Department of Mineral Resources and Energy (DMRE) director-general Thabo Mokoena, during a follow-up briefing to the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Minerals and Resources on March 3, committed the department to providing a final determination on the South African Mineral Resources Administration System (Samrad) after six months.
The DMRE has started a review of Samrad that will inform whether it retains and fixes the system or replaces it with a new system.
The department would also provide a progress update within three months, he said.
Additionally, Mokoena said that Mineral Resources and Energy Minister Gwede Mantashe, during a briefing with the DMRE directors-general and chief directors on March 2, expressed his concerns if the department did not develop an effective mineral information system, as well as noting to them that the department faced serious challenges.
However, Mokoena added that the issues raised by the Minister have been given priority and that the department had developed a plan to improve the processing of mining rights and permits and prospecting rights applications, starting with the Mpumalanga regional office, as well as a plan to improve processes in the Limpopo regional office.
Responding to questions from Members of Parliament after the briefing, deputy director-general Tseliso Maqubela noted that all regional offices have been instructed to develop plans to deal with backlogs in applications and that the DMRE would use initiatives that prove effective in the Mpumalanga office to improve processes in other regional offices.
The Mpumalanga office had processed 23 licence applications for final decision during the week of February 24 to March 2, and had concluded a further 16 applications that were either accepted or rejected, and the department was ramping up the speed with which it finalised the backlog of applications, dealing with the older applications first.
A presentation by chief director Motlatso Kobe showed the total backlog of applications across all provinces included 518 for mining rights, 2 485 for prospecting rights, 1 644 for mining permits, 238 for cessions and 724 renewal applications.
Additionally, the department was targeting a 50% reduction in turnaround times, specifically focused on prospecting rights, as well as in cases where decisions could be made more quickly than the maximum time allowed by regulations, with the aim of processing applications within a reasonable time in line with pronouncements made by President Cyril Ramaphosa and Mantashe, she said.
Mokoena confirmed that the backlog of applications extended to 2016, except in Mpumalanga where the backlog extended to 2013.
However, he admitted that the department had failed to buy tools of trade, mainly laptops, remote connectivity devices and printers, to allow its teams to continue to function during the Covid-19 pandemic.
DMRE CFO Yvonne Chetty confirmed that the department had since approached the National Treasury with its revised budget – all departments were required to do so given the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on daily operations – and its regional offices had participated in transversal contracts involving competitive bidding to arrive at a speedy resolution to provide the regional offices with the tools required to conduct their work remotely.
Meanwhile, Kobe described the complete process of licence applications from submission through to rejection or acceptance, including the legislated 14-day timeframe for acceptance of an application and the 60-day timeframe for processing. Assessing fulfilment of environmental-impact assessment and National Environmental Management Act requirements could take up to 247 days (excluding weekends and public holidays) for mining and borrow-pit permits and prospecting rights and up to 350 working days for mining rights.
However, the processes involved some manual capturing of data, communication to applicants through registered mail followed by faxes, and emails if provided, printing of physical copies for display on notice boards in regional offices and faxed to magistrates' office in the jurisdictions the parcels of land reside, as well as tribal councils, for public viewing.
Members of the portfolio committee asked whether the public notices could not be published on the DMRE website, which they averred could improve the accessibility and visibility of notices. Maqubela said the DMRE would consider publishing details of mining licences on its website, similar to how it publishes petroleum licences on its website.
Meanwhile, Kobe defended the Samrad system, noting that the system was able to provide credible information on existing mineral rights on a parcel of land, and that there had not been double granting of mineral rights, except in Mpumalanga and the North West, and that the department had reduced instances of double granting.
However, portfolio committee chairperson Zet Luzipo, in his closing remarks, highlighted that the department had been taken to court for double granting of mineral rights, with one case involving three applicants in one area, and asked the DMRE to provide the committee with information on how this happened if it were not possible for double granting to occur.
Mining Weekly, meanwhile, also reported on March 2 that the Minerals Council South Africa and the Council for Geoscience were said to be close to publishing their so-called new strategic Exploration Implementation Plan.