File picture: Itumeleng English/Independent Media

JOHANNESBURG - A new report by Corruption Watch has warned that time frames for mineral rights applications were susceptible to corruption as they were too ambiguous and open to interpretations.

The organisation said this has led to long delays and a decline in investment in spite of the legislative framework meant to ensure predictable turnaround times.

The report, titled Mining for Sustainable Development Research Programme was launched in Johannesburg yesterday. It raised red flags that while the Mineral and Petroleum Resources Development Act (MPRDA) had put in place specific time frames for processing of applications these were often not adhered to.

Programme researcher Amanda Shivamba said the reasons varied from a lack of capacity at the Department of Mineral Resources (DMR) to system failures and unlawful conduct. She said the study was conducted to raise public awareness of vulnerabilities in the mining application process in a bid to encourage good practice in the industry.

“Because mining impacts the growth and stability of the national economy, corruption in the mining application process hinders investment opportunities and affects anyone from large multi-nationals down to the average person buying a loaf of bread,” said Shivamba.

The report said mining lawyers stated that time periods for processing applications needed to be more stringent to make the industry viable. “They also pointed out that other countries, like Botswana, have a rapid turn-around time which is beneficial to investment.”

The report cites a source at the DMR who stressed the fact that time frames were not properly regulated, and that there were different interpretations of the law across the different regional offices. For instance, the law stipulated that within 14 days of receipt, the regional manager must notify the applicant of the acceptance of an application.

“However, this is sometimes interpreted to mean that only if the regional manager decides to accept the application, should he inform the applicant within 14 days. The result of such an interpretation means that it can take the regional manager an unspecified amount of time to decide to accept the application, and only after he has decided is he obliged to inform the applicant,” said the report

The mining industry currently is in a volatile state, with parties contesting the current MPRDA, and there are legal battles raging around the charter. The situation is compounded by the efforts of the Minister of Mineral Resources Mosebenzi Zwane to impose a blanket moratorium on specific mining applications. “As a result, there is a great sense of industry uncertainty,” Shivamba said.

Another issue is that community consultations were often tick box exercises, and mining companies did not always comply with the social and labour plan commitments which they make to communities. “As a result, communities are left with broken promises and insecure livelihoods. The vast open lands, which were once unindustrialised and used only for agricultural development and indigenous community sustainability, have been tarnished by mining operations,” said the report.

The report is part of a Transparency International initiative across 20 mineral endowed countries including Chile, Mozambique, Sierra Leone, and Zimbabwe.

In South Africa, the research was conducted through interviews, focus group discussions and desktop research involving mining companies, lawyers, civil society, academics and the chamber of mines among others. Among its recommendations the report encourages communities and traditional leaders to report corruption.

“We urge mining companies to honour their social commitments and to ensure that the commitments they make are in line with the needs of the community,” said Shivamba.