Mining will only facilitate community development with increased transparency

August 25, 2011

With the discovery of uranium in Malawi, the IMF estimated that the export of the commodity would result in an increase in Malawi’s GDP by 10% and an increase in exports of 25%. This seems a sure path towards poverty alleviation, which is much-needed in Malawi. Increased income from exports, reduced food prices and availability of fuel were some of the demands voiced by the Malawians in last month’s public demonstrations. These demands are likely to be addressed should the IMF estimates become a reality. However, the uranium mine is owned and operated by Australian company Paladin Energy Ltd. In exchange for a rather favorable tax regime, the government of Malawi received a mere 15% stake in the project. A development agreement was however entered into to protect the interests of the people of Malawi. If this new-found source of income for the country is to translate into a positive change in the living conditions that took Malawians to the streets last month, there is need for transparency and open accountability from the beginning.

A task team in the Northern district of Karonga in Malawi petitioned the Ministry of Natural Resources, Energy and Environment, the Department of Environmental Affairs, the Department of Mines and the Ministry of Labor for access to information that will empower them to monitor the mining activities in the area. The petitioners seek to shed more light on the operations at Kayelekera Uranium Mine and Mwabulambo Coal Mine. In particular, the petitioners are asking for information on compliance with environmental and safety standards at the mines, land allocation for mining without proper compensation being provided to the dispossessed land owners and delivery on undertakings by the mining company in terms of a development agreements with the government of Malawi.

By having sufficient information on the mining operations in their area, a community is able to meaningfully engage with the other stakeholders and to participate in decision-making processes. This mining community in Malawi has decided to ask the questions that need to be asked, where the government has failed to adequately play its role in properly regulating, managing and monitoring the mining activities of foreign and local companies operation in their area.

While not taking to the streets in public demonstrations, their actions are indicative of the new era of democratisation in which citizens choose to more actively ensure that their interests are considered by the state. SALC supported this petition for access to information. See the press release here.

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