By Wahard Betha
The Parliamentary Committee on Natural Resources and Climate Change (NRCC) has urged the Ministry of Mining to tame unrealistic expectations by communities in mineral exploration and mining areas on Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR).
Committee Chairperson Werani Chilenga said the tendency is resulting in an increase in wrangles between hostile communities and mining companies in the country, which is detrimental to the growth of the mining sector as it is scaring away some potential investors.
Chilenga said it is unfortunate that some communities together with Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) are demanding for CSR projects even from companies that fall in medium scale category though, according to the Mines and Minerals Act, CSR is voluntary.
He said: “There is a need for the Government to civic educate the communities at large so that they understand the laws governing the mining sector. Medium scale mining companies are not supposed to be pushed to carry out CSR projects.”
“A company starts mining or exploration today, you hear communities demanding this and that which puts the investors in a state of panic?”
“This can even result in reluctance by some investors to invest in the country because they are afraid of losing their money on CSR projects even before a resource is quantified.”
Commenting on the issue, Programmes Coordinator for Natural Resources Justice Network (NRJN) Joy Chabwera concurred with the parliamentary committee on the issue of unrealistic demands by communities but said the tendency cannot be blamed on communities as many communities are yet to be engaged on all mineral value chains.
Chabwera said: “We are dealing with communities which did not even know that the companies were coming to their areas. They just woke up one day and heard that there is a mining company that had come to their area. They do not even understand mining processes.”
“I concur with the committee that it is the duty of the Ministry of Mining and other stakeholders to inform these communities. There is a principle called Free Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) that Government needs to abide by and ensure that there is adequate civic education in mining areas.”
Chabwera also advised the parliamentary committee to consider lobbying with mining companies on community engagement before conducting any activity within their license area.
He also appealed to companies to promise the communities development projects that they will manage to undertake including the timeframe to avoid wrangles that emerge due to impatience of the people.
Chabwara said: “As parliamentary committee what they should do now is to lobby that before companies start operations, communities in the areas of operations should be provided with information on the projects. There should be consent from the communities who should also be allowed to contribute to the project in different roles.”
“Currently, there is also a lot of false promises from the companies to buy social license. They promise things that they know they will not do for the community and when people start demanding the company complains.”
“There is a tendency by the companies of promising too much, tendency by the government of not informing the communities and the tendency by the parliamentary committee of not playing their role in making sure that even the Mines and Minerals Act has a clause that obliges both the company and government to inform the communities before starting mining activities.”
Director of Mines in the Ministry of Mining Samuel Sakhuta, however, said the failure to conduct community sensitization in some mining areas is due to underfunding.
Sakhuta said the Ministry is aware of its duties and responsibilities but due to lack of financial resources it is unable to fulfill all its obligations.
He said due to lack of funding, the Department sometimes asks mining companies to fund logistics aimed at engaging community members in order to ensure that there is sanity between the two parties.
Though the Mines and Minerals Act says that CSR projects are conducted as voluntary ventures by both medium and large scale mining companies, it stipulates that a large scale mining licence holder signs a community development agreement to ensure that communities in the vicinity of mining operations benefit directly from the mine.