HARARE – Mining companies in which government has an interest are the worst violators of environmental regulations because they insist on starting operations before fulfilling some of the conditions precedent, it has been revealed.
Before mining companies can start operations, they must comply with a raft of requirements, among them regulations to do with the protection of the environment.
It is, however, emerging that some of the mining firms linked to government exploit the country’s mineral wealth before even obtaining Environmental Impact Assessments (EIAs) certificates issued by the Environmental Management Agency (Ema).
This was revealed by Ema’s EIA expert, Phanuel Mangisi, at a two-day Zimbabwe Parliamentary Journalists Forum, which ended in Harare on Friday.
Mangisi said environmental management in the extractive industry could remain a pipe-dream without the political will on the part of authorities.
“We will also need political help because we have no problems with private companies such as Mimosa and others; it is government-linked companies that insist on commencing before EIA plans are on place,” Mangisi said.
An EIA is an assessment of the possible impacts that a proposed project may have on the environment, consisting of the environmental, social and economic aspects.
EIA are necessary in guiding decision-makers to consider the social, economic and environmental impacts that mining operations might have when deciding whether or not to proceed with a project.
The Environmental Management Act (CAP 20:27) and Statutory Instrument 7 of 2007 compels prescribed projects listed under the first schedule of the Ema Act (CAP 20:27) to undergo an EIA process prior to implementation.
The initial stage is to submit a prospectus to Ema, which has 20 days to view the prospectus.
When the prospectus has been approved, the developer should engage a registered, independent consultant to prepare an EIA report in terms of section 98 of the Act.
Mangisi bemoaned the lack of adequate funding which diminishes their ability to enforce regulations and ensure best international best practices in environmental management.
“Since three years ago, we have not been getting government funding and have been relying on what we get form fines. The principle is that the polluter must correct the damage he or she has caused to the environment but you find that is not happening and we have had to use our own resources to do it.
“I must also say it should be noted that the fines for environmental crimes are not deterrent enough so you will notice that people continue to commit crimes, which explains why we have been lobbying for an environmental court,” he added.
Meanwhile, the Zimbabwe Environmental Law Association legal researcher, Tafadzwa Dhlakama, called on communities in natural resource-rich areas to be proactive in demanding that companies comply with the law so that their environmental and socio-economic rights are not violated.
Dhlakama said failure to monitor EIAs had resulted in several mineral rich communities being left impoverished with massive environmental degradation that results in loss of socio-cultural rights.
EIAs are a process of evaluating the likely environmental impacts of a proposed project or development, taking into account interrelated socio-economic, cultural and human health impacts, both beneficial and adverse.
“Section 97 of the Environmental Management Act makes it mandatory that companies cannot commence with their projects without EIAs, and it is not optional because most of the projects are big and involve construction of dams, mining, and energy projects that can displace communities or affect the environment,” Dhlakama said.
“Community members must follow up on EIAs to find out if companies are violating them because the concerns may be to do with compensation, water pollution, and burial sites and deep pits that can be left by mining activities.”
He also emphasised that when formulating EIAs, it was imperative for companies to first conduct public meetings with communities and traditional leaders as well as other interest groups about the structure of their environmental management plans as they undertake their project.
Dhlakama also revealed that some companies were not keen on producing EIAs because they are expensive, with companies charged 2,5 percent to three percent of the value of the project towards EIAs.
Several mining towns in the country particularly Kwekwe have suffered severe land degradation that is threatening infrastructure such as rail and road.
In other areas such as farming communities in Marange and Zvishavane, disused mines have become death traps for livestock while in other areas siltation of rivers such as Mazowe has reached alarming levels.
Although it is a legal requirement to have an EIA before beginning operations, some firms have been operating without one.