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MMCZ to Combat Smuggling

MMCZ to Combat Smuggling

The Minerals Marketing Corporation of Zimbabwe (MMCZ) is ramping up its efforts to combat mineral smuggling with the State-owned agency intensifying its monitoring and surveillance systems to curb leakages.

Despite boasting a robust inspectorate department, MMCZ acting general manager Dr Nomsa Moyo acknowledged that mineral revenue losses due to smuggling remained a significant challenge for the country.

She was addressing a workshop in Headlands last week to educate journalists from various media organisations on MMCZ’s activities, the mineral value chain, and marketing dynamics of commodities among others.

MMCZ is responsible for marketing Zimbabwe’s mineral resources, excluding gold and silver, which fall under the Reserve Bank Zimbabwe’s (RBZ) purview.

Established in 1983, it was tasked with curbing mineral smuggling and transfer pricing to ensure that the country retains maximum value from its minerals.

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Dr Moyo said the MMCZ was planning to incorporate new technologies like drones for enhanced monitoring and surveillance of mineral resource movement as well as capacitating the Zimbabwe School of Mines metallurgy laboratory to reduce reliance on private laboratories crucial for testing the minerals.

“We are working on enhancing our monitoring systems,” she said. “This includes introducing drones for effective surveillance, as well as revamping existing rail weighbridges and introducing new road weighbridges.”

In a follow-up comment, MMCZ corporate communication executive, Pretty Musonza, highlighted their investment in human resources.

“The corporation has already recruited 15 people to undergo a skills training program for mineral testing,” she said.

This would mimimise the risk of private laboratories under-declaring the actual mineral content in ores, potentially through collusion with producers. Last year, Mines and Mining Development Minister Zhemu Soda said the Government would implement an array of measures to curb mineral resource smuggling.

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Dr Moyo revealed several cunning methods used to smuggle minerals out of the country.

These included under-declaring the quantity, falsifying documents, undervaluing the quality, fraudulently loading shipments, and even collusion between producers and state agencies. She added that advanced technology has emboldened some producers. They are using sophisticated forgeries, like fake documentation complete with MMCZ letterheads, to create a false impression of legitimacy for illegal mineral shipments.

These illegal practices significantly impact the revenue Zimbabwe receives from its minerals. Minerals account for roughly 80 percent of the country’s export earnings and account for 13 percent of the GDP.

Dr Moyo addressed the absence of MMCZ personnel at border posts, saying the corporation strategically positions roadblocks a short distance away, anticipating that these locations effectively cut off any alternative routes producers might use to reach the border.

Dr Moyo revealed that during the first quarter of the year, various state agencies handled roughly seven cases involving lithium smuggling.

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“Prosecutions have been made…and the assets (lithium) have been impounded,” said Dr Moyo. She expressed concern that a significant portion of the smuggling originates from foreign-owned mining firms.

The smuggled minerals include some banned for raw export, such as chrome and lithium. These can only be exported after the producer obtains explicit authorisation from the Ministry of Mines and Mining Development.

In a major crackdown last year, police apprehended 17 individuals and recovered 3 700 tonnes of lithium ore suspected to have been stolen from Bikita Minerals. Natural resources watchdogs have raised concerns about the ineffectiveness of Zimbabwe’s ban on lithium ore exports.

The ban, meant to promote value addition and combat smuggling, appears to be failing. A report by the Zimbabwe Environmental Lawyers Association (ZELA) titled “The Implications of the Lithium Mining Rush in Zimbabwe: Analysis of Legal Developments” (2023) highlights continued, unregulated exports of unprocessed lithium.

Zimbabwe’s Minerals and Border Control Unit has previously acknowledged the country’s vulnerability to mineral smuggling due to porous border posts. The leakage of resources, it reported, involves high-value minerals.

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To address this challenge, it emphasized the importance of properly remunerating personnel stationed at entry points.

Zimbabwean authorities and independent observers concur the country is losing millions of US dollars to mineral smuggling.

But the exact figures remain elusive. While anecdotal evidence suggests significant losses, official data is currently unavailable.

“The absence of official figures surrounding mineral smuggling raises concerns about transparency and accountability,” Tobias Musara, a Harare-based development economist told this publication in an interview.

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“Establishing a robust system for data collection and analysis is essential to assess the true cost of this illegal activity and inform policy decisions that safeguard Zimbabwe’s valuable mineral resources.”

Zimbabwe’s Vision 2030 hinges on a transformed mining sector. However, this could be jeopardised by persistent revenue leakages.

A recent study by Pemberai Tanda and Bekir Genc of the University of the Witwatersrand investigated the factors undermining this national goal. The research established several reasons for the mineral revenue leakages.

These include mineral smuggling, superficial Government disclosures, limited capacity of regulatory authorities to enforce compliance in mines and a lack of coordinated information dissemination in Government institutions. It was also found that government departments have limited skills to evaluate mining data and lack verification and assaying processes.

Furthermore, it was discovered that loopholes in taxation law, the inadequacy of weighbridges, and poor legislative oversight of Parliament resolutions regarding revenue leakages are often not implemented.

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