CIVIL Society Organisations say they are ready to dialogue with government to find a pro-Zambian and sustainable solution to the impasse surrounding the construction of Chisola dam.
Over 18 CSOs have petitioned the government over its decision to give a go-ahead to First Quantum Minerals to construct the dam, which was earlier stopped through an environmental protection order by the Zambia Environmental Management Agency.
But lands, natural resources and environmental protection minister Wylbur Simuusa said he was disappointed with CSOs that suggested that the government had not shown leadership over the construction of Chisola Dam in Chief Musele's area in North Western Province.
Simuusa said the government had given FQM three options: that the mining company goes ahead but be ready to bear the cost and account for the damage if the project collapses or has any negative impact to the environment; to wait for a Strategic Environmental Plan, and third, to find an alternative site on which to construct the dam. He said FQM chose the first option.
But the CSOs said they were standing on a well-researched position on the Chisola Dam as opposed to the government's assertions. Speaking on behalf of other 18 CSOs, Edward Lange who is country coordinator for the Southern Africa Resource Watch (SARW) said they strongly felt that the government should meditate and reflect on the turn of events and further check its relationship with the mining companies.
"Any investor is obliged to operate within the confines of the laws of the host state. If the ministers have failed to resolve this issue, can State House intervene! As an institution working on ensuring that there is prudent management of natural resources in the SADC region, we are concerned. It is unfortunate that our leaders still think and believe that mining can create jobs when many studies have clearly indicated that the sector contributes less than 8 per cent to the nation's overall workforce," Lange stated.
He added that it was sad that the stakeholders in the construction of Chisola Dam had failed to foster a relationship of confidence and mutual trust with the community in which it was supposed to be established. "We are ready to be part of a dialogue process aimed at finding a solution that would be favourable to the many poor people of chief Museli. If Cabinet feels this is a simple issue, we challenge them to come and spend a day and a night with us in chief Museli's area for them to understand the sufferings of the people there," Lange stated.
Earlier, Simuusa said it was premature for CSOs to play a 'blame game' over the issue when the government through its law enforcement wings had put up stringent measures to ensure that the mining company complies with the laws over the project. Simuusa said the government would always make decisions in the best interest of Zambians and the environment.