Last week the Ministry of Minerals and Energy published in the newspapers a list of about 890 Tanzanians who have defaulted on renewing their mineral prospecting or mining licenses, issued by the government in accordance to the relevant law governing this strategic sector.
The long list of defaulters is informative and raises disturbing questions which call for answers from the authorities responsible for managing this natural resource.
When one looks at the long list of defaulters with an inquisitive eye, a few things, or rather abnormalities are clearly seen. One notes for example that individuals and single companies own several mining and prospecting licenses, and some have even twenty or more.
All sorts of tricks in the shady business transactions rule-book seem to have been used to acquire the highly valuable licenses. You find in the list that Mr Moses Dickson Jaluu (names not real) owns 15 licenses, while somewhere else in the same list you come across Mrs Moses D. Jaluu owning 15 licenses.
Chances are the pair may also be directors in Bongo Trading Company which owns 20 licenses, but this can’t be easily established from the published list which does not reveal owners of defaulting companies.
This example demonstrates how “smart” individuals and families have grabbed mining licenses, obviously by colluding with corrupt senior officials in the Ministry as well as other government agencies responsible for this aspect of mining operations.
We are told more than half of the defaulting individuals and companies are based in Dar es Salaam, the commercial and de facto capital of Tanzania.
Only a stranger in our land of apparent peace and harmony can be surprised by this revelation. The “haven of peace “, as its Arabic origin name put it, is the centre of all sorts of deals, both genuine and bogus, and home to all kinds of wheelers and dealers, both local and foreign.
So, the storyline of the mining licenses saga is well defined. For many years some Tanzanians in the elite class have been acquiring prospecting and mining licenses, officially entitling them to exploit mineral resources for the benefit of the nation - the assumption being that the minerals mined and sold would generate income to contribute to national growth. Taxes paid by local miners are also expected to boost the national coffers.
However, the published list of those who have defaulted on paying mining license fees suggests that the intended dream of involving more citizens in exploiting the abundant mineral wealth in the country by providing avenues for preferential treatment, has hit a snag somewhere. A good number of permits to lease and exploit mining blocks have ended in the hands speculators.
Lucky ones have managed to get foreign partners and are in business. They include some senior government officials, shrewd politicians and, of course, well established businesspersons.
Well informed sources in this area reveal that at one time most members of the cabinet were in possession of several mining licenses, and chances are that they continue to get their good cut after leasing the blocks to foreigners with means and know how to undertake successful mining ventures.
Unlucky mining license owners - who have not been able to get foreign partners and have no capital to embark on mining operations - are too stranded to pay even the annual licence fees. They are like the proverbial dogs in the manger and have to accept the embarrassment of having their names published in newspapers as defaulters.
What is the moral of this story? There is rampant corruption in the minerals sector, where a few citizens are having an unfair share of the cake at the expense of the majority. Some citizens are millionaires simply because they happen to have the right connections which give them access to prospecting and mining licenses.
A similar scenario prevails in the land sector, where land grabbing is now one of the serious issues in the country. One hopes the proposed new constitution will address these issues seriously, as they are likely to endanger the apparent peace we are so much proud of by increasing the gap between the rich and the poor, and further sharpening social contradictions in the society.
Henry Muhanika is Media Consultant