Natural Resources Justice Network has opposed renewal of operating licence for Ilomba Mining Company which is mining granite in Chitipa district following allegations of corruption amid reports that the transaction is mired in allegations of bribes in excess of $300 000 to renew the licence for the foreign owned company to continue operating at the Ilomba mine.
Speaking during a Parliamentary Committee meeting aimed at tackling mining challenges, the Network's chairperson Kossam Munthali said the company has not been honouring the agreement to support the communities.
The Anti-Corruption Corruption (ACB) says it is investigating allegations of corruption shrouding the renewal of a mining license for Ilomba Granite in Chitipa following an audio clip which went viral on social media exposing Cassius Chiwambo, a high ranking official at the Department of Mines discussing a deal with a Chinese investor at the mine over the renewal of the license.
In the audio, a Chinese investor is heard making an offer of money totaling US$300,000 (K225-million) to Chiwambo to be shared to a former Minister, licensing committee and himself in order to renew their license.
But managing director for Ilomba Granite Faisal Hassan claimed that he has enough facts implicating Chiwambo, in the deal, accusing him of re-editing the audio to suit him.
"Cassius Chiwambo has been working with another Chinese company, Donghao International Mining Limited who desperately want our licence. They have also formally submitted an application for this very licence, most likely through Cassius. We have established that this company has paid out a lot of money for our operations to be disrupted, so that they wear us down and we eventually give up the fight. MRA (Malawi Revenue Authority) recently closed our quarry for a whole month," Hassan told Nyasa Times.
He explained that in July 2017, a local company together with some Chinese nationals visited their quarry and misrepresented to the authorities there that the licence for the mining area was now theirs.
"They brought in five semi trailers (30 ton vehicles), an excavator and proceeded to load 14 dressed blocks from our block yard. I talked to them and attempted to stop them from removing our blocks but was very rudely rebuffed.
"I managed to have three of the five vehicles detained by the Police in Chitipa but despite my best efforts, the other two vehicles were never located. I wrote to the department of mines and requested them not to issue the Export permits for these blocks as they were illegally removed from my block yard. These blocks left Malawi and eventually reached China. So the question is, how did the blocks cross the borders without an Export Permit? These are the sort of issues that we have had to contend with over the years," he added.
Hassan said they have worked in Chitipa for about 32 years and never had a problem with the authorities there nor with the community.
"In fact, my relationship with the people has been excellent. Only since last November have we experienced any problems at all and it is since we have had the interest from this other Chinese company has the situation changed.
"Unfortunately, it is a known characteristic of Chinese Nationals to buy their way out of difficulties and problems, and to buy favours. Cassius Chibambo recognised this and tried to capitalise on this opportunity. I, on the hand, do not succumb to bribes, of any size, and advised my Chinese investors not to pay any of the money being demanded by Cassius. I told them that I always work within the law and that justice always prevails," he added.
Anti Corruption Bureau (ACB) director Reyneck Matemba confirmed he accessed a number of audios on the issue and investigators were looking into the issues.
Network chairperson Munthali alleged that there is "systematic and deep-rooted corruption" between some officials in government and investors.
Meanwhile, some civil society organisations (CSOs) working in the extractive sector have asked government to investigate alleged corruption in the sector, if they are to adopt the 2016/17 Malawi Extractive Industry Transparency Initiative(Mweiti) report.
Publish What You Pay Malawi coordinator Gloria Majiga Kamoto said the CSOs as a key partner in the extractive industry transparency initiative process will withhold their input until government takes prompt action on Ilomba mining licensing deal involving a Chinese investor and a government official.
Kamoto said the CSOs also plan to meet Extractive Industry Transparency Initiative (EITI) Board political champion and Minister of Finance Felix Mlusu as well as political champion for public sector reforms Vice-President Saulos Chilima to map the way forward.