EDITORIAL COMMENT:Time to curb gold smuggling

THE spike in gold smuggling cases in Zimbabwe is worrisome. Gold smuggling has compounded the country’s economic woes, frustrating government efforts to leverage on its abundant mineral resources.

The country is said to be losing an average of US$1,5 billion in potential revenue each year through gold smuggling. The amount is way above the US$800 million official Fidelity Printers and Refiners (FPR) export earnings per annum. Smuggling is also likely to stifle the attainment of the targeted US$12 billion mining sector revenue by 2023.

The country’s porous borders have contributed to smuggling of gold. Massive gold leakages are claimed to be facilitated by a well-connected syndicate taking advantage of inconsistent gold policies and unattractive prices in the country.

Security forces have, on many occasions, been fingered as accomplices in gold smuggling syndicates. Cases that quickly come to mind include that of Zimbabwe Miners Federation president Henrietta Rushwaya who was arrested at the Robert Gabriel Mugabe International Airport  last year on allegations of attempting to smuggle 6kg of gold worth US$366 000. Three members of the security forces were arrested on allegations of aiding Rushwaya to smuggle the bullion.

Former Rushwaya aide Tashinga Masinire was recently arrested at Oliver Tambo Airport in South Africa with 23 pieces of gold he had smuggled from Zimbabwe. According to Home Affairs minister Kazembe Kazembe, the gold smuggling syndicate was interwoven with security operatives at the airport.

He said: “We are going to leave no stone unturned in finding out what happened. We want to know how this man (Masinire) left the country with all that gold. So far we have established that when he walked in at the RGM International Airport he didn’t have a bag, now we want to establish who gave him that bag, where, and how. Investigations are ongoing, as I said, I am confident we will unearth what transpired on the day as soon as possible, working with our Interpol colleagues”.

It is high time Kazembe goes beyond rhetoric and plug the loopholes if government is really committed to achieving a US$12 billion mining economy.

Government must promulgate consistent gold policies that address issues around possession, dealing and marketing of precious minerals.

The country lacks a defined gold policy, as there is contradiction between the Gold Trade Act and the situation on the ground. Section 3(1) of the Gold Act states: “No person shall, either as principal or agent, deal in or possess gold, unless; he is the holder of a licence or permit, or a holder or tributor or holder of an authority, grant or permit issued under the Mines and Minerals Act or an employee or agent of any of the persons mentioned above and is authorized by his employer or principal to deal in or possess gold in the lawful possession of such employer or principal.” While the Gold Trade Act prohibits possession and trading of gold without a licence, FPR is employing a no-questions-asked process to promote artisanal and small-scale miners. The artisanal and small-scale miners used to be a major gold contributor to FPR but have now become big smugglers.

The ambiguity of the no-questions-asked policy adopted by FPR promotes smuggling of the yellow metal.

A consistent gold policy will go a long way in curbing smuggling of the precious mineral, for they say a stitch in time saves nine.

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