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Fight over mining license gets dirty

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A verbal war has erupted between Chief Mining Engineer in Ministry of Mining Cassius Chiwambo and owner of Ilomba Granite Company Limited in Chitipa Faisal Hassen following the leakage of audio clips in which the former is said to have been soliciting bribes from the latter’s business partner.

It is alleged by Hassen that, in the clips, Chiwambo was asking the Chinese investor John Zhang for a $300,000 (about K229 million at current exchange rate) bribe, as an incentive to him, former minister of Energy Bintony Kutsaira and the Licensing Committee to renew the granite mining licence before expiry. But Chiwambo has denied the allegations, saying they are only meant to blackmail Malawians and cover up purported dubious deals between Hassen and Zgang who allegedly sold each other the disputed Ilomba Granite Mine without government’s approval.

Hassen has also refuted the corruption allegations. Reports indicate that Hassen sold the disputed Granite Mine in Chitipa to Zgang at $1,000,000 (about K762 million), who has so far just paid 25 percent of the amount. Also writing in a post which has gone viral on social media which he has owned, Chiwambo said, during the conversation, he acted cooperative to the Zhang as advised by Kutsaira to gather more information on the sale of the mine which the ministry was gathering more information on.

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“Having operated at Ilomba for 25 years, Hassen was well aware that government may not renew his licence, there were issues that were raised with him several times but he never rectified them, hence the move to transfer the rights to a new investor, the Chinese, who was desperate for renewal of the licence. He came to my office claiming to have been sent by the minister which was not the case. When time is ripe, I will be exonerated,” he said.

Chiwambo, who confirmed that the voice in the clips is indeed his, said in an interview yesterday the conversation with Zhang took place in November last year in which the latter is heard offering $200,000 (about K153 million) for the minister, $40,000 (about K31 million) for Chiwambo and $60,000 (about K46 million) for Mineral Resource Committee But Hassen said he is not corrupt and he has not yet clinched a deal with the Chinese.

“The Department of Mines was aware of this potential sale. In fact, the Chinese partners even quoted by name in our application documents to renew our mining licence… As it happened, our application to renew our licence was approved for a further 10 years but the minister refused to sign the document because the bribe he was expecting was not forthcoming,” he said.

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In a letter signed by former director of mines the Late Jaff Salima to Hassen, in September 2018, the ministry observed non-compliance to the Mines and Mineral Act of 1981.

Among other things, Ilomba Granite Company was being tasked on non-activity, failure to fulfil cooperate social responsibility (CSR) and non-remittance of Capital Gains Tax.

We did not succeed to talk to Zhang who is currently in China and Kutsaira whose mobile phone could not be reached after several attempts. But current Minister of Mining Rashid Gaffer said he has noted of the clips on social media but said the issue was done during the past administration. Asked on what the ministry is doing on the revelations, spokesperson for the ministry Sangwani Phiri said authorities are yet to discuss and map the way forward.

Meanwhile, the Natural Resource Justice Network through its Chairperson Kossam Munthali has called for thorough probe into the matter, saying the audio clips vindicate reports that award of mining licences in the country is marred by corruption.

Anti-Corruption Bureau Director General Reyneck Matemba said yesterday they have taken up the matter. Last year, angry communities at Illomba torched shelters at the granite mining site in protest against the company’s lack of commitment to CSR.

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