The reaction by the Honourable house is also noteworthy. I concur with the honourable Members of Parliament (MP's) that the legislation is long overdue, but like I always remind myself, 'It's never late'. This is inevitable if sustainable mineral extraction is to be achieved.
The issue of mine closure legislation has never been part of mining legislation from the beginning. Mine closure legislation has always been introduced at later stages as a result of different localised situations that hint at the need for such legislation. This explains why the world is littered with abandoned mine sites. It is only prudent that the need for such legislation is realised on time before situations get out of hand. It is happening.
Because of the local nature of mineral extraction issues (environmental, economic and social), mine legislation in general and mine closure in particular vary from country-to-country. Because of this, many mineral extraction companies apply different standards in different countries in which they operate to fulfil local legal requirements.
In these situations the countries that benefit are those with stringent legislation that can help balance the environmental and social aspects with the economics involved in mineral extraction. However, prescriptive legislation is not always the best solution towards the attainment of sustainable mining. Countries that have mineral operator who have the will to self-regulate with focus on high performance in the areas of their financial needs, environmental and social issues enjoy the most benefits. Some of such companies apply the highest standards which surpass the minimum requirements of the host country. It is such attitude from operators that government should also seek to encourage up and above good legislation. Some companies on the other hand focus only on fulfilling the minimum of the local requirements to reduce or eliminate liabilities after closure while maximising profits. The same companies could be applying different and higher standards in a country next door only because the requirements there are more stringent. It will not be legally wrong for this to happen, but rather the best is to encourage operators to do the best they could under the circumstances to operate in the best interest of sustainability development.
The proposed legislation has a lot of potential to not only impact on the environmental issues surrounding mineral sites but also on the socio-economic aspects of our society. This brings in an ever important issue of public participation in mine closure processes which could result in beneficial outcomes for the society. In the past one of the benefits gained from mineral extraction was in the form of water reservoirs which developed from abandoned sand and gravel borrow pits mainly along our main roads. Even though these may not have been planned and purposefully designed for such benefit, they provide a valuable resource in the form of drinking holes for animals. It should always be borne in mind that communities that live close to mineral extraction sites will continue to live there after mine closure. Therefore, any benefit that they could enjoy from closure should be explored and the ideas for such benefits will not come any better than from the 'horse's mouth'.
In countries where the society has antipathy towards mining, the goodwill of mineral operators in ensuring sustainable mining earns them what is commonly known
as a 'social licence to mine'. This simply means that because of their conduct, their activities come to be accepted and appreciated by the general public. This normally results in increased benefits to the society in terms of a healthier environment and improved socio-economic aspects. This could be because in such situations, the mutual understanding between the society and operator could minimise the operator costs by eliminating needs for litigations. As such, money could be well spent on more positive endeavours. A case in mind is that of the people of Mmokolodi against a quarry operator in the area. We may not be able to see the effects of this proposed legislation now, but in the future, when large mines close and when the general public begin to develop a better appreciation of environmental issues. It is quiet common in developing countries that people place high value on economic issues to the detriment of the environment and understandably so because people get preoccupied with bettering their lives.
In a related article, another honourable MP proposed that government should create a special fund from which reclamation of mined land can be financed. This is commendable. In countries with well-established mine closure policies, there is a requirement for each new mineral extraction project to have a financial bond setup for the reclamation of a mine site after decommissioning. The bond is normally equivalent to the cost of completing a reclamation process based on a reclamation scheme approved by the relevant authority. Of course all sites with mineral extraction permissions granted before the enactment of such legislation could be spared from fulfilling such a requirement. That is, they may not be required to reclaim the land based on a permit approved before the enactment of mine closure legislation. However, there possibly could exist an opportunity to ensure that such sites are included in the requirement. It may have legal ramifications. This comes to emphasie the importance of encouraging operators to perform to the highest standards possible. Otherwise all those sites may have to be exempted from such requirements until their current permits expire. If the operator then applies for extension of the permission, then the new requirements could be applied. Notwithstanding, government could also establish a fund with the sole purpose of reclaiming abandoned mine sites. This will reduce the amount of derelict land, especially in or new populated areas. This could release the land to be used for productive activities. Example of such projects includes the rehabilitation of the Monarch gold waste tips and underground adits in Francistown.
Lastly, I wish to reiterate the importance of such legislation. As a maiden legislation, it should be expected that loopholes will emerge with time. It is only fitting that such be anticipated and dealt with at the first instance. One of the important aspects of mine closure is the intended outcomes of the process. With the many possible post mining after-uses, it is quiet important that each is anticipated in the legislation and subsequent guidelines in order to ascertain conformity with world standards for anyone after-use scheme that can be applied to a site. With proper planning, accentuated by adequate legislation, mineral extraction sites can be turned into marvels of the country.