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Sunday, 16 January 2011

Quiet Victims

This news item which appeared on the first of the new year appears not to have stirred any emotions, but it should :

Another miner has died on the Copperbelt after a rock fall at the Baluba Mine in Luanshya. This is the second miner to die in an underground accident within a week. Copperbelt Province Police Commanding Officer Martin Malama has confirmed the mine accident to ZNBC News in Kitwe. Dr Malama has named the victim as Fanwell Simwinga aged 57. Dr. Malama says the miner died after rocks fell on him, 460 metres below the surface.
Five lines, only five lines, that is how much value we place on this on-going problem of poor safety record in the mines. After the Chile disaster there was much talk about safety with the President even saying, "We all witnessed what happened in Chile, it was so touching to see the last person come out. We have to take care of our mines so that we do not go through what our brothers have gone through". Except your brothers have been dying from poor records and continue to do so without a word of condolence from your government!

We have seen that where government has failed to sufficiently act, it has led to devastating consquences. In January 2010 Deputy Minister for Local Government and Housing Elijah Muchima visisted Nkanddabwe Collume Coal Mine in Sinazongwe district, what he found there was  "pathetic" (his own words). Mr Muchima has actually gone there to ascertain the real cause of the cholera outbreak in Sinazongwe district. According to him "the miners and the surrounding communities were subjected to drinking water that was unfit for human consumption" due to activities of the mine.  What happened a ten months later? Violence broke out! When poorly paid workers are subjected to poor working condition and mediocre safety discontent spreads.

It seems to me that if Zambia is going to be a low mining tax economy as the government wants, the least they can do is ensure that the workers are atleast protected and don't die quietly through poor safety. As Dan Haglund recently reminded us Zambia's needs a stronger mining regulatory regime in order to deliver a mining sector that support's Zambia's social and economic development . A key part is to abandon the deeper and cosy relationship between the Ministry of Mines and the mining sector :
Zambia’s regulatory framework for its mining sector relies on co-operation, consultation, self-reporting and mutual accountability. Regulators are viewed as partners who should support and enable, as well as control and constrain, private sector interests, with the aim of creating ‘a win–win situation, so that when we regulate, we regulate such that they are more than willing and glad to comply’.

However, where investors follow different standards and practices, regulators cannot rely on consensus. Firms that already have adequate reporting and control systems, like most of the Western mining companies, need not fear that regulatory reform will impose higher compliance costs. However, companies that do not have such systems in place are unlikely to support stricter standards. A mining manager from Chambishi Metals said that his firm fully supported reforms that would sharpen the regulatory ‘teeth’ of the Mines Safety Department, but described NFCA’s mood as ‘apprehensive’.

Zambia’s ‘presidential’ political culture, in terms of which large foreign investors are expected to brief the president on their investment plans, also complicates reform efforts because it engenders an interventionist approach. What should be relatively straightforward bureaucratic regulatory policymaking and enforcement becomes politicised. For example, a mines safety department official divulged that the ministry of mines was resisting plans for a more independent regulatory agency because it does not wish to relinquish control.

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