mining districts so that ASMs in the districts are able to acquire mineral licenses and other services within their locality.
He also called for transparency in the implementation of the gold buying initiative which is being undertaken by the Reserve Bank of Malawi (RBM) through its subsidiary Export Development Fund (EDF).
“We need transparency on how they are coming up with the price to buy gold from ASMs or else there should be an independent body to determine the price,” he said.
Currently, EDF is buying gold grains from ASMs at prices ranging from K41,000 to K48,000 per gram.