The mining industry in Africa has some unique trends, challenges and opportunities. Industry expert Robert Botha chatted to Craig Sisterson about the critical role of the legal department in dealing with these.
It’s vital that mining companies incorporate legal advice into their projects from the earliest strategic stages and don’t just turn to their in-house or external counsel when problems arise, says Robert Botha, founder of Integrated Mining Solutions (INMISO) Consulting.
“Too often what happens is a mine wants to build a new plant, for instance, and they’ll put together the technical project team, go through the supply chain process, but they don’t think about all the legal aspects,” explained Botha, who held senior positions at top mining companies and law firms before establishing INMISO. “Then, halfway through, when they’ve spent $200 million, somebody asks, ‘Do you have an environmental authorisation to put that pipe through that wetland?’ ‘Oh no, we don’t. Well, legal, you guys get one.’”
By the time legal is brought in, major delays – with associated massive costs – can occur as various issues are belatedly navigated. Then legal is “seen as the hurdle”, Botha noted, when earlier involvement could have solved problems and hugely reduced risks for the mine.
Botha’s ongoing passion for the industry is fuelled by the range of issues he faces – corporate, environmental, labour and mineral rights law, and more – and the opportunity to make a key difference to clients and communities. Working in mining, he said, teaches lawyers the ability to think beyond a specific problem and, in that process, to manage risk.
“Then there are negotiation skills you learn,” he said “You must think on your feet and be hands on, because if you’re not it will cost your client a lot of money. There are big risks you have to manage, including reputational risk. So, if you don’t see that big picture in mining, in my view you’ll not be a great in-house counsel.”
When INMISO gets involved with a mining project, they evaluate the big picture, putting together a legal matrix of inter-related issues and potential risks so they can help the project manager even before the first deliverables.
INMISO will run a “what-if spiderweb scenario”, Botha explained, covering different options and avenues for what needs to be done and how to deal with various outcomes, issues or delays. “Everyone in my team is an expert in their specific discipline, but all related to mining,” said Botha, who began in labour law at Deloitte before going in-house for mining companies.
One pleasing trend in African mining, noted Botha, is improved health and safety and a drastic reduction in fatalities at mines. “We’re talking about the lives of people – you can’t put any price on that.” Another more recent trend is a focus on getting buy-in from communities. Botha believes this needs to go further, to empower communities long-term beyond the life of a mining project.
A unique model, INMISO was born out of Botha’s 25 years’ experience in mining, and the need he saw for a legal and business consultancy that deeply understood mining and saw the broader picture. “At INMISO we take it further than legal advice, working out project plans, strategies, and how to empower people and communities and address various challenges,” Botha emphasised.
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