JB: As The first Mining Minister in Malawi I have a major challenge to develop a new but key ministry for the nation.
My number one focus is to ensure that we have a legal framework that is aligned with international best practices. It is crucial that mining companies already present in Malawi are fairly treated and that new mining initiatives benefit both Malawians and new investors. We will also integrate artisanal small‐scale miners into the formal mining sector. Secondly, as Minister, I will follow up on projects that are already pre‐existing and new exploration activities to make certain the mining community knows the Ministry is available to listen to the challenges and explore together the best solution moving forward.
Malawi has been considered an agro‐based rather than mineral-based economy: what do you foresee as the potential role of the mining industry to Malawi’s National economy?
JB: The government recognizes the importance of mining to the Malawian economy and with time it will surpass the 30% contribution to GDP that currently comes from the agriculture industry. At the moment, the mineral sector contributes 10% to GDP. However, previously the GDP was only 3% and, following the opening of just one uranium mine, this has increased to 10%. If we, as a government, do things right then by 2016 we expect 20% of our GDP to come from the mining sector.
What steps has the ministry put in place to create a long‐term sustainable mining industry and double the GDP contribution from the mining sector in the next three years?
JB: The Ministry has made many steps to establish an environment conducive to attracting investment. We have approved a new Mines and Minerals Policy and we are reviewing the current mineral legislation. Also, we do not have sufficient data and information on the mineral deposits available to investors, therefore through our international cooperation with the World Bank we will be launching a geophysical survey to create a catalogue of Malawi’s mineral wealth and update the geological maps. Another key element of focus for the ministry is to invest in rare earth minerals as we know that the Japanese have a ready market for them and Malawi has great potential for rare earth minerals especially in the Chilwa Alkaline Province in the Southern region of the country.
Infrastructure is fundamental to the development of any mining industry. How well developed is this in Malawi and to what extent will this affect foreign investment?
JB: Malawi has major plans underway to upgrade the existing infrastructure. The railway line is currently under construction by Vale, we are increasing the power generation in the country and we have committed to invest in modern geochemical laboratories.
The new Mines and Mineral Policy states that the government will encourage joint local and foreign ventures in the mining sector, aim at empowering local entrepreneurs and formulate a policy on local participation. Can you elaborate on development of this policy?
JB: There is political will to ensure local participation in the mining industry in Malawi.
The Ministry is currently developing a policy for small‐scale mining and at the same time we want as a country to ensure that there is local participation in our laws. This is being championed by the privatization commission and in the near future the cabinet will finalize this policy. It is our interest to ensure that Malawians understand what is happening, that they are involved and that they benefit from the nation’s mineral wealth.
Another initiative within the Ministry is that we are forming a corporate office. We will have a public relations office and have negotiators that are legal experts to ensure that the new deals in mining are best for Malawi and that the locals have a connection to those deals and understand what is happening in their country.
What is the policy in terms of the percentage of local participation?
JB: The percentage of local participation is still under consultation as we do not want a scenario where the investors feel it is no longer attractive. We want to balance the interest for Malawians and investors at the same time.
Landlocked and bordered by some of the most mineral-rich nations on the continent, what is it that sets Malawi apart from its regional neighbors?
JB: Malawi has rich untapped mineral wealth and mining will be one of the most important contributors to the Economic Recovery Plan. Malawi will learn from other countries’ mistakes instead of making our own and, with that in mind, our legislation will therefore be very attractive. Since 1964 Malawi has never been at war, we have an excellent environment for trade with favorable laws and policies, we allow dividends to be repatriated and our entry laws are very flexible. The government knows the doing business index is not favorable for Malawi, and this is because we did not have guidance of what to do and how to do it. However, now we do and we can benefit as the last born.
Do you have a final message to foreign investors about Malawi and about the future of the mining market?
JB: Malawi has the environment for doing business, it is a safe investment destination; corruption is very small, the labor force in terms of skill and integrity is present and we offer one of the most politically stable countries on the continent.