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Q+A- Foreign mining, oil firms risk nationalisation unless locals see benefits-Tanzanian bishop

Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation - Thu, 22 Mar 2012 15:02 GMT
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LONDON (TrustLaw) – Mining and oil companies are under growing pressure from African governments and campaigners to do more for local communities or risk being nationalised,Bishop Stephen Munga of Tanzania said.

Munga is bishop of the Northeastern Diocese of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Tanzania and an outspoken campaigner for resource transparency in his country.

He was in Brussels this week with aid agency Tearfund to lobby the European Parliament to pass a transparency law that would force companies in the extractive and logging industries to publish what they pay to governments.

The law would help civil society hold their governments to account, he said in a telephone interview.

Why is the EU transparency legislation so important to you?

It is so important because we believe it will strengthen or compliment what we are doing on issues related to transparency within the extractive industries.

In our statement to the EU parliament we mentioned that extra force is needed given the situation in our countries where we have corrupt governments.

We need the extractive industries transparency objectives to on the one hand maximise transparency through reporting but on the other hand it is to hold the government accountable. If we have a situation whereby corruption is part of the system, I think you need more forces.

Opponents of the EU transparency legislation say that it will disadvantage companies based in the EU as compared to those from China and elsewhere. How do you respond to that?

That is really one-sided thinking. Across Africa there is a big discussion on mine nationalisation. And that is coming up because we don’t see good bills. It’s not a question of who is going to have the lowest figures, it’s a question of who’s going to deliver so that local communities can benefit.

For African governments now, since they’re getting a lot of pressure from civil society, whoever comes up with a good bill, is the one who’s going to win. Otherwise, you already have about five countries that are discussing mining nationalisation.

I don’t think it’s a question of competing between Chinese companies and European companies. As a matter of fact, we think that Chinese companies sometimes get their way through corruption and since we’re fighting corruption, I think anyone who is against it would be in a better position.

Is there talk of mine nationalisation in Tanzania?

Not in Tanzania but it is a very hot discussion in South Africa, in Zimbabwe, in Zambia, in Guinea, in Namibia. So you see it’s spreading. It’s not full nationalisation but if you’re talking about owning about 50 percent to 55 percent of the company’s share that means you want to have ownership. This is happening because they (the governments) don’t see any benefit from the mining industry.

Would you class Tanzania as a country that hasn’t seen the benefits of mining?

Yes, I have been talking about this for more than two years. I’ve even been to talk to the government leaders about it, to the minister of mining. I think we’re among the countries that are not benefitting in any way. We have contract secrecy. There is no transparency around contracts so people don’t know what they’re supposed to get.

What does the minister for mining say when you tell him this?

It’s always with a good smile and very friendly voice. I always tell him that you are very good at smiling but you do not do what we expect you to do. They never say no, they always will tell you that “OK, we’re dealing with this” but we don’t see any progress.

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