AFTER being given a new five-year mandate on July 31, President Robert Mugabe has repeatedly said the mining industry should play a critical role in economic growth.
This, however, falls contrary to assertions by former Finance minister Tendai Biti who, during his tenure, lamented over poor remittance of royalties to Treasury by mining companies, particularly those involved in diamond mining.
NewsDay Chief Reporter Everson Mushava (ND) on Wednesday interviewed the new Mines and Mining Development minister Walter Chidhakwa for insights into how his ministry plans to harness mineral resources to turn around the country’s economic fortunes.
ND: Hon Chidhakwa, how do you see the potential of the mining industry?
WC: I look at this ministry with the eyes of an investment promotional officer, that is my background. My deputy is a mining engineer and the permanent secretary is a metallurgist. When we discuss the mining sector, we look at all these three perspectives.
The few weeks that I have been Minister of Mines have demonstrated that this country is endowed with mineral resources, but unfortunately we have not done sufficient exploration work to say this is what we have. Exploration gives us information on the geology of any piece of land. That alone can be the basis on which we can attract investors because we know how much each piece of land can give the investor. We need to do much exploration in order to know how rich we are.
These few weeks have also shown me that there is tremendous interest in our mining sector, and value addition. You would have thought that foreign investors only love to take away raw materials. They are also interested in value addition. That alone tells us that there are huge prospects of industrialisation and His Excellency is very passionate about it.
While revival of industry can be stimulated by mechanising struggling companies, I see value addition of our minerals as the new area of industrialisation. For example, by polishing diamonds, you open the jewelry sector, that is industrialisation.
ND: What do you think needs to be done for the sector to play a critical role in the revival of the economy?
WC: One of the first things that we have to do is to revive New Zim Steel. We are working very closely with the Minister of Industry and Commerce to revive the company and with the co-operation obviously of the proprietors of the business, we hope that we will be able to revive it and by so doing, revive other little companies that were established at the back of the steel that came from New Zim Steel.
Second, we have to look at the marketing side to see if through our minerals the country is getting optimum return. If there is some weakness in the evaluation of our minerals, we must revisit the process and improve them so that they match the other companies in the world that are also marketing the same minerals. It is looking for efficiencies in the marketing and selling process.
And having done that, we believe we must speed up the process of establishing new entities. There are in our system proposals for mining that have stayed for a long time, some of them at the stage of accessing ground, some of them at the level of exploration, some of them at the level of mining. For one reason or the other, they have not been able to start the actual mining, albeit having gone through the initial stages of accessing the ground.
ND: President Mugabe has said his new government would use mining to stimulate industrial revival and growth. Former Finance minister Tendai Biti repeatedly accused diamond mining companies of not remitting money to Treasury. What mechanism have you established to ensure that funds are remitted to Treasury to resuscitate ailing companies?
WC: It is about what the companies produce. It is, therefore, about security systems from production right to marketing. The only problem with that allegation (non-remittance) is that there is no evidence so that we can follow up to demonstrate our determination to stamp out such abuses.
But even then, we have not said completely that we will disregard the information because it is not substantiated. But we have said, let us look at the security systems, whether it will be in the platinum sector, the diamond sector, from production to the export and ensure that everything is done in line with sufficiently protected security systems to detect leakages.
We have called on the State companies, ZMDC (Zimbabwe Mining Development Corporation) and the Minerals Marketing Corporation of Zimbabwe. We want to make sure that as diamonds pass through the marketing system, they are all accounted for.
ND: Are mining companies co-operative in setting up watertight security systems that can deter abuse so that Treasury can generate more?
WC: We have spoken to them (diamond mining companies) and none of them have raised objections to us tightening our systems, every one of them is happy to demonstrate to us that they are secure. They have come here, but I must also go to their places of operation to assess their secure systems.
We might want somebody with security expertise to say this is sufficient if it is sufficient. But I see the concern; diamonds are particularly difficult, because you can carry huge value in your palm, which cannot be the same with other minerals like coal or iron.
That is why security in the diamond sector is a major item. I believe that we need to continually review the systems because the people who want to abuse in diamond are always consistently looking for loopholes. Companies should not be satisfied with the systems they put in place five years ago.
I hope working with these companies will be able to assure Zimbabweans that they can go to sleep comfortably knowing that the wealth that is mines in the country is secured.
Not only secured, but that the proceeds are utilised for the benefit of all Zimbabweans regardless without regard to their political persuasion.