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MALAWI: Bingu misled on uranium mining—civil society

by Juliet ChimwagaThe Nation (Malawi)
November 21st, 2006

Civil society organisations accused government Monday of misleading President Bingu wa Mutharika and the nation in its dealings with Paladin Africa Limited, saying the latter are not coming out clearly on the negative impact the multi-billion kwacha uranium mining project at Kayelekera in Karonga will have on people’s lives.

The Centre for Human Rights Rehabilitation (CHRR), Citizens for Justice (CFJ) and the Foundation for Community Support Services (Focus) presented their concerns at a press briefing in Lilongwe.

CHRR executive director Undule Mwakasungula said the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) which has been conducted by Paladin is questionable and that the process lacked participation, inclusiveness, cultural sensitivity and equity.

“In fact, we question why the assessment was conducted by the company itself instead of government as required by the Environmental and Mining Act section 26 (1),” said Mwakasungula.

However, Minister of Mining Henry Chimunthu Banda dismissed the accusations and maintained that, legally, there is no way government could do the assessment itself.

“We as government are supposed to monitor, analyse and criticise the assessment. So how can government itself conduct the assessment and criticise itself?” Queried Chimunthu Banda.

Mwakasungula added that the EIA is expected to be detailed on the radiological impact for employees, water resources and use of water by the mining and milling facilities.

He said the assessment is also supposed to capture the impact of uranium mining and milling, disposal of associated toxic wastes for ground water, management and disposal of waste from the leaching ores and their long-term enclosure.

“With this then we propose for an independent and critical evaluation of the EIA because we see that even President Bingu wa Mutharika has been misinformed by the senior officers,” said Mwakasungula.

CFJ chairperson Reinford Mwangonde also questioned the location of the project.

“It should be noted that the mine will be located only 40 kms west of Karonga. We, therefore, feel this under-estimation and assumption would only lead to very grave consequences for the people of Karonga and Chitipa districts,” said Mwangonde.
Focus director Kossam Munthali said Paladin lied on sample tests of the mine, saying the company released the results of the tests before the results had come out.

“We have information that South Africa had refused to make the tests and yet Paladin released them indicating that the results were all right,” said Munthali. “Let’s not work on the uranium mining issue as a Karonga issue but an issue of national interest. We want government to be transparent and accountable on procedure of this issue.”

But Chimunthu Banda accused the civil society of trying to cross the bridge before reaching it, arguing that government has not yet considered issuing Paladin a licence.

On a legal point of view, executive director for the Centre for Environmental Policy and Advocacy Gracian Zibelu Banda said Monday according to the Environment Management Act, it is the developer—in this case Paladin—who conducts the EIA and that government is supposed to allow the public to criticise the report.



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