Con­sult with com­mu­ni­ties, Bench Marks tells mines

CityPress - - Business - DE­WALD VAN RENS­BURG de­wald.vrens­burg@city­press.co.za

The oblig­a­tory public meet­ings around min­ing pro­jects are more or less point­less un­less they get backed up with fund­ing and in­de­pen­dent ex­per­tise on the side of af­fected com­mu­ni­ties, a new re­port by the Bench Marks Foun­da­tion said this week.

Al­though there were for­mal mech­a­nisms for peo­ple liv­ing around mines to lodge com­plaints about ex­ist­ing mines and to raise con­cerns about new ones, th­ese re­ally amounted to “sym­bolic for­mal­i­ties”, said the non­govern­men­tal or­gan­i­sa­tion in its ninth Pol­icy Gap re­port this week.

It was fo­cus­ing on An­glo Amer­i­can and BHP Bil­li­ton’s coal mines in Mpumalanga.

What is needed is an “in­de­pen­dent na­tional griev­ance and ar­bi­tra­tion mech­a­nism” to which the public can di­rect com­plaints against mines, in­clud­ing com­mon­place con­cerns around blast­ing dam­age to houses, pol­lu­tion and dam­age to roads.

The public con­sul­ta­tion meet­ings that were held as part of the oblig­a­tory en­vi­ron­men­tal im­pact as­sess­ments for new min­ing pro­jects and wa­ter use li­cences were also un­der­mined by a “com­plete im­bal­ance of knowl­edge and power” between com­pa­nies and com­mu­ni­ties, said the Bench Marks Foun­da­tion.

The an­swer was an “in­de­pen­dent cen­tral fund”, from which com­mu­ni­ties could draw to ap­point their own le­gal and tech­ni­cal ex­perts dur­ing con­sul­ta­tions, said the foun­da­tion.

The griev­ance mech­a­nism and the con­sul­ta­tion fund should both be funded by con­tri­bu­tions from the min­ing in­dus­try as well as the gov­ern­ment, but not con­trolled by them, it said.

This week’s re­port crit­i­cised the ap­par­ently wide­spread treat­ment as a for­mal­ity of the le­gal process for get­ting wa­ter li­cences for coal mines.

Long be­fore a min­ing project had its wa­ter li­cence, banks al­ready funded the mine and Eskom al­ready con­tracted coal from it, said the foun­da­tion.

The Bench Marks Foun­da­tion spe­cialises in col­lect­ing and pub­lish­ing the con­cerns of com­mu­ni­ties near mines.

It has been a key critic of plat­inum mines’ poli­cies to­wards com­mu­ni­ties, and in 2007 sounded the alarm about the per­verse out­comes of plat­inum mines’ livin­gout al­lowance years be­fore it be­came com­mon wis­dom.

The use of th­ese al­lowances as a way to phase out hos­tels as required by the Min­ing Char­ter re­sulted in mush­room­ing in­for­mal set­tle­ments around mines and is now widely ac­cepted to have con­trib­uted to the un­rest re­sult­ing in the Marikana mas­sacre.

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