opinionBy Stewart Chabwinja
WHILE moves to clean up the country's shady diamond mining operations are afoot as recently outlined by Mines minister Walter Chidhakwa, it is crucial the measures are urgently effected as time is a luxury the country can ill-afford as it struggles to repair a badly damaged economy.
The country is paying heavily for the opacity that has shrouded mining operations at the Chiadzwa diamond fields, as it becomes increasingly clear some of the firms granted mining licences are mere chancers out to make a quick buck while investing very little.
Reports in a local weekly publication yesterday suggested Marange diamond companies, reeling from declining output, falling revenue and resultant labour unrest, had sent an SOS to government pleading for more alluvial mining claims -- laying bare their reluctance to invest to enable them to mine kimberlite diamonds. The firms have also failed to honour obligations to families relocated to make way for their operations, while a large chunk of the funds pledged to the Marange-Zimunya Community Share Ownership Trust remain outstanding.
President Robert Mugabe moaned about the pittance Treasury is deriving from diamond mining during the opening of parliament last year, despite former Mines minister Obert Mpofu once claiming the precious stones had the potential to earn the country over US$2 billion annually -- about half the size of the 2013 national budget.
Chidhakwa's plans to bring sanity to diamond mining activities through overhauling mining operations by forcing the various Chiadzwa firms to merge require urgent implementation. So do measures to strengthen the security systems at diamond mines in which the entire process at the sites would have CCTV linked to government through the Zimbabwe Mining Development Corporation (ZMDC) which is a shareholder.
Among the high-profile cases confirming opportunists have a foothold in diamond operations include that of under-liquidation Canadile Miners, a joint venture between ZMDC and Core Mining, which allegedly duped government into believing a non-existent South African firm would invest US$2 billion in a ruse to obtain a mining licence.
Government has had to cancel the Gye Nyame Resources joint venture agreement with William Ato Essien's company after it became clear the Ghanaian investor had sold the country a dummy, allegedly injecting only US$8 million out of an agreed US$110 million. This also exposed the police which held a 20% stake in the mining venture. Security forces were dabbling in diamond mining.
This comes at a time Treasury is struggling to even fulfil recurrent expenditure obligations such as civil servants' salaries. In other countries, stringent systems are in place to ensure only serious investors are allowed anywhere near strategic investment areas.
The Partnership Africa Canada has claimed at least US$2 billion in revenues had been lost through corruption between 2008 and 2012. Zimbabwe must not allow charlatans to make a killing out of its mineral resources while people suffer.