The Ministry of Minerals, Energy and Water Resources (MMEWR) came under fire this week for excluding the Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA) from its Commonwealth-facilitated workshop on Mining legislation amendments held at the Boipuso Hall in Gaborone.
Infuriated participants openly expressed frustration at the apparent lack of clarity in the nature of the relationship, envisaged by the draft legislation between three government organs regarding the aspect in the process of application for mining license that deals with assessing environmental impact status at the mining sites.
“In fact, both existing law and the proposed amendments seem to make no categorical distinction, as to the roles of DEA in the whole process,” an environmental expert from one of the participating mining companies said.
This move could be problematic since there are other aspects, such as financial, the financial guarantees for rehabilitation of the mining sites that have to be addressed by Minerals Minister.
For the minister to arrive at a reasonable decision, he needs to adequately draw from the output of an expert environmental assessment, which inevitably requires endorsement or approval of DEA.
“For this reason, we feel that the persistent failure by officials from this key department to attend forums like this one, to clarify pertinent questions is not helpful,” lamented the mining official.
Kgomotso Abby, Director of Mines at MMEWR, responded in the affirmative to Sunday Standard’s enquiry about whether the Department of Environment was, in fact, informed about the workshop.
“Yes we invited them, and like we stated earlier on, we cannot speculate on their reasons for not attending,” said Abby.
Deputy Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Environment, Wildlife and Tourism, Mr Mmopi, would not explain why officers from his ministry did not turn up for the meeting.
Further, the absence of a clause providing for a social and labour plan, in the draft legislation, was viewed as another poignant indicator of failure on the part of Government to appreciate the significance of an inclusive approach in developmental issues.
Representatives from either the Botswana Mine Workers Union (BMWU) as the voice of mine employees, or the Botswana Federation of Trade Unions (BFTU) as trade union arms in the country were not invited.
That is despite the fact that it is generally expected that most of the anticipated mining and minerals exploration projects in the country, intend to take advantage of the European Union (EU’s) public and private partnership funding, whose preconditions include consultation with social partners (tripartite consultation).
In fact, millions of Euros were recently pumped into Botswana’s BCL mine, with a view to try and keep the mine afloat in recognition of the livelihood it brings to the communities in the area.
Moreover, it was stated in the executive summary of the conclusions of the 10th Regional Seminar of ACP ÔÇô EU Economic and Social Interest Groups, held in Gaborone at the end of last month that countries and non-state actors must ensure implementation of the ILO Global Jobs Pact, which the EU offers as one of the requirements for project funding.
This includes commitment to the promotion of jobs creation, social dialogue and decent work, as well as establishment of social protection schemes.
In Abby’s opinion, nothing sinister should be read in the exclusion of the trade unions, and non-governmental organization.
“It should be appreciated that whilst it would be ideal to bring all these groups under one roof to exchange on the issues at hand, we thought we should, as much as possible, start by engaging the mining industry as the key stakeholder,” said Abby.
Yet another environmental scientist, who also commented on condition their identity remain secret, expressed the sentiment that in the absence of any structural mechanism for consultation with the community, it would have been better to involve Trade Unions from the onset.
“This is especially in view of the fact that there is always the likely possibility of loss of jobs for the employed members of the community, should the mine be closed which ultimately impacts adversely on theirs, and the lifestyles of their dependents and consequently the whole resident community,” said the expert.