GOVERNMENT has placed a high premium on the mining industry while at the same time steadily nurturing other critical sectors in the quest to bolster economic growth.
Evidently, the diversification programme to agriculture, tourism, construction, energy and manufacturing industries has been receiving a fair tonic thus far.
Though copper is a wasting asset, it is still valuable and fetching attractive prices on the international market – London Metal Exchange in the United Kingdom and Shanghai Metals Market in China.
Mining has always attracted an eagle’s eye because of the lucrative nature of the undertaking particularly when the prices are high. Copper is now fetching more than US $7, 000 tonnes per tonne.
Currently, the country is grappling with security and operational concerns as well as challenges in the conduct of business in which foreign firms are reported to be favoured more than the local companies.
Thus the high-powered delegation to the Copperbelt led by Mines Minister Richard Musukwa is not only appropriate but also enlightening.
Yes, Mr Musukwa was detailed to undertake this mission along with Presidential Affairs Minister Freedom Sikazwe, National Development Planning Minister Alexander Chiteme, his Home Affairs counterpart Stephen Kampyongo, and the host Japhen Mwakalombe.
For a long time, Zambian entrepreneurs have been complaining about the imbalance in the award of contracts and tenders by the mining firms.
Secondly, there have been allegations that the mining firms have been engaging expatriates in jobs that can competently be handled by Zambians while the companies themselves have raised security concerns in and around their premises.
The Mineworkers Union of Zambia and National Union of Mining and Allied Workers have also called for adherence to safety measures in the light of mine accidents affecting their members.
It is also true that residents living around mining operational areas have been negatively affected by pollution which has not spared vegetation.
Therefore, the site visits and interaction with mine management, small-scale miners, trade union leaders and other stakeholders is a manifestation of the importance the government attaches to this vital industry.
The outcome of this mission will give an insight of the current scenarios and practices for Cabinet and President Edgar Lungu to digest.
It will be prudent to immediately resolve all vexing issues, including the invasion and reported thefts in mining operational areas, thanks that Home Affairs minister was in the entourage to get first-hand information.
Konkola Copper Mines and Mopani Copper Mines are the two mining giants on the Copperbelt where such concerns have been raised. Gemcanton Investment Holdings in Lufwanyama is another area of interest.
Government should maintain regular site tours to get an insight and also placate misinformation about mining operations.
While the Ministry of Mines, ZCCM Investment Holdings and the Chamber of Mines continue to interact, there must be an additional interface in this industry to quickly respond to pertinent issues that may arise in the process.
Mining occupies a valued position in any economic set up because the products are widely used in the rapidly-expanding construction sector particularly in China. It is used in electrical wiring, roofing, plumbing and other areas.
Zambia being the seventh largest copper producer in the world needs to ensure harmony and fair practices in the mining industry. Mining is, in fact, the largest export earner of the country.
It is expected, therefore, that mining companies will adhere to the best environmental practices and labour laws. They will also be expected to stick to fair conduct in dealing with local and indigenous companies.
Stakeholders are looking forward to more corporate social responsibility projects in mining communities while trade unions and their members are yearning for improved salaries and conditions of service.
Detractors and political spoilers must stay clear of this process so that Government and mining companies move in tandem in confronting intricate matters in the industry.
Indeed, mining is still alive!