12 December 2013

Zimbabwe: Questions Surround Dissolution of Zim Mining Boards

Questions are being asked about the dissolution this week of Zimbabwe's main state run mining boards, a move that has coincided with an international auction of the country's diamonds.

The new mines minister, Walter Chidhakwa, on Wednesday dissolved the management boards of the Zimbabwe Mining Development Corporation (ZMDC), the Minerals Marketing Corporation of Zimbabwe (MMCZ) and Marange Resources.

"The duties and functions of these boards will be assumed by the permanent secretary of the Ministry of Mines and Mining Development Professor Francis Gudyanga until the appointment of new boards," Minister Chidhakwa said in a statement.

Sources quoted by the NewsDay newspaper said the dissolution of the boards was linked to the alleged disappearance of 1.3 million carats of diamonds in 2010, following the breakdown of Canadile Miners, a joint venture diamond mining firm involving the ZMDC.

The MMCZ and the ZMDC have both been embroiled in allegations of corruption recently. In September, Robert Mugabe accused former ZMDC board chairman Godwills Masimirembwa of being involved in a $6 million fraud deal with a Ghanaian investor. That case is still being investigated.

And then earlier this month, a report by the news and analysis website Africa Confidential named the former MMCZ board chair, Chris Mutsvangwa, as being a key architect of arms-for-minerals deals with Russia and China. Mutsvangwa, who was the former Zimbabwe ambassador to China, is now the Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs.

The decision by Chidhakwa to dissolve the boards has coincided with an auction of 300, 000 carats of Zim diamonds in the European diamond hub of Antwerp, Belgium.

The auction is the first of Zimbabwe's diamonds in Europe after the European Union (EU) earlier this year removed the ZMDC from its list of targeted restrictions. It's understood the diamonds, said to be close to 60kgs worth, will be auctioned at the Antwerp World Diamond Centre over a period of four or five days.

Alouis Munyaradzi Chaumba, from the Anti-Corruption Trust of Southern Africa (ACT-Southern Africa), said the dissolution of the boards was likely linked to the international auction.

"It seems like window dressing, because this auction has put the Zimbabwe government in the spotlight. So they want to appear as if they are doing something to improve accountability," Chaumba told SW Radio Africa.

He added: "At the end of the day though, without the participation of civil society monitors, accountability in the mining sector will remain a challenge."

Chaumba also said any attempts to stamp out corruption in the mining sector, particularly in the local diamond industry, are welcome. But he added that little will change unless there is a significant "shift in values."

"I don't expect much, because corruption is deep rooted in our society and more so in these state owned companies. So we need to start at the bottom and start educating people about the disadvantages of a corrupt society," Chaumba said.

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