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Mining: Brazilian government advances plans to lead mineral survey
Brasília advances plans to lead mineral survey
By André Borges | Brasília
The government plans to take responsibility for surveying minerals considered strategic and, from these studies, auction the country's mines. The controversial proposal - which eliminates the current system of authorization for prospecting and mining - is part of the new regulatory framework for the mining sector. The question is whether the Union can handle such bold changes.
The plan is to have mapping of Brazilian deposits carried out by the Companhia de Pesquisa de Recursos Minerais (CPRM), a state-owned agency linked to the Ministry of Mines and Energy (MME), which has the task of organizing the geological knowledge of the country. Today, mineral exploration is done primarily by the private sector, mainly small businesses that conduct research and then sell their projects to major mining companies.
Through the Access to Information Act, Valor has obtained data on CPRM’s structure and its limitations. Over the past five years, the number of CPRM’s employees practically has not changed. Today the agency has 1,474 permanent employees and 456 contractors. The annual budget, which in 2009 was R$307 million, reached R$468 million this year. Despite the growth, some experts consider that the amount is still low to carry out the new project.
CPRM said that it"already has made this diagnosis and noted the need for expansion" of its staff. The agency has been authorized to recruit, through public tender, 355 professionals from different areas. Today, most CPRM’s researchers (184 people) are focused on hydrometeorological issues. Only 130 professionals work in geological surveys.
Asked about the impact of proposed changes, the company said that, once confirmed, "there will be certainly the need to increase the budget. This costs review, however, will depend on the volume of Areas of Relevant Mineral Interest (Arim), which will be under its responsibility. "CPRM has been depleted for a long time. The scenario shows that they are trying to operationalize the state-owned agency, but [the intention] falls far short of what is intended. The company is able to assume the role that today belongs to the private sector”, says Bruno Feigelson, mining expert and partner at Ribeiro Lima Advogados. "There is a clear move to try to nationalize mineral exploration in the country. Is this really the government’s role, focusing on mineral exploration? See that oil prospecting goes in the opposite direction, giving room for companies”, he says.
This is not a simple endeavor. Data from the Brazilian Mining Institute (Ibram) point out that, to date, less than 30% of the country is known by geological surveys according to a scale appropriated to the activity. Last year, investments in mineral research totaled $321 million in Brazil, while Peru, which has a territory seven times smaller, invested $535 million.
The government's decision affects not only the future of small surveying companies (juniors, as they are known). The industry’s concern is that, in some way, the government takes over studies already conducted and sent by companies to the National Department of Mineral Research (DNPM).
In an interview with Valor, Edison Lobão, minister of Mines and Energy, said "CPRM today has the largest collection of geological and mineral resources of Latin America" and keeps "a complete database with geological surveys throughout Brazil.”
Mr. Lobão says CPRM has obtained authorization from the Ministry of Planning to conduct its tender, which should take place in August. Among the new professionals, the government will select 208 new geosciences researchers "to strengthen the technical staff and meet the current institutional functions of CPRM and those arising from the new legislation."
According to the MME, CPRM’s geological mapping activities, which have been included in the Growth Acceleration Program (PAC), are up to date. By the end of 2014, the agency wants to map about 900,000 square kilometers of the national territory, expanding by 25% the areas currently covered by geological maps. Aerial-geophysical surveys, which also generate important data on geology and mineral resources, are expected to be completed next year, covering over 1.4 million square kilometers.
Although betting on CPRM’s ability to take the national research, the government has taken steps to ensure the implementation of the studies. The agency has asked the Ministry of Planning to make "adjustments in its institutional law." Changes will allow CPRM to bid services related to the company’s end activities, i.e., outsource its work. Besides that, CPRM can use a “special regime for contracting specialized technical services.”
Meanwhile, the government has changed the industry’s rules through ministerial orders. This week DNPM reduced the deadline for companies to do their mineral researches. Time dropped to one year from three years. The government says that it has not given up the new regulatory frame and that, by the end of June, the promised project will be sent to Congress.