Government of Malawi has been accused of colluding with several mining companies to exploit natural resources at the expense of local communities who are promised either compensations that never come or end up having their resources damaged and polluted.
Several mining sites in Malawi’s five districts of Karonga, Mangochi, Kasungu, Zomba and Balaka that CIJM has been to are in sorry state with others left with deep trenches that have claimed human and livestock lives, not to mention close by rivers that are becoming polluted by the mining operations.
Investigations by the Centre for Investigative Journalism Malawi (CIJM) show that even the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) for one Mwaulambo coal mine in Karonga district was conducted by two top Government officials – Director and Deputy Director of Mining –whose responsibility is to regulate mining activities using several tools including EIAs.
Government spokesperson on mining issues in the Ministry of Natural Resources, Energy and Mining Mphatso Chikoti conceded that the mining sector is indeed fraught with numerous challenges proving claims by Civil Society Organisations (CSOs)that there is lack of transparent, accountable and responsive mining regime that benefits the people of Malawi.
CSOs have since mobilized and supported communities and engage the mining sector and government with little positive results.
“Our findings show that indeed government lacks action that can be interpreted as not colluding” observed Paul Mvula, Programs Officer for Church and Society Programme of the Church and Central Africa Presbetery of the Livingistonia Synod.
Dangerous Trenches in Karonga and Balaka
Communities in Karonga who live closer to Kayelekera Uranium mine feel short changed because they have been made to drink contaminated water from Sere River which is exposing them to health risks, while in Mwaulambo in the same district as well as in Balaka and Zomba, the gaping trenches left by the miners have already proven to be a menace.
“Last year two boys who were herding goats closer to the site drowned on separate occasions as this place is filled with water during rainy season,” traditional leader of the area Group Village Headman Chilumba of Balaka said.
A large area in the district is lying agape after a cement company extracted stones for its production between 1994 and 2000 starting with a cement company called Portland Cement Company and it continued with its successor called Lafarge Cement Company.
The traditional leader also claimed that Government has out rightly ignored them even when they demonstrated against its inactiveness in 2011 where they petitioned Balaka district headquarters.
“We still want Government to deal with these people,” she insisted.
She explained that when the miners come, they threaten the community members who resist by saying they are agents of Government and therefore no one can stand up against them.
“Usually once they that we all become afraid,” she disclosed.
The owner of the ‘damaged’ land Cassim Idana now in his 70s claims that they took away his farm and started using it to mine stones but never paid him any penny.
“I have never found any better place for farming since then and life has kept on going down. I could not do anything because they told me they were Government,” he said.
Explanation from Government on this one is that its departments of mining and environmental affairs are using applicable laws related to environmental issues, according to Chikoti, to address the issues. He could not elaborate.
Govt. hiding results findings from polluted rivers
Although water from Sere River at the Kayelekera Uranium mine was tested, Government has been unwilling to make the findings known to the communities.
Cossam Munthali who is the executive director of the Foundation for Community Support Services (FOCUS) said they have met with government officials and even written to them without getting any response.
Director of Mines Akimu Wona said the results could not be made public without proper channels.
“We are developing a communication strategy and within that strategy we are going to engage the community,” he said.
Govt. hunting for miners who deserted
On the Mwaulambo Coal Mine’s unfilled trenches, the Government spokesperson said Government is working with the Norwegian Church Aid in trying to track down the owner of the mine who is Norwegian.
“We are trying to get in touch with him so that all necessary procedures should be done for investor to properly close the mine because it seems he did not follow all the necessary procedures such as mining rehabilitation and all those things,” he said.
Govt. officials in conflict of interest
Why Government officials developed EIAs for the Mwaulambo Coal mine when they are supposed to be the regulators and enforcers on the same Chikoti said EIAs are handled by environmental affairs department.
In justifying why the mining director and his deputy were involved, he said the document passed through a technical committee on environment which reviews the EIAs among others before it is later approved by the national committee on environment.
“If there were any issues regarding conflict of interest, I am sure they could have been highlighted or flagged down in those meetings and probably an action could have been taken,” he argued. “But if the EIA went ahead and was approved then there was no conflict f interest.”
The CSO activist however differs with Government position on the matter saying the involvement the two government officials leaves a very big room for speculation.
Mvula of Church and Society Programme said while the involvement of the officials gives them an edge to fully understand the nitty-gritty of what Eland Coal mine committed to do before leaving Mwaulambo, one expects that these directors should have been in the forefront holding the company to account through their offices.
“Behaving to the contrary amid overwhelming evidence to act, we have no better answer than to conclude that they do not want to bite the finger that feeds them,” said Mvula.
“But again, this evidences the secrecy and politicization that the industry has been known for and continues to have through the outdated Mines and Minerals Act that government does not want to see quickly reviewed,” he added.
The abandoned Niobium Mine
Another problem has also emerged in Mzimba where there is Kanyika Niobium Project that was being developed by Australian company Globe Metals & Mining.
What would have been Malawi’s next big mine after the Kayelekera Uranium Mine in Karonga has now remain idle since 2012 leaving people who were asked to relocate destitute.
Eighty-one year old Owen Chirwa says he has been waiting forever after he was told to leave his land and receive a K3.4 million compensation.
“We have been kept in the dark,” he said.
His nephew Brightson Chirwa, earmarked to receive K6.3 million as compensation said assessment was done in 2012 and government together with the mining company recorded property of all the individual households and even marked houses that were to be demolished.
“We were also told not to build anything; not farm, nor build any new infrastructureS,” said the younger Chirwa who explained that since that time there is nothing that both the Government and the Global Metals have done.
“In 2014 instead of coming with compensation they came back to get more samples. It was in large tonnage and we could not allow them to,” said Chirwa who was on the verge of losing 21 acres.
“Our lives have been put on hold. This has brought us poverty because we have not carried out any economic activities,” he said adding that even when they tried to petition Government through the District Commissioner, nothing materialised.
On the Kanyika Niobium Project Chikoti said this was an exploration project and therefore the stage at which it is cannot be described as having been abandoned.
“They have finished exploration so now they are trying to source funds so that they can start mining,” he said.
Chikoti also said Government is currently discussing agreement terms with between Globe Metals & Mining and there is hope that once the mining starts all those environmental issues will be addressed. – Gregory Gondwe
This article was produced by the Centre for Investigative Journalism Malawi – www.investigative-malawi.com