7 February 2012 at 3:07 pm
Media Release: Mining-Environment-Communities Alliance: Statement for the Mining Indaba
- lack of consultation with civil society and communities on MPRDA Amendment Bill
- DMR and mining companies’ resistance to access to information
- mines without water use licences, and a downward trend in quality of water use licences
- absent community voices and a challenge to the Mining Indaba
The Mining-Environment-Communities Alliance
- For the past two years, there has been ongoing engagement between civil society, community organisations, academic institutions and law clinics increasingly concerned about the impacts of mining on the environment and on the communities that rely on those natural resources. This coalition has now evolved into a Mining-Environment-Community Alliance that works together to implement a civil society legal strategy to promote environmental compliance, transparency and accountability in mining.
- The focus of our concern and endeavours is not to oppose mining, but to ensure that adequate assessment and mitigation of detrimental impacts take place within reasonable timeframes before prospecting and mining are commenced, followed by predictable compliance monitoring of requirements set, and strong enforcement action taken when non-compliance is found. This is the only way to ensure responsible environmental practices at mines, in the interest of workers, communities and the country.
- See a list of participants in the Mining-Environment-Communities Alliance here.
- At the occasion of the Mining Indaba, the Alliance would like to raise the following concerns about environmental impacts of mining and the environmental regulation of mining activities.
The MPRDA Amendment Bill
- In April 2011, the Alliance made a detailed submission to the Minister and the Department of Mineral Resources (DMR) regarding problems with the current Mineral and Petroleum Resources Development Act, 2002 (MRPDA) from a civil society and community perspective. A copy of the full submission can be accessed here.
- Despite repeated requests, the Minister and the DMR have deferred all our requests for consultation on the contents of a proposed MPRDA Amendment Bill to future Parliamentary hearings.
- We do not believe that excluding such civil society engagement until an amendment bill is already in Parliament constitutes good governance, nor does it make for appropriate and supported legislation. We know that the DMR has engaged with other stakeholders like the Chamber of Mines and through forums like the Mining Industry Development Growth and Employment Task Team (Midgett), so we cannot see why a similar engagement cannot take place with civil society stakeholders like our Mining-Environment-Communities Alliance.
- The ongoing parallel and inferior environmental management system for mining is no longer justifiable in a democratic society, particularly in view of South Africa’s international and national commitments to environmental protection and the green economy. The consequences for the ongoing special treatment of mines are severe, and do nothing to benefit the country, the mining industry, mineworkers or communities. It is high time the mining industry complied with the same rules as all other industries in South Africa.
- The MPRDA’s environmental management rules provide for: inadequate notice of new applications that violate the principles of administrative fairness; inadequate time and opportunities for public participation; inadequate time for proper assessment of environmental impacts; penalties that are so low as to be no disincentive whatsoever for mining companies (examples are given in the submission, but the maximum fine for an offence under the MPRDA is R500,000, compared to the R5 million for similar offences in other environmental legislation).
- Most of these problems will be addressed by applying the environmental management rules provided for in the National Environmental Management Act, 1998 to mining. In addition, such a step would facilitate an integrated licensing process for mines, which would presumably be supported strongly by the mining industry itself. It would also end the ongoing confusion in the mining industry about which environmental authorisations are required.
- We continue to support the inclusion of additional procedural safeguards in areas of particular sensitivity. See the submission by 13 non-government organisations on 1 February 2011 to the Minister to declare certain critical areas as completely prohibited from commercial prospecting and mining. Download this letter to the Minister here.
Access to information
- It is extremely difficult for communities and civil society organisations to access information about rights and permits granted to mines, and enforcement action taken against non-compliant mines.
- Both mining companies and the DMR regularly refuse to answer questions or provide information on mining activities informally, and generally require communities and civil society organisations to submit formal requests under the Promotion of Access to Information Act, 2000 (PAIA).
- From our experience, compliance with PAIA is not prioritised within the DMR. Many requests for information go unanswered, some are refused on inappropriate grounds, and very few, if any, appeals are decided. The DMR rarely, if ever, responds within the statutory time frames. In some instances, it has taken communities more than a year, and a court order, to obtain basic information about permits granted to a particular mine.
- Mining companies generally resist disclosure of information about their activities, often citing the DMR’s instructions not to release copies of rights and permits. Companies also regularly ignore formal PAIA applications, which means that communities and CSOs’ only option is to incur the expense of going to court to compel production of documents.
- We strongly believe that all applicants for and holders of mining and related rights must be obliged to give full access to key information relating to their applications to the DMR to all interested and affected parties as a condition of their permits.
Operating mines without water use licences
- The Alliance remains extremely concerned about the many mines that continue to operate without water use licences issued by the Department of Water Affairs (DWA).
- In December 2011, the Minister of Water and Environmental Affairs told Parliament that the DWA knows of approximately 84 mines that are still operating without water use licences, which means that these facilities are using and discharging water into our water systems without licence requirements that can be monitored, and enforcement action taken when limits are exceeded. Using water without a water use licence is also a criminal offence under the National Water Act, 1998, and allowing mines to do so without consequence undermines the entire regulatory system.
- The Alliance is similarly concerned by a downward trend in the quality of water use licences being issued by the DWA.
- While it is important for all outstanding water licence applications to be processed as soon as possible to remedy this unacceptable situation, it is also of great importance that water use licences only be granted to mines in cases where proper impact studies have been completed, where proper mitigation measures have been proposed and put in place and all required steps have been taken under the National Water Act, 1998. The Alliance is committed to challenging decisions to grant water use licences in violation of legal requirements.
Mining Is In My Community: Mining, Environment, Communities and Justice
- See more information about a Film Screening and Panel Discussion on Experiences of Communities Affected by Environmental Impacts of Mining at Centre for the Book, Queen Victoria Street, Cape Town, 8:30 to 11:00, Wednesday, 8 February 2012 here.
- On 6 and 7 February 2012, the Mining Indaba organisers refused to allow flyers of this event to be distributed to members of the media attending the Indaba, and confiscated the flyers on 7 February 2012.
- It is curious that organisers of the multi-million rand Indaba, with its well-heeled delegates, are not prepared to allow a free flow of information around all of the impacts of mining.
- It is also notable that there is no space at this event for the voices of communities living around mines to be heard. We challenge the organisers and funders of the Mining Indaba 2013 to allow communities affected by mining, for better or for worse, tell their stories, alongside the mining industry and government.
- Melissa Fourie (072 306 8888 or [email protected]) and Dina Townsend (083 444 8607 or [email protected]), Centre for Environmental Rights www.cer.org.za
- Jacob van Garderen (082 820 3960 or [email protected]) and Emma Algotsson (082 822 8415 [email protected]), Lawyers for Human Rights www.lhr.org.za
For interviews, we can also put you in touch with any of the Alliance members, and particularly with community representatives who will be present at the Mining Is In My Community Film Screening and Panel Discussion on Wednesday.