Mineral Policy

2. Approaches to mineral policy development

There are different ways for government to develop a mineral policy. In an ideal situation, policy will have the input of a broad, representative sample of stakeholders from urban and rural areas. But this can be hard to achieve in practice.

This section outlines two possible approaches to incorporating stakeholder perspectives into mineral policy development. Each government will most likely design and adopt a unique approach, taking local considerations and priorities into consideration and incorporating elements of each of the approaches outlined below.

1. How to create a mineral policy: a collaborative approach

A fundamental question for governments is to determine the extent to which the views of a diverse, geographically distinct group of people are going to influence the outcome of a mineral policy.

In some countries, such as Canada, governments have chosen to pursue a highly collaborative approach to mineral policy development. This means that government invited divergent views arising from private sector stakeholders, indigenous peoples, civil society organisations, labour unions and others to participate fully in the bottom-up development of the country’s mineral policy. Together these groups drafted the principles on which the National Mineral Policy was based.

This was an innovative approach that was viewed at the time as being somewhat risky. However, it resulted in a policy that has endured for decades, has had a wide base of public support, and has brought traditional adversaries such as mining companies and environmentalists together.

There are still conflicts around mining development, and it is unlikely that a single policy will address all concerns or result in a completely conflict-free environment. However, the process followed in Canada has led the way for subsequent sustainable development initiatives to be developed through similar types of multi-stakeholder, consensus-based processes.

2. How to create a mineral policy:  A more traditional approach

Other countries have chosen a more traditional approach to developing public policy. This model typically sees government drafting the first version of a policy for distribution to a range of stakeholders. These may be very narrowly defined, for example other government departments, or they may be broader, encompassing a wide range of industry stakeholders such as the private sector, industry associations, civil society organisations, labour unions and others.

When following a more traditional approach, Government receives stakeholder comments on a draft policy within a window of “consultation”, and considers whether to adopt any or all of them. A final draft of the policy is then completed, and will typically appear on the specific government agency’s website as a final product.

This model allows government to maintain control of the content of the policy, without needing to explain in detail how stakeholder input has influenced the outcome. However, it can be difficult in this case to manage the expectations of stakeholders who may feel that their views have not been considered in the final document.

Citizens of developing countries are increasingly demanding high standards of transparency and accountability from their governments. In recent years we have seen the advent of social media and instances of strong public responses when government fails to react to society’s demands.

The process for developing a mineral policy is not isolated from these trends. When governments fail to consider the thoughts and views of stakeholders affected by policy, disillusionment can set in and cooperation on future initiatives may be compromised. When governments are willing to cede a portion of control to a valid stakeholder engagement process, there is a much greater chance of buy-in to its policies.

Policy in practice: The example of the South African constitution

Some countries enshrine the right of citizens to participate in public policy making in their Constitutions. For example, the South African Constitution states that “people’s needs must be responded to, and the public must be encouraged to participate in policymaking”.

Additional sections of the Constitution require both national and provincial levels of government to engage in stakeholder engagement.  Entrenching these principles in the greatest law of the country can make a significant contribution to strengthening democratic governance.