Among the key issues at the pre-budget consultation meetings is the revelation that Malawi is losing about US$1 billion annually from the mining sector through smuggling of precious stones.

This amount translates into such invaluable minerals, which are endowed only to a few countries in Africa, including Malawi. This revelation is obviously worrying, particularly coming at a time when the country is striving to use every available resource to cushion effects of the worsening economic conditions.

The US$1 billion could do a lot not only for our ailing economy but meeting demands in the health, education and other sectors. Considering the current conditions, every penny is valuable towards attaining a stable economic and political face. If we are really concerned about turning this country around, such huge losses in the mining sector should prompt authorities into action so that they figure out how to end the malpractices.

The annual profits raked from the sector are indicative that mining could in the long term become a viable alternative for tobacco, which is currently under threat. That calls for relevant authorities to guard the sector jealously and close all potentially harmful leaks.

With existing mining decrees to govern and regulate the sector, surely it should be within government’s ability to curb illegal smuggling of gemstone and other valuable stones. Sorting the mess must start from the issuing of licences to the right firms, reasonable deals and concessions all the way to ensuring requirements for all dealers to have their minerals certified and tagged by competent authorities.

For a sector that currently contributes 10 percent to the GDP, with a projection of 30 percent in the next five years, an extra effort to sanitise it is a must. Dealing with this will not only boost the country’s mineral sector but will also make international dealers as well as investors more comfortable to do business in Malawi.

But with the losses in sight, it is clear certain regulations are either not being adhered to or the government is toothless, hence the need for it to start comprehensively reviewing laws that guide mining sector in the country. At the end, what’s more important is that the benefits of mining trickle down to the local people and help alleviate poverty.

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