MINERAL Resources Minister Susan Shabangu should explain to Parliament why South Africa did not want to sign up to a growing international initiative aimed at setting a global standard for transparency in oil, gas and mining, Democratic Alliance mineral resources spokesman James Lorimer said on Tuesday.
The government argues it is "not necessary" for South Africa to join the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative because it is a mature mining economy with advanced revenue-collection systems. It questions why it should do so when developed countries are not under the same political pressure to sign up.
"Refusing to (sign up to the initiative) would signal an unhealthy commitment to secrecy ... Transparency should serve as a vehicle for redress and job creation in an industry that has historically been exploitative," Mr Lorimer said in a statement. "I will thus be writing to the chairperson of the portfolio committee on mineral resources, Fred Gona, to request that he invite minister Susan Shabangu to appear before the committee to account for the government's unwillingness to join (the initiative)."
Peter Leon, head of the Africa mining and energy projects practice at Webber Wentzel Bowens, the law firm, argued last week that the expansion of South African miners into the rest of the continent and the world reinforced the argument that South Africa needed to join the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative to show commitment to transparency and good governance. Also, the government's questioning why South Africa should sign meant it was losing traction as developed countries joined the initiative, he said.
The initiative aims to ensure that the 3,5-billion people who live in resource-rich countries benefit from the economic growth and poverty reduction that can come out of resource exploitation when there is good governance.
Norway, widely held up as a paragon of transparency, has signed up, and the US pledged last year to join. Australia said last year it would test the initiative.
Sign-up was costless and the benefits "numerous", Mr Lorimer said. "Countries that refuse to sign up to the initiative invariably do so to protect questionable interests and thereby encourage centralisation and repression," he said. "With politically connected South Africans involved in mining north of our borders, it is especially imperative that the government step up to the transparency plate and lead the continent out of its so-called 'resource curse' - the paradoxical relationship between mineral wealth and weak developmental outcomes."
Failure to do so, he said, ran the risk of creating the perception that South Africa would not join the initiative because it was trying to protect narrow interests in countries such as the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
Arguing that it was not necessary for South Africa to support the initiative because the country already had strong financial accounting systems "misses the point entirely", Mr Lorimer said.
"Joining the initiative is an opportunity to signal our global commitment to a transparent mining industry. It is only through transparency and accountability that mineral wealth can benefit the poor," he added.
The Department of International Relations and Co-operation, to which the Department of Mineral Resources referred questions, did not respond on Tuesday to questions about South Africa's stance on the initiative.
Jabu Maphalala, spokesman for the Chamber of Mines, said that without the government making a firm public statement on its position about the initiative, the chamber felt it could not comment on the issue.
The South African Institute of International Relations and the University of the Witwatersrand's Centre for Applied Legal Studies are also in favour of South Africa signing up to the initiative.