Mining in Zambia plays a critical role in providing the much needed tax revenue required for development of the country and serves as the pillar of the economy as it contributes to about 45 per cent of tax revenue. However, often there is very little trickledown to people in Zambia living in poverty, who comprise over 60 per cent of the population.
Earlier this month, I travelled with two fellow Activista Zambia members and a group of 10 Danish Activistas to Kalumbila Mine, located in Northwestern Province and operated by Canadian company FQM (First Quantum Minerals).
The purpose of the trip was to gain an understanding of the company’s operations in line with ActionAid’s global #taxpower campaign and also hear feedback from the affected communities. For most of the group, it was their first time to visit Zambia.
The group mostly comprised of young people with various qualifications and knowledge about development and tax offered an interesting composition to undertake the journey. After leaving Lusaka, the stretch of road from Chingola junction to Solwezi started offering a glimpse of the many problems the communities in mining areas are encountering. The road has potholes, which means that vehicles need to make way for the other to pass or drive on the other side of the road, creating a recipe for an accident. This makes one wonder what is happening as the area is houses some of the major mining conglomerates in the world comprised of companies including Barrick Lumwana and FQM.
These companies use the Chingola-Solwezi road for whatever business they do but in some areas it appears that there is little being done about road maintenance or construction, and bad pot holes are common even in Solwezi town centre.
This creates questions around Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), the paying of the correct amount of tax to the Government and the fair distribution of tax revenue in the form of vital public services, to the areas which need them the most.
The following day we had the opportunity to meet with FQM’s Trident Foundation Manager and a member of ActionAid’s partner organization the Musele Taskforce, which is in charge of organizing and speaking on behalf of the communities affected by the presence of the mine, as well as working with ActionAid to publicise the issues they are facing with the media and other stakeholders.
FQM explained how the mine operates and also told us that a needs assessment was conducted among the affected communities, so that needs such as health facilities, schools and employment could be identified. We also had a discussion about the tax revenue that FQM – which is Zambia’s largest tax contributor - has so far paid to the Government and how the new policy of imposing an increased Mineral Royalty Tax could negatively impact on their profits and investment in Zambia, which could potentially include their CSR projects.
We were also able to participate in a short tour of the surroundings of the mine and visited a demonstration plot where a conservation farming project – funded and facilitated by FQM - is taking place.
The next day, we had the opportunity to engage more with the affected communities. It was nice to see the lady visitors from Denmark wear a Chitenge and ready to engage with the locals. While some of the community members were grateful for some of FQM’s interventions – such as the extension of one of the local schools – they raised some issues including their feeling that some of the CSR projects had not being developed to their satisfaction, there was a lack of employment opportunities for community members and some of their livelihood activities – such as fishing, bee keeping and making use of agricultural land – have been negatively impacted by the presence of the mine, which will be raised as part of their ongoing engagement with FQM through the Musele Taskforce.
One thing that both FQM and the community did agree on was that the Government is largely absent form this remote area of Zambia and has not supported them to the level required to resolve these kinds of issues. However, it was also clear that the advocacy by ActionAid and its partner organisation has played and will continue play a major role in facilitating the community’s engagement with FQM, as well as raising awareness about the positive role that tax revenue can play, when paid, collected and utilized effectively.