Tuesday, April 02, 2013

(STICKY) Contradiction between rich mineral resources and poverty
By Editor
Tue 02 Apr. 2013, 14:01 CAT

Dr Claud Kabemba, the director of Southern African Resource Watch, says the poverty situation in Zambia amid rich mineral resources is a serious contradiction that must be addressed without further hesitation. We agree.

Why should people be poor in a country that is rich, in a country that is earning gigantic sums of money from the exploitation of its mineral wealth?

Clearly, poverty is the impoverishment caused by the unjust political, economic and social structures. And because of this, the poor deserve preferential attention.

The reality described by Dr Kabemba shows us with ever greater clarity that our nation must undergo structural transformation. This situation calls for greater participation by the people in national decision making.

This option, demanded by the scandalous reality of economic contradictions and imbalances in our country, should lead us to establish a dignified, fraternal way of life together as human beings and to construct a more just, fair and humane society.

The required change in unjust social, political and economic structures will not be authentic and complete if it is not accompanied by a change in our personal and collective outlook regarding the idea of a dignified, happy human life. This in turn disposes us to undergo conversion.

Committed to the poor, we must condemn the extreme poverty that affects an extremely large segment of the population of our country. We must make every effort to understand and denounce the mechanisms that generate this poverty. We should combine efforts with those of people of goodwill, wherever they may be or whatever their outlook, in order to uproot poverty and create a more just and fraternal nation.

There has been mining of minerals in our country for close to a hundred years now, if not over. But very little has been achieved in addressing poverty. The arguments of those who have made gigantic profits from the minerals of this country have remained the same all the time - increasing costs of mining, fluctuating or declining mineral prices. They have benefited disproportionately from the mineral resource of this country.

Every time the people demand a bigger share of the benefits of mining, technical arguments are advanced to deny them their fair share. All sorts of intellectuals and other experts are mobilised by the mining corporations to justify their positions. Even government officials and politicians are mobilised to ensure that the mining corporations keep their lion's share of the benefits of mining.

But whatever affects the dignity of individuals and peoples cannot be reduced to a "technical" issue. If reduced in this way, poverty will continue to deepen in our country because development would be emptied of its true content. And this would be an act of betrayal of the people whom the mining of the mineral wealth of our country is meant to serve.

This is why we should have something to say today, just as we did twenty years ago, and also in the future, about the nature, conditions, requirements and aims of mining in our country, and also about the obstacles which stand in the way of our people benefiting reasonably from the exploitation of their country's minerals.

In today's difficult situation, a more exact awareness about the realities of mining in our country would be of great help in making everyone understand the situation and find the best solution to it.
Our daily life as well as our decisions in the political and economic fields must be marked by these realities. Likewise, our politicians and other leaders while they are obliged always to keep in mind the true human dimension as a priority in their economic and financial plans, should not forget to give precedence to the phenomenon of growing poverty. Unfortunately, instead of becoming fewer, the poor are becoming more numerous in our country.

It is necessary to state once more the characteristic of fairness and justice: the mineral wealth of this country was originally meant for the benefit of all. The right of those who mine our minerals to make a profit and appropriate it is valid and necessary, but it does not nullify the value of this principle. Mining in this country as it is elsewhere, the exploitation of our natural resources should be under a 'social mortgage', which means that it has an intrinsically social function based upon and justified precisely by the principle of the benefits accruing to all who hold an interest in the minerals being mined. Likewise, in this concern for the poor, one must not overlook that special form of poverty which consists in being deprived of the benefits from the minerals under one's own land.

The issues being raised by Dr Kabemba and the motivating concerns about poverty must be translated into concrete actions, until they decisively attain a series of necessary changes or reforms in the way the benefits from mining are shared.

It is also important to remember the fact that development cannot be limited to mere economic growth. In order for it to be authentic, it must be complete: integral, that is, it has to promote the common good of every man and woman and of the whole man and woman. As an eminent specialist has very rightly and emphatically declared:

"We do not believe in separating the economic from the human, nor development from the civilisations in which it exists. What we hold important is man, each man and each group of men, and we even include the whole of humanity."

We shouldn't also forget that poverty denotes an extreme form of deprivation of needs and capabilities that are deemed to be basic to survival and wellbeing. The need then for pro-poor policies and their effective implementation demands that all national and international stakeholders, all government and all corporate representatives dialogue and work together to address our high national poverty levels and give additional attention to those who face special challenges in meeting basic needs.

When it comes to mining, we should also bear in mind that economies across the world depend on resources collected from taxes to finance government activities. No government can be sustained without mechanisms for generating adequate domestic revenue. Taxes, especially from mining operations, should therefore be a major way for us to raise revenues to meet the social and development needs of our people. Taxes, especially from mining, will greatly help in reducing poverty in our country. Fair taxation of mining operations will be for the common good. We are reminded in Romans 13:2: "Give everyone what you owe them: if you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honour, then honour."

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