THE Earth Organisation says mining houses should not threaten the government with job losses in order for them to get away from their obligations regarding the environment.
And the Southern Africa Resources Watch says the intended mass lay-off of over 500 workers by First Quantum Minerals is merely meant to blackmail the government.
Commenting on reports that FQM will lay off 500 workers at its Sentinel Mine in Kalumbila in Solwezi which is under construction, The Earth Organisation executive director Lovemore Muma said the government should not be held at ransom by the company to disregard environmental requirements for fear of job losses.
"Development should be in the context of sustainable development, meaning that current needs should not compromise future generation needs. So the government should not just look at current worker needs but also future generations, that is our children and their children's children's jobs, because if we destroy the environment now the future generation will have no jobs. If we are going to lose 500 jobs and preserve the environment and create more sustainable jobs in the future so be it. Furthermore, before FQM started constructing the dam, they should have sought expert option from Zambia Environmental Management Agency (ZEMA)," Muma said.
He said the river where the mine intends to construct the dam was a source of water for several cattle farmers and villagers both up and down stream and according to ZEMA regulations, erection of any project of such a nature required the investor to seek necessary approval regarding environmental protection.
Muma wondered why FQM started building a dam on the river before seeking approval from the agency, adding that the mining company should not threaten the government with job losses for not following the requirement as set by ZEMA.
And SARW country coordinator Edward Lange said the government should not abandon the corrective process just for the purpose of satisfying the interest of the operator.
"As civil society, we are alert and adhering to the guidance given by the government, and as such any mishandling of the process will not give any sustainable business environment for the company. It has been three years now since the indigenous and host community started crying, the company has disregarded their concerns, and now that the government has come to the aid of people, it should be a win-win situation," Lange said.
"We also appeal to Zambians not to abuse their rights to acquire mining rights by selling the same at a later stage without due consideration of the welfare and rights of the host and indigenous people. The Kalumbila case is a very clear lesson for us in Zambia and the SADC region on how local people can disfranchise themselves. Such threats are baseless and temporal as what we appeal for is the consideration of the main concerns of the host community in the area," Lange said.
FQM spokesperson John Gladston was quoted saying that the company had been forced to lay off the workers because it could not sustain the current high workforce, while waiting for the ZEMA to lift a protection order that had prevented further construction of the Chisola dam.