To prospect or mine for minerals, or to explore for or produce petroleum resources, a person must have have a licence granted in terms of the MPRDA (the principle act governing mining and production rights) and an environmental authorisation granted in terms of National Environmental Management Act, No 107 of 1998 (NEMA) (the principle act governing environmental management). To get these a guarantee, termed a “financial provision”, must be given to cover the possible cost associated with the management, rehabilitation and remediation of environmental impacts that result from the operations. The financial provision ensures that there is enough funds available to rehabilitate the environmental impacts that the operations may have had once the operations end.
The financial provisions were regulated by the MPRDA, but in the last few years the laws have been amended to bring the regulation of financial provisions under the ambit of NEMA. The new 2015 Financial Provision Regulations published under NEMA came into effect on 20 November 2015.
Some companies are now in a position where they have given the required financial provision, but under the old MPRDA regulations that are not applicable any more. The question is, what steps must now be taken to comply with the new regulations?
The short answer is that the current financial provision is regarded as being issued and approved in terms of the regulations (regulation 17(4)), but steps must be taken in the very near future to review the financial provision and align it with the new requirements (regulation 17(4)).
Methods used to provide the financial provision under the regulations
The three vehicles that were used under the Mineral and Petroleum Resources Development Act, No 28 of 2002 (MPRDA) to give the financial provision are all still available under the 2015 Financial Provision Regulations (GN R1147 in GG 39425 of 20 November 2015) (the regulation). These are:
- financial guarantee issued by a registered bank, insurer or underwriter;
- cash deposited into an account administered by the Minister of Mineral Resources (Minister); or
- a contribution to a trust fund established specifically for this purpose (MPRDA regulation 53(1) and regulation 8(1)).
Even though the available vehicles haven’t changed, the format of the financial guarantee and trust deed are now prescribed in the regulations (see appendix 1 and 2), and the permissible uses of trusts has been changed by the new regulations. A full discussion of these falls outside the scope of this note.
Time frame to conduct the review
A holder of a right that was issued before 20 November 2015 (a holder) must conduct a review, assessment and adjustment of its financial provision to ensure that it complies with the new regulations (regulation 17(5)):
- within 3 months of the end of its first financial year after November 2015; or
- within 15 months after November 2015 (regulation 17(5)(a) and (b)).
The time frame must be regarded as either/or, so for the first review the holder can choose the most suitable time frame that fits its purposes. The financial provision must then be reviewed annually after the first review (regulation 17(5)(b)).
Procedure to conduct the review
The review, assessment and adjustment of a financial provisions approved under the MPRDA is largely the same as the procedure that is applicable to new financial provisions approved in terms of the regulations (in terms of regulation 17(5) regulation 11 must be applied).
The procedure can be broken down into the following steps.
Step 1: Preparation of the prescribed reports and plans. The holder must prepare the following reports and plans:
- an annual rehabilitation plan setting out the annual requirements for rehabilitation and remediation;
- a final rehabilitation, decommissioning and mine closure plan setting out the requirements for the decommissioning and closure of the at the end of life of the operations; and
- an environmental risk assessment report setting out the requirements for the remediation of latent and residual environmental impacts, including the pumping and treatment of polluted or extraneous water (regulation 11(1)(a), (b) and (c)).
The minimum contents of these plans and reports are prescribed in the regulations (see appendix 3, 4, and 5), so a holder must ensure that the plans and reports are compliant, and that they contain the prescribed minimum information (regulation 12(1), (2), and (3)).
Step 2: Assessment of the adequacy of the current financial provisions. The holder must do an assessment of adequacy in light of the reports and plans, and identify any necessary adjustments that must be made to the financial provisions (regulation 11(2)).
Step 3: Independent audit. The reports, plans and assessment of adequacy must be audited by an independent auditor (regulation 11(3)(a)).
Step 4: Inclusion of the assessment into the environmental audit report. The assessment of adequacy must be included in the environmental audit report that is required in terms of the Environmental Impact Assessment Regulations 2014 (regulation 11(3)(b)).
Step 5: Submission. A holder must submit the following to the Minister:
- the independent auditor’s report that sets out the results of the assessment of adequacy;
- proof of payment or proof of arrangements to make any adjustments to the financial provision; and
- the prescribed environmental and rehabilitation plans and reports (regulation 11(3)(c)).
Approval of the updated financial provision by the Minister
After receiving the updated financial provision, the Minister has 30 days to:
- approve the financial provision;
- refer the provision back to the holder for revision; or
- refuse to approve the financial provision (regulation 17(10)).
If the Minister refuses to approve the updated financial provision he must provide reasons for the refusal, and he may appoint an independent assessor to review the assessment at the cost of the holder (regulation 17(15)(b) and (c)).
If the Minister refuses to approve the updated financial provision the holder is regarded as being non-compliant with section 24P of NEMA (regulation 17(15)(a)).
Procedure to top up a shortfall in the financial provision
If the review and assessment procedure shows that there is a shortfall in the financial provision, the holder must:
- increase the financial provision within 90 days from the date of the audit report (regulation 17(16)(a)); and
- submit proof of payment, or proof of arrangements, to make any adjustments to the financial provision (regulation 17(5) and 11(3)(c)).
The transitional arrangements provide relief to holders if they are unable to increase their financial provision to cover a shortfall. If a holder is not able to increase its financial provision the holder and the Minister may enter into a payment agreement where the holder agrees to increase the financial provision over a period of 5 years or less (regulation 17(7)). The payment agreement must be reviewed annually by the Minister (regulation 17(7)).
Procedure if there is an excess in the financial provision
If the review and assessment procedure shows that the financial provision has an excess of funds, the holder can’t reduce the financial provision, but must defer that excess against future assessments (regulation 17(16)(b)).
Procedure to withdraw a financial guarantees provided under the MPRDA
The regulations that apply to the withdrawal of new financial guarantees approved in terms of the new regulations apply equally to the withdrawal of financial guarantees previously approved under the MPRDA (regulation 17(17)).
If a financial institution wants to withdraw a guarantee:
- the financial institution must give the Minister at least four months written notice of its intention by registered mail (regulation 8(3)(a)); and
- the Minister must then give the holder 60 days to provide an alternate arrangement for the financial provision (regulation 8(4)).
If the holder can’t provide an alternate arrangement within the 60 day period, the Minister must call on the financial guarantee. This money is then held by the Minister until an alternate arrangement can be provided for the financial provision (regulation 8(5)).
If the holder does provide an alternate arrangement then the Minister must release the first guarantee within 7 days of receiving the alternate financial provision (regulation 8(6)).
The public’s right of access to information
The holder must make any approved amendment to its environmental management programme available to the public (regulation 17(19)). This may must be:
- published on the holders public website, if the holder has one;
- available at the site office of the operations; and
- accessible to the public on request (regulation 13(1)).