Members of the Zimbabwean Parliament Committee on Mines returned to Harare on Thursday from Manicaland province where they were prevented from inspecting the Mutare diamond-sorting operations of firms partnering with the government or entering the Marange diamond field itself on a a fact-finding mission.
Committee members were prevented by local police and Manicaland Governor Chris Mushowe from traveling into Chiadzwa, Marange district, for a look at mining operations and to hold meetings with local residents. Public meetings in Marange and Mutare had to be canceled due to the lack of cooperation from local officials, members of the committee said.
A meeting with the provincial coordination committee assigned to relocate Chiadzwa residents was called off Thursday. Lawmakers have accused Mines Minister Obert Mpofu of blocking the investigations.
Committee members had appealed to Mpofu earlier on Wednesday to send a letter authorizing them to enter the alluvial diamond field to inspect operations at first hand but the minister said he was tied up in a meeting at the headquarters of his ZANU-PF party and could not extract himself to send such a fax.
Parliamentary backbenchers were up in arms over the episode and comments attributed to Mpofu carried in the Bulawayo-based state-run Chronicle newspaper calling the lawmakers “ignorant pedestrians.”
Sources said the Zimbabwe Mining Development Corporation had prepared all the required letters to request clearance for the committee to visit Chiadzwa in response to a request by the clerk of Parliament, whose office also spoke with Police Commissioner General Augustine Chihuri requesting that he grant the legislators permission to enter Chiadzwa.
"Chihuri said he had no problem instructing his officers to issue clearance for the visit to the reserve and restricted diamond fields but needed authority from the co-ministers of Home Affairs and in particular the Minister of Mines Obert Mpofu, who remained elusive the whole week and refused to give authority for the police to give clearance," one source said.
The co-ministers of Home Affairs gave their nod but the police could not go ahead without the Mpofu's approval "since the the reservation of the area was declared in terms of Mines and Minerals Act," the source said.
Manicaland Governor Mushowe also failed to meet the committee members for a courtesy call.
On Wednesday evening the committee received word from senior Parliament officials that they should return to Harare as they had not been able to obtain clearance to enter the security-shrouded Chiadzwa area.
Committee members were "shocked by the conduct" of Mines Minister Mpofu, said another source.
"It is unfortunate that the executive has not sat down with [Mpofu] and advised him that Parliament operates under the Constitution of Zimbabwe ... and plays an oversight role," said one committee member.
A member of the committee said the lawmakers, from all three unity government parties, were "not taking this lightly coming from a member of the executive who is also a member of Parliament. There is need to respect the principle of separation of powers between the executive, the judiciary and Parliament."
Legislators say Mpofu's charges that their probe is a witchhunt are unsupported and represent tactics meant to delay and derail the parliamentary probe into the government's development of the Marange field.
For a closer look at the Marange situation and related issues of governance, VOA Studio 7 reporter Sandra Nyaira turned to environmental lawyer Shamiso Mutisi and the member of Parliament for Mutare West, which includes Marange, Shuwa Mudiwa.
Mutisi said Mines Minister Mpofu and his senior staff have deliberately misinterpreted the law to prevent the parliamentary committee from scrutinizing operations in Marange and its handling of national resources.