A ZAMBIAN ecumenist has called on British Christians to join her
fight to make mining companies in Zambia pay a fair amount of tax
on their profits.
The General Secretary of the Council of Churches in Zambia, the
Revd Dr Suzanne Matale, who is a Methodist minister, said that
rising public anger against tax avoidance in the UK mirrored the
demands of the Zambian Church that multinational mining firms
should pay more tax.
In 2013, Zambia was the world's eighth-largest copper producer,
but Dr Matale said that Zambians saw little benefit. "We sincerely
believe that there is something wrong going on in our nation,
because . . . the people living a stone's-throw away from the mines
are desperately poor," she said in an interview last week.
Often, the mining companies do not break any laws, but use
loopholes in the tax code to siphon money out of Zambia almost
tax-free. The Zambian authorities estimate that they lose $1
billion a year from tax-avoidance.
"Our advocacy is not against investment; it would be foolish for
investors to invest for charity, we want them to make profit," Dr
Matale said. "But we are saying, give us our fair share of the tax,
which I am sure they are able to."
The Church Commissioners have significant investments in a
number of international mining companies, including Glencore, BHP
Billiton, and Anglo American. Some campaigners, including the
charity Operation Noah, have called on Churches to sell all stakes
in fossil-fuel and mining companies, but the Commissioners have
mostly resisted this.
Last year, their head of responsible investment, Edward Mason,
said that the Commissioners had been successful in changing
policies to protect the environment and people (News, 24
Dr Matale said that the question of disinvestment was a
difficult one, and that the Church of England was left "between a
rock and a hard place. . . What is important is, if they are
sitting around the table, we must see the difference. But if they
engage, they have a huge role on our behalf, as people of faith, to
ensure that the correct thing is done, which we haven't seen
Responding this week, Mr Mason said: "The Commissioners' clear
view is that companies should not, for both ethical and
business-risk reasons, engage in aggressive tax planning,
aggressive tax avoidance, and abusive tax arrangements. This is
particularly important in low-income countries."
It is not just tax avoidance that Dr Matale has in her sights.
Mining companies in Zambia, she said, were also guilty of allowing
pollution into the soil and rivers, as well as forcibly relocating
villages away from their ancestral lands.
The Council of Churches in Zambia has been travelling the
country, educating local elders about tax avoidance and how it
contributes to poverty. Sixty-four per cent of Zambians live below
the poverty line.
Dr Matale said these efforts were now bearing fruit, although
the Government did not appreciate the Churches' activism. "When we
ask them why are the people poor in the midst of all this rich
mineral wealth, they say 'Go back to the pulpit, you are
interfering in our politics'.
"We have no message for the people if they are hungry and poor.
We don't believe it's correct for us to preach the word on Sundays
and tell the people that God is good if they didn't have a meal in
the last few days."
British Christians should join her campaign, Dr Matale urged,
and should back Christian Aid's drive for a new law to crack down
on tax avoidance in the UK. "We believe that they also dodge tax
here in the UK. It is for the benefit of all of us that this Bill
goes through Parliament, and that they can put stringent measures
to ensure that it is minimised."
Dr Matale was in the UK to take part in a conference last
weekend on Christianity and politics. She said that believers had
no choice but to hold their governments to account, and get
involved in politics, as Churches in Zambia are doing.
"That's a resounding 'Yes' for Christians to engage in politics.
Politicians must be aware that ...we are watchdogs to make sure
they do it correctly. We don't really have a choice about this but
to involve ourselves in a way that makes a difference in the lives