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Transparent governance of the extractives sector critical-Mtisi

By Clarity Sibanda-Zimbabwe Environmental Law Association

Zimbabwe is facing political turmoil, intolerance and human rights violations. By most economic indicators, poverty levels continue increasing and this has been exacerbated by drought. The Southern African country prides itself of vast mineral deposits but many questions have been raised on why the revenue from mineral resources has failed to catapult the country’s economy. Limited transparency and accountability especially in the mining sector remains a bottleneck, thus Government and mining companies must be held accountable. Finding ways and tools to fight tax evasion, illicit financial and mineral flows and corruption is quite critical in this new decade.  Most of these resources which Zimbabwe prides of though finite continue to be central to the broader economic matrix of the economy.

These sentiments were made by Zimbabwe Environmental Law Association (ZELA)’s Deputy Director, Shamiso Mtisi during a Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) capacity building meeting on transparency and accountability held in Bulawayo last week. The meeting was attended by CSOs, the media and communities drawn from resource-rich areas.  The objective of the workshop was to strengthen and empower citizens and CSOs, to effectively hold duty bearers, state actors and the executive accountable on natural resources extraction through training on research, campaigning and monitoring on transparency.

He noted that the country has failed to realise notable benefits from minerals with corruption clearly evident in the diamond sector. Mtisi who is also the Kimberly Process Civil Society Coordinator said despite information being power, there are gaps in accessing it and this has been worsened by draconian laws such as Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act. Delays in provision of information and politicization of institutions are some of the major hurdles hindering information exchange while lack of transparency and accountability in licencing, contract negotiation and revenue distribution are some of the challenges. Some of the problems are linked to the old legal and institutional framework run on a political patronage system that affects effective and beneficial contract negotiation and oversight by parliament. Further, there is no public disclosure of disaggregated revenues and contracts.

Despite good governance being one of the national objectives, full realisation of this objective has been lacking. Section 9 of the Constitution states that, The State must adopt and implement policies and legislation to develop efficiency, competence, accountability, transparency, personal integrity and financial probity in Government at every level and in every public institution, and in particular—(b)measures must be taken to expose, combat and eradicate all forms of corruption and abuse of power by those holding political and other public offices. All this has been so clear on paper but no tangible execution to arrest the scourge. On corruption some of the citizens now argue that the Government’s anti-corruption rhetoric is a mere façade.

Mtisi advised participants to participate in advocacy activities that include petitioning Parliament to address environmental injustices, engaging relevant stakeholders including conducting meetings with Government officials, local authorities and mining companies, he noted that, ZELA uses research based advocacy, a process that aims to bring about change in process, policy or practice. He also added that the organization can also support communities in strategic litigation to bring government and mining companies to account while highlighting that in the coming years, ZELA will be seized with building the capacity of civil society organizations, the media and community activists on various innovative approaches  that can be used to promote transparency and accountability.

One of the participants, Khumbulani Maphosa stated that mining and other extractive industries’ operations are among the most destructive activities on the planet and these affect mostly indigenous and farming communities. The minerals, metals, fuel, and timber that extractive industries seek are very profitable thus fostering accountability and transparency from them will never be a walk in the park but requires hard work.

“Although mining companies are powerful investors, there are ways to stop them from continuous violation of environmental, economic, social, cultural rights. This may take years, but the results are worth it. At stake is the cultural survival and well-being of communities and the environment.

Many communities facing these challenges have organized themselves by forming local, national, and international activist networks. They share information and work together to stop the harm that extractive industries cause. It is pleasing to note that in some instances communities have succeeded in compelling investors to reduce the negative impacts”, said Maphosa.

According to the Christian Legal Society of Zimbabwe (CLS) a faith and law based non –profit organization that exists to promote access to justice to marginalised populations, there are indeed existing threats to accountability and transparency. These are not limited to politicisation of natural resources governance where benefits are sometimes based on political party lines. The organisation highlighted that particularly in peri-urban/rural areas it is difficult for the citizens to tell whether Government Officials are conducting party or state business due to entrenched partocracy. For them (CLS), justice plays a fundamental role in eliminating poverty and enhancing community security while community driven solutions are integral towards human development, transparency and accountability.

Commenting on transparency initiatives, Tafara Chiremba noted that the significance of these initiatives cannot be overemphasized while giving an example of Canada and Norway some of the  countries that now have mandatory disclosure rules which compel extractive companies listed in their jurisdictions to disclose payments made to local, regional and national governments per project per country. Chiremba commended the  giant strides that have been made by Publish What You Pay (PWYP), a campaign to improve the extractive sector transparency landscape world over noting that in Zimbabwe, CSOs such as ZELA have been pushing for the adoption of the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative ( E.I.T.I), a global best practice on promoting open and accountable management of the extractive sector. What is perhaps distressing to note is that efforts by CSOs have not yielded desired results since Zimbabwe is still to adopt EITI. This is despite Government’s renewed interest to join according to the statement made during the 2019 National Budget presentation.

 The failure by government to address the transparency deficits in the extractives sector continue to undermine the country’s golden opportunity to achieve social and economic transformation at the back of the country’s huge mineral wealth endowment. He, however indicated that in light of a seemly lack   of government buy in on transparency and reforms for the mining sector, CSOs should show up by coming out with innovative strategies to push forward the transparency and accountability agenda.  

ZELA recently launched the program themed, Strengthening Parliament, Citizens and Civil Society Capacity for Effective Monitoring and Oversight on Executive Accountability in use of Public Resources. Under this project, the public interest law organisation seeks to promote effective citizen, civil society and parliament’s oversight in monitoring public resources.  The idea is to break the barriers for effective results-driven citizen and CSO participation in public resource management and accountability to enhance parliamentary independence, autonomy and authority over executive actions.

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