Transparency International Zambia has wondered why government is calling those mining gold in Eastern Province “illegal miners” when they were granted licenses.

Yesterday, Mines Minister Christopher Yaluma told the Times of Zambia that government had suspended mining licenses in five districts; Nyimba, Vubwi, Petauke, Rufunsa and Luano, in order to curb illegal gold mining in the country.

But in a statement today, TIZ executive director Wesley Chibamba stated that lack of transparency in the mining sector was an issue of concern.

“We agree with the Minister that the mining sector needs sanitizing, illegal mining needs to be curbed so that the government can be benefitting through taxation. Our concern however is the transparency of the process. We would like to know what has changed between now and the time these small scale mines were given mining and exploration licenses, considering that it is the same ministry that vetted them and granted them the same licenses on the basis that they meet the criteria set forth. If these people were not given the said licenses, the minister would not be suspending them. It is feared by many that this could be a ploy by the ‘big boys’ to muscle out small mining companies and take over the sector where these small mining firms are operating. Also, for the sake of transparency, can Government publish all the names of the companies – small scale or large scale that have been given mining license and mining exploration licenses,” Chibamba stated.

“Can Government also indicate how these companies were selected to hold these licenses, was there an open invitation and if not – why? Section 6 of the Mines and Minerals Development Act of 2015, provides for a Mining Licensing Committee which considers applications for mining rights including Large Scale Mining exploration licenses. The question is did this Committee sit to consider applications for gold mining exploration in Petauke and other parts of Eastern Province? If so, how many applications were received and how many licenses – exploration or mining have been received and how many were successful? The government needs to move towards open data systems to improve transparency and so that they are not accused of wrong doing.”

He also stated that government should not use the suspension of licenses to victimize small scale miners.

“Transparency International Zambia, while welcoming the decision of the Minister of Mines to suspend mining licenses for Gold and other minerals in Eastern Province, have a number of concerns which require immediate attention by Government. We have noted that a number of large scale mining exploration licenses have been granted by government and this unfortunately has not been done in a transparent manner. We also note with concern that companies that have no mining experience have been given multiple exploration licenses especially in Petauke in what can only be described as a Gold Rush,” Chibamba stated.

“We demand that there is a full investigation into this matter and Government should not use this suspension of mining licenses to victimize small scale mining outfits just to benefit some of the companies that hold large scale mining licenses. We demand for an open and transparent system of granting these licenses and the Minister of Mines should brief the nation on measures that his Ministry is taking to clean up the sector.”

Chibamba observed that government had been talking about illegal mining for too long without coming up with a solution.

“It is interesting that this is not the first time that Government is talking about illegal mining activities in Eastern Province and on a number of occasions, several individuals have been arrested and foreign nationals deported. In May 2017, Permanent Secretary Chanda Kasolo raised concerns about illegal mining. In 2014- the Minister of Mines – Hon. Christopher Yaluma again expressed concerns about illegal mining activities in Eastern Province and he alleged that his Ministry was investigating the matter. So we are wondering why the Minister is issuing the same statement 3 years later and again promising to investigate this matter. What is it that government has done about this illegal mining and who is behind this activity? Why are we calling it ‘illegal mining’ when some of these people have mining and exploration licenses which are only being suspended now?” asked Chibamba.

“From the Minister of Mines’ statement, nothing much has been done and there is apparent impunity which these illegal miners are exhibiting and unless something is done- mere statements won’t help. The big question is WHO IS BEHIND THE GOLD MINING IN EASTERN PROVINCE? We would be very grateful if the honorable minister could shade light on the issues raised above. TIZ has done a study on the corruption risks in the awards process of permits and licenses. This report will be launched on Friday 10th November 2017. It would be great for the ministry to consult this report, it would inform the ministry on the vulnerabilities and some strategies they can employ to manage the process.”