By Mukasiri Sibanda
Totemic. That is the word which perhaps sums up aptly the potential of Zimbabwe’ huge and diverse mineral wealth to propel the country’s socio-economic development agenda. Early this year, the Minister of Finance and Economic Development (MoFED), Hon Prof Mthuli Ncube declared that mega mining deals worth US$8 billion have been sealed. It is anticipated that mining will generate US12 billion annually by 2023. In 2018, the mining sector earned US$3.4 billion.
Government is on record that “Zimbabwe is open for business.” A slogan best tailored to resonate with investors. But what is at stake for citizens? Is government keen to be open about mining contracts and the sector’s contribution to the national purse? Against this backdrop, and clutching on the 2019 Mid Term Budget Review Statement, this article tries to decipher the implications of the Budget Review on transparency and accountability in the management of mineral revenue.
The signature objective is to help citizens, Publish What You Pay (PWYP) campaign in Zimbabwe, and legislators to easily figure out how agile or fragile the mining fiscal transparency reform agenda is. Obviously, the way mineral wealth is managed determines whether citizens enjoy a fair share of mining benefit. Interesting interest in the status of mining fiscal transparency regarding the 2019 Midterm Budget Review is due to the fact the 2019 National Budget included progressive policy proposals for improving mining sector transparency.
Update on key mining fiscal transparency reforms missing
Key policy proposals for improving mining sector transparency contained in the 2019 National Budget Statement included the implementation of the Extractive Industry Transparency Initiative (EITI), funding for modernisation of the mining title administration system – mining cadastre, monitoring and tracking of tax incentives for cost benefit analysis purposes. Sadly, the Midterm Budget Review failed to give updates on implementation of the 2019 proposed mining sector transparency reforms.
A positive though is that the Ministry of Mines and Mining Development (MMMD) together with the Zimbabwe Environmental Law Association (ZELA) organised a multi-stakeholder meeting on implementation of EITI in July 2019. Perhaps, the information blackout on implementation of EITI in the Budget Review is a sign that two Ministries, MoFED and MMMD must work closely together to ensure successful implementation of EITI.
Silence on progress regarding the computerisation of the mining title administration system is a serious indictment to government that purports to open Zimbabwe for business. The current mining title administration system is outdated, heavily susceptible to corruption and is also festering numerous claim ownership disputes.
Disclose tax revenue forgone, to incentivise the mining sector
Although there was no update on tax incentives given to the mining sector, a notable exception concerns the disclosure of tax revenue forgone because of the Clothing Manufacturers Rebate. As at April 2019, revenue forgone, or tax incentives given since the start of this Rebate Facility amounted to US$14 million against imports worth US$43.9 million. Likewise, Treasury must disclose revenue forgone to spur growth of the mining sector. Such disclosure is important considering the Budget Review highlighted that “….in the case of imports, the mining sector largely benefits from a rebate of duty regime that supresses both customs duty and Value Added Tax (VAT).” Disclosure of tax incentives given to the mining sector, which is a mega economic activity, is crucial to enable the public to assess whether government is negotiating fair deals which harness well finance for development from the finite mineral resources. This domestic resource mobilisation opportunity must not be squandered, as it doesn’t last forever.
Significantly, the Budget Review raised concern that beneficiaries of the Clothing Manufacturers Rebate are allegedly profiteering illicitly by “disposal of fabrics intended for value addition on the domestic market and transferring pricing.” While government hinted that an investigation will be done to bring the culprits to book, government must extend the investigation into the mining sector rebate facility to check whether similar malpractices are also at play.
Mining economic dominance not a good sign
Mineral export earnings continue to underpin the country foreign currency earnings. According to the Budget Review, mineral exports raked in US$1.3 Billion during the first half of the year. An enormous 68% contribution to the country’s total exports of US$1.9 billion. So many indicators can be used to depict how dire the economic situation is currently. One such prominent indicator for our sick economy is the heavy reliance on mining. And this is a major concern because of several reasons which include; the finite nature of mineral resources, volatility of mineral prices, and evinces of mining sector growth unhinged from other economic activities.
Race to the bottom?
It is disturbing to note that the Budget Review proceeded further to weaken mining fiscal linkages by giving in to industry demands on deductibility of royalties for the purpose of calculating taxable income. Starting 1 January 2020, royalties will be recognised as an allowable deduction for tax purposes. Noting mining sector’s poor tax contribution, the 2014 National Budget Statement directed that mineral royalties will no longer be an allowable cost for the purposes of calculating taxable income.
Referring to regional best practice, the Budget Review reversed this position. However, the Budget Review failed to realign Corporate Income Tax (CIT) rates of between 15% and 25% which were noted as below the regional average. Rather, the CIT rates were deemed as competitive, a major worry because Zimbabwe must not take a leadership position on race to the bottom – using lower tax rates to woo investors. The Budget Review admitted production in the mining sector was not responsive to a favourable tax regime, a clear sign that tax incentives are not working as intended. So why continue the same path.
Rear-view mirror forgotten?
Sadly, the Budget Review failed to make good of the promise made by the 2018 National Budget Statement to review platinum royalties in August 2019. A promise that was made when platinum royalty rate was reduced from 10% to 2.5% in order to ensure tax fairness and equity. At the time, holders of ordinary platinum mining lease holders like Mimosa were paying 10% royalties whilst special lease holders like Zimbabwe Platinum Mines (Zimplats) and Unki Mine were paying 2.5%. August 2019 is significant in the sense that Zimplats had a 25-year 2.5% royalty stabilisation agreement with government which was set to expire that same period.
In 2015, Zimplats won a court dispute against the country’s tax collector, the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority (ZIMRA) on the legality of the royalty stabilisation agreement. Consequently, US$101.55 million was gobbled from the national purse in 2015. This is a clear testimony that stabilisation agreements can weaken government’s fiscal capabilities. Citizens, PWYP, and Parliament must pressure the Treasury to make good of its promise to review platinum royalties to ensure the platinum sector contributes fairly to the national purse.
Progressive royalty regime for the gold industry
Commendably, the gold royalty regime is now self-adjusting, at 3% below US$1,200 and at 5% above US$1,200. It must be noted that between 2010 and 2014, gold royalty rates were changed three times in response to gold price movements. ZELA intensively pushed for Treasury to adopt a progressive royalty regime with rates increasing or falling depending on the price. Treasury must not limit the self-adjusting royalty rate to the gold sector, this should be applied to all minerals.
The Treasury also moved upwards the gold royalty rate for small scale producers from 1% to 2% in order to prevent arbitrage. The Budget Review noted that the gulf between royalty rates for small- and large-scale gold producers “…. created an opportunity for tax avoidance whereby some mining houses may sale gold through small scale producers, in order to benefit from lower royalty rates as well as higher foreign currency retention thresholds.” A situation that is made possible because of the no questions asked basis on gold deliveries to Fidelity Printers and Refiners (FPR) and higher retention thresholds then given to small scale miners.
Differentiation of royalty rates for small- and large-scale producers is a product of the 2014 National Budget Statement which sought to incentivise small scale producers to channel gold on the formal market. The Budget Review was supposed to bring back traceability of gold as required by the Gold Trade Act and in line with international best practice like OECD due diligence guidelines on responsible mineral supply chains. Considering wanton violence in artisanal and small-scale gold mining, it is important to curb raising criminality by restoring sanity in the sector. Of course, gold traceability must not be used as an excuse to criminalise artisanal mining, which is an important source of livelihood for over a million people in Zimbabwe. Precisely, this is why the Mines and Minerals Amendment Bill must have a special permit for artisanal gold miners.
Zimbabwe is ranked among the 10 least attractive investment jurisdictions in the world according to the Policy Perception Index (PPI) produced in 2018 by Fraser Institute. The Index factors in both policy and mineral potential. According to Fraser Institute “The survey is an attempt to assess how mineral endowments and public policy factors such as taxation and regulatory uncertainty affect exploration investment.”
The challenge with entire scrapping of the indigenisation requirements is that community share ownership trusts (CSOTs) no longer have any legal backing. In the platinum sector, for instance, districts like Tongogara and Zvishavane received a massive infrastructure development boost through CSOTs.
This is a clear violation of Section 13 (4) of the Constitution which compels the State to put in place mechanisms to ensure communities benefit from resources in their localities. Also, this is a major dent on political will for devolution as communities dislocated from ownership and control of resources without any clear alternative.
Citizens are keen to see the totemic role of mining in terms of domestic resource mobilisation. That is, mining sector contribution to improved opportunities to fund health and education sectors. The slogan “Zimbabwe is open for business” is failing to resonate with citizens because government in not open about business and mining is a case in point. Government must; disclose mega deals, it must come up with a clear plan for implementing EITI and give constant public updates. Citizens, PWYP campaign and Parliament must crank up pressurise to compel government to comply with the Constitution, Section 298 which among other requirements calls for transparency and accountability in the handling of public finances.
The cost of revenue forgone to incentivise the mining sector must be monitored and publicly accounted for, to weed out overgenerous tax incentives. Government’s move to open Zimbabwe for business must not fuel the race to the bottom, the tax regime must be aligned to regional trends to ensure mining tax contributions are not undermined. Certainly, investors are needed to unlock value in the mining sector, but government must not prejudice the constitutional right of communities to benefit from resources in their localities. As it stands, the mining fiscal transparency reform agenda is quite fragile.