Activist officials, lack of institutional memory subvert DMR

Jacinto Rocha, former deputy DG of mines

UNCERTAINTY is baked into the Mining Charter because it allows too much discretion to activist officials which the impending third version of the Charter is not going to change.

That’s the view of Nedbank Capital mining finance executive, Paul Miller, who was one of a number of mining experts who sharply criticised South Africa’s mining legislation at the Junior Mining Indaba held in Johannesburg today.

Miller added the current legislation allowed too much discretion by officials to interpret vague legislation on both timelines and the requirements.

Amongst those critics was Jacinto Rocha – former deputy director general of the Department of Minerals and Energy (DMR) – who was a key architect of the current legislation, but is now a director of private consulting firm Mineral Investment Advisory Services.

In his remarks during a panel discussion Rocha commented that: “The former members of Chamber of Mines at that time were not easy to deal – I am talking about people like [former Amplats chairman], Barry Davison – but we engaged with them”.

Rocha said today that South Africa’s mining legislation system was “inefficient” and he questioned the “intellectual capacity and knowledge base” of some of the current officials administering the legislation in comparison with many of the highly experienced former officials who had left the department since his time.

Rocha added: “If you are going to change things then you must understand why things were done the way they were. If you start changing things without that understanding they you are going to mess up. This is what I am seeing”.

During his tenure at the DMR, Rocha was viewed by many mining industry executives as a radical and one of the major stumbling blocks from the government side in reaching a workable new mining regulatory dispensation.

That view seems to have changed judging by comments from Hulme Scholes – director of legal firm Malan Scholes – who is currently bringing an action to have the Mining Charter scrapped.

Said Scholes: “During his time, Jacinto was a hard man to deal with, but he was accessible and his team knew what it was doing”. Asked on the sidelines of the conference whether he ever thought he would be viewed more favourably by mining executives – as he clearly was at today’s conference – Rocha told Miningmx: “No, I did not. Perhaps the current regulators are worse than I was?”

Scholes said department officials were now focused more on political issues concerning the legislation rather than administrative issues and frequently made no decision at all because of weak leadership.

“You can deal with a good decision and you can deal with a bad decision but you cannot deal with no decision,” said Scholes. “When a bad decision is made you have an appeal process within the system. When no decision is made you do not know what to do. What we have currently is that no decisions are being made,” he said.