April 10, 2019 / 1:33 PM / 3 months ago

UPDATE 2-Zimbabwe mulls 'use it or lose it' approach to mining rights

(Adds investor comment, detail)

By Tiisetso Motsoeneng

JOHANNESBURG, April 10 (Reuters) - Zimbabwe may withdraw mining rights from companies that take too long to dig for minerals, the deputy mines minister said on Wednesday, part of efforts to lift output in a sector vital to the country’s economic revival.

Zimbabwe sits on the second-largest known platinum deposits after neighbouring South Africa and President Emmerson Mnangagwa is keen to revive mining after years of reticence by foreign investors during the Robert Mugabe administration.

Speaking to investors and executives at a mining conference in Johannesburg, Polite Kambamura said details of the so-called “use it or lose it” approach to mining policy would be made available in due course.

“We will be calling owners of such mineral resources to come forward and show cause why they are not mining,” he told Reuters on the sidelines of the conference.

“If we’re not satisfied with their explanation or mining plans, then we will kindly ask them to give that resource back to the government.”

As part of plans to boost mining export revenues to $12 billion a year as of 2023 from $3 billion now, Kambamura also said the country was putting policies in place to make it easier for mining companies to boost production, while urging investors to restart mines that closed in periods of political upheaval.

Last month, Zimbabwe said it would scrap the controversial indigenisation law under which foreign companies are restricted to only 49 percent of their Zimbabwean operations.

Zimbabwe, which counts South Africa’s Impala Platinum and Anglo American Platinum among its mining investors, is also in talks with an industry body, the Chamber of Mines, about reviewing and streamlining mining taxes.

“The ministry is looking at the whole array of taxes like royalties etc to streamline them and establish a more competitive regime,” Betirai Manhando, president of the Chamber of Mines, said at the same conference.

MIDDLE-INCOME ECONOMY

About a year ago, Mnangagwa won the first election since the removal of Mugabe in 2017, and has laid out an economic transformation strategy that his government hopes will turn the country into a middle-income economy by 2030.

Though investors at the conference did not dispute the prospect of lucrative returns from the country’s underdeveloped mining, tourism and agricultural industries, they were worried about shortages of foreign currency.

“Currency convertibility is a big issue for investors,” said Richard Tait, a director at Harare-based private equity outfit Mangwana Capital - which is trying to raise $150 million for investments in Zimbabwe.

Mangwana’s investments that mainly earn foreign currency should deliver returns of more than 20 percent, Tait told Reuters.

Zimbabwe ditched a discredited 1:1 dollar peg for its dollar-surrogate bond notes and electronic dollars on Feb. 20, merging them into a transitional currency called the RTGS dollar. (Reporting by Tiisetso Motsoeneng; Editing by Dale Hudson and Kirsten Donovan)

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