2015 Financial Provision Regulations, and Pre-existing Rehabilitation Provisions

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)).

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A Primer – Financial Provisions for Environmental Rehabilitation

On 20 November 2015 the Financial Provisioning Regulations 2015 was published and became effective (GN R1147 in GG 39425 of 20 November 2015).

The regulations intend to regulate the financial provisions that holders of rights and permits must give in terms of the National Environmental Management Act, No 107 of 1998 (NEMA) for the cost associated with the management, rehabilitation and remediation of environmental impacts that result from prospecting, exploration, mining or production operations that are undertaken in South Africa (regulation 2 and 3).

This note highlights some of the regulations that holders of rights and permits should be aware of. A note setting out the transitional arrangements for financial provisions can be found here.

The Requirement to provide a Financial Provision

Before conducting any prospecting or mining for minerals, or exploration or production of petroleum resources, a person must be grant granted an environmental authorisation in terms of NEMA (section 5A(a) of the Mineral and Petroleum Resources Development Act, No 28 of 2002 (MPRDA).

One requirement of being granted the environmental authorisation is that the applicant must provide the prescribed financial provision (section 24P(1) of NEMA). This financial provision is intended to cater for the rehabilitation, closure and on-going post decommissioning management of negative environmental impacts that may arise from the operations.

No prospecting or mining for minerals, or exploration or production of petroleum resources can take place unless the financial provision is in place and an environmental authorisation has been granted.

Methods that can be used to provide the Financial Provision

There are three financial vehicles that can be used to give the necessary financial provision. These vehicles can be used individually or as a combination. They are (regulation 8(1)):

  • financial guarantee issued by a registered bank, insurer or underwriter;
  • cash that must be deposited into an account administered by the Minister of Mineral Resources (“Minister“); or
  • a contribution to a trust fund established specifically for this purpose, provided that:
    • the trust fund can’t be used for annual rehabilitation, or for the final rehabilitation, decommissioning and closure at the end of life of the operations (regulation 8(1)(c)(i)); and
    • the trust is established in terms of a trust deed that complies with the prescribed format (regulation 8(7)).

Quantum of the Financial Provision

The financial provision must be equal to the actual costs for implementing the following plans and reports for a period of at least 10 years (regulation 7):

  • rehabilitation and remediation, as reflected in the “annual rehabilitation plan” (regulation 5(a) and 6(a));
  • decommissioning and closure at the end of life of the operations, as reflected in the “final rehabilitation, decommissioning and mine closure plan” (regulation 5(b) and 6(b)); and
  • remediation of latent and residual environmental impacts, including the pumping and treatment of polluted or extraneous water, as reflected in the “environmental risk assessment report” (regulation 5(c) and 6(c)).

These plans and reports are prescribed in the regulations (appendix 3, 4 and 5), so care must be taken to make sure that the plans and reports are compliant, and that they contain the prescribed minimum information (regulation 12(1), (2), and (3)).

The quantum must be determined by a specialist (regulation 9(1)), and in the determination the liability can’t be deferred against any assets at mine closure, or mine infrastructure salvage value (regulation 9(2)).

If the Minister is not satisfied with the determination, the Minister may request that the determination or assessment be:

  • adjusted to a satisfactory amount;
  • reviewed externally by another specialist; or
  • confirmed by an independent assessor (regulation 14(2)(c)).

The holder of the right or permit is responsible for all costs related to the determination or assessment of the financial provision (regulation 14(3)).

Compulsory Annual Review and Adjustment by the Holder

An annual review of the adequacy of the financial provision must be done (regulation 11(2)), and must be submitted within 3 months of the end of the company’s financial year (regulation 11(3)(c)(ii)). This period can be extended by a maximum of 3 months if an application for extension, with reasons, is submitted to the Minister (regulation 12(7) and (8)).

The results of the assessment must:

  • be audited and signed by an independent auditor;
  • be included in the “environmental audit report” prepared according to the Environmental Impact Assessment Regulations 2014;
  • be signed off by the chief executive officer, or person appointed in a similar position, and
  • be submitted to the Minister (regulation 11(3) and 13(3)).

The independent auditor’s declaration must reconcile the financial provision with the estimates of rehabilitation exposure and liabilities (regulation 12(5)), and must include any contingent liabilities and restricted cash that may be associated with the financial provision liability (regulation 12(6)).

If there is a shortfall in the quantum of the financial provision, the financial provision must be increased within 90 days from the signature of the auditor’s report (regulation 11(4)(a)).

Any excess in the quantum of the financial provision can only be deferred against future assessments (regulation 11(4)(b)).

The Public’s Right of Access to Information

The holder of a right or permit must make its environmental management programme available to the public (regulation 13(1)).

The environmental management programme must:

  • be published on the holders public website, if the holder has one;
  • be available at the site office of the operations; and
  • be accessible to the public on request.

Placing Operations under Care and Maintenance

A holder of a right or permit must lodge an application with the Minister if they want to place their operations under care and maintenance (regulation 16(1)). No operation may be placed under care and maintenance without the Ministers approval (regulation 16(6)).

The application to place operations under care and maintenance must include:

  • an explanation of the merits of placing the operation under care and maintenance; and
  • a “care and maintenance plan“, that contains the minimum prescribed information (regulation 16(2) and appendix 6).

Permission to place an operation under care and maintenance can be granted for a maximum of 5 years, with or without conditions, and at the end of this period the approval will be reviewed by the Minister (regulation 16(4)).

The care and maintenance plan must be audited and updated annually (regulation 16(5)(b)).

The Withdrawal of the Financial Guarantee by Financial Institutions

If a financial institution wants to withdraw the guarantee that it has provided for the financial provision:

  • 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 of the right or permit 60 days to provide an alternate arrangement for the required financial provision (regulation 8(4)).

If the holder of the right or permit 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 of the right or permit does provide an alternate arrangement then the Minister must release the first guarantee within 7 days of receiving the alternate financial provision.


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A Primer – Mineral And Petroleum Resources Royalty Act

The Mineral And Petroleum Resources Royalty Act, No 28 of 2008 (MPRRA) imposes compulsory royalty payments that must be paid by any person who transfers a mineral resource that was extracted in South Africa (section 2). The royalty is paid to the South African Government (section 2).

The registration of persons that must make royalty payments, and the administration of the royalty payments, are regulated in accordance with the separate Mineral And Petroleum Resources Royalty (Administration) Act, No 28 of 2008 (MPRRAA).

Imposition of Royalty Charges

A royalty is imposed on an extractor when:

  • there is a transfer;
  • of a mineral resource;
  • that was extracted within South Africa (section 2).

The point where the royalty is imposed is on the “transfer”, not the extraction, of the mineral resource (section 2). “Transfer” is defined as the first instance that the mineral resource is disposed of, consumed, stolen, destroyed, or lost (section 1).

This definition ensures that a royalty is imposed only once on the first transfer, even in cases where there are a series of transfers after the minerals extraction.

Royalty Rate

There are two different royalty rates that may be applied, one applicable to refined mineral resources, and the other applicable to unrefined mineral resources (section 3). The two rates are:

  • refined mineral resources:
    • 0.5 + [earnings before interest and taxes / (gross sales in respect of refined mineral resources X 12.5)] X 100;
    • maximum rate of 5% (section 4(1) as read with section 4(3)(a)).
  • unrefined mineral resources:
    • 0.5 + [earnings before interest and taxes / (gross sales in respect of unrefined mineral resources X 9)] X 100;
    • maximum rate of 7% (section 4(2) as read with section 4(3)(b)).

The MPRRA sets out specific formulas that must be used when calculating earnings before interest and taxes (“EBIT”) and gross sales (section 5 and 6 respectively). These formulas excludes the inclusion of certain expenditures, and may result in different results being reached compared to the use of the traditional accounting formulas.

The MPRRA also includes provisions that may exempt certain extractors, or provide relief under certain circumstances.

Exemption for Small Business

The MPRRA exempts small business extractors from royalties if they comply with various requirements (section 7).

An extractor is exempted from royalties if:

  • the gross sales of the extractor is R10 million or less;
  • the royalty that would be imposed for that year is R100,000 or less; and
  • the extractor is a resident of South Africa for income tax purposes (section 7(1)(a) to (c)).

This exemption does not apply if:

  • the extractor holds more than a 50% interest in another extractor;
  • any other extractor holds a right to participate in more than 50% of the profits of the extractor;
  • any person holds the right to participate in more than 50 per cent of the profits of the extractor and any other extractor; or
  • the extractor is an unincorporated body of persons (section 7(2)(a) to (d) as read with section 4 of the MPRRAA).

Exemption for Sampling Activities

An extractor is exempt from paying royalties on samples won in the course of prospecting or exploration operations for the purposes of testing, identification, analysis, and sampling, provided that the gross sales of those mineral resources doesn’t exceed R100,000 (section 8).

Rollover Relief for Transfers between Extractors

When mineral resources are transferred from one extractor to another, the transfer will be exempt from royalties if:

  • both extractors are registered to pay royalties in terms of the MPRRAA; and
  • both extractors agree in writing that the rollover relief will be applied (section 8A).

Rollover Relief for disposals involving Going Concerns

When there is a transfer of a mineral resource between two extractors as part of a disposal of a business as a going concern is not regarded as a transfer for purposes of payment of royalties.


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A Primer – Mineral and Petroleum Resources Development Act

Since 1 May 2004 the Mineral and Petroleum Resources Development Act, No 28 of 2002 (MPRDA) has been the principle piece of legislation that regulates the South African mineral and petroleum sector. This act will generally be applicable to any project that involves the any prospecting for or mining of minerals, or any exploration for or production of petroleum resources.

The MPRDA was enacted with the objectives of promoting local and rural development, ensuring equal access to minerals, and eradicating discriminatory practices in the industry, while still guaranteeing security of tenure to participants in the industry and increasing the industries international competitiveness.

One of the fundamental changes that were brought about by the MPRDA was the abolishment of the right for persons to privately own minerals and petroleum rights. The state is now the custodian of all mineral and petroleum resources and these resources are held by the state for the benefit of all South Africans (section 3(1)). To ensure security of tenure for holders of mineral and petroleum rights that were held under the previous mineral regime, these holders were granted a five year period to convert their rights to a right issued in terms of the MPRDA.

The Requirement to be granted a Licence for the Intended Activity

Before conducting any prospecting or mining of minerals, or exploration or production of petroleum resources, a person must first be granted a permit or right from the Department of Mineral Resources authorising the intended activity.

The MPRDA regulates minerals and petroleum as defined in the act. These terms are defined broadly but the definitions do contain exceptions.

A mineral is defined as any solid, liquid or gaseous substance occurring naturally in or on the earth or in or under water that was formed by or subjected to geological processes. Importantly, the definition of “mineral” includes sand, stone, rock, gravel, clay and soil, and all minerals in residue stockpiles or residue deposits (including dumps, debris, discard, tailings and slimes) (section 1). The definition of mineral excludes water and peat (section 1).

Petroleum is defined as any liquid, solid hydrocarbon or combustible gas existing in a natural condition in the earth’s crust. The definition excludes coal, bituminous shale, stratified deposits from which oil can be obtained by destructive, distillation, and gasses rising from marshes or other surface deposits (section 1).

The Licence Application Procedure

Before conducting any prospecting or mining of minerals, or exploration or production of petroleum resources, a person must:

  • be granted a right by the Minister of Mineral Resources authorising the intended activity in terms of the MPRDA (section 5A(b));
  • be granted an environmental authorisation in terms of the National Environmental Management Act (NEMA) (section 5A(a));
  • conduct consultations with all landowners and other persons that could be interested in, or affected by, the intended operations; and
  • give the landowner or occupier of the land at least twenty one days’ notice of the intended activities (section 5A(c)).

The application procedure for a right is designed to ensure that the objectives of the MPRDA are promoted by ensuring that all interested and affected parties are notified of the application and that the black economic empowerment objectives in the MPRDA are also promoted.

All interested and affected parties must be notified of the pending application and are called upon to raise any objection that they may have against the application (section 10). The applicant is also required to hold consultations with the landowners and occupiers of the property and all other interested and affected parties (sections 16(4)(b), 22(4)(b) and 27(5)(a)).

Broad Based Black Economic Empowerment Requirements (Local Participation)

The black economic empowerment objectives in the MPRDA are promoted during the application procedure. The empowerment objectives require the promotion of access to resources and the expansion of opportunities for disadvantaged persons, women and communities to enter into the mineral and petroleum industry.

Before a prospecting right, mining right, exploration right or production right is granted the minister must be satisfied that the granting of the right will substantially and meaningfully expand the opportunities for these groups (sections 17(1)(f), 23(1)(h), 80(1)(g) and 84(1)(i) as read with section 2(d)).

The empowerment requirements are expanded on in the Broad-Based Socio-Economic Empowerment Charter for the South African Mining and Metals Industry that was published in 2010. The charter has various elements that must be complied with to ensure that the project will satisfy the empowerment requirements and qualify for a licence.

Generally, in order for the empowerment objectives to be satisfied and the application to be granted a minimum of twenty six per cent of the project should be owned by historically disadvantaged South Africans, and historically disadvantaged South Africans should participate in the management of the company.

Categories of Licences that can be granted in terms of the MPRDA

The following licences can be granted in terms of the MPRDA:

To prospect for minerals:

  • A reconnaissance permission:
    • Granted for a non-renewable period of 1 year (section 14).
    • Allows only for the search of minerals by geological, geophysical and photo geological surveys or through the use of remote sensing techniques (section 5A as read with section 1).
  • A prospecting right:
    • Granted for a maximum period of 5 years (section 17(6)).
    • Renewable for 1 further single period that can’t exceed 3 years (section 18(4)).
    • Allows for prospecting by any means, including methods that disturb the surface or subsurface of the earth, whether on land, under sea or under water (section 5A read with section 1).
    • Diamonds and bulk samples of other minerals that are found during the prospecting operations can only be disposed of with the consent of the minister (section 20(2)). This consent is typically granted in the form of a bulk sampling permit.

To mine for minerals

  • A mining right:
    • Granted for a maximum period of 30 years (section 23(6)).
    • Renewable for further periods. Each further period may not exceed 30 years (section 24(4)).
  • A mining permit:
    • A mining permit is intended for small scale mining operations and may only be issued if (i) the mineral can be mined optimally in 2 years; and (ii) the area is 5 hectares or less.
    • Granted for a maximum period of 2 years (section 27(8)(a)).
    • May be renewed a maximum of 3 times. Each renewal may not be longer than 1 year (section 27(8)(b)).

To explore for petroleum

  • A reconnaissance permit:
    • Granted for a non-renewable period of 1 year (section 74(4)).
    • Allows only for the search of petroleum by geological, geophysical and photo geological surveys or through the use of remote sensing techniques (section 5A as read with section 1).
  • A technical cooperation permit:
    • Granted for a non-renewable period of 1 year (section 77(4)).
    • Allows the holder to conduct a technical cooperation study and grants the holder the exclusive right to later apply for an exploration right over the area (section 77(4) and section 78(1)).
  • An exploration right:
    • Granted for a maximum period of 3 years (section 80(5)).
    • May be renewed a maximum of 3 times. Each renewal may not be longer than 2 years (section 81(5)).

To produce petroleum

  • A production right:
    • Granted for a maximum period of 30 years (section 84(4)).
    • Renewable for further periods. Each further period may not exceed 30 years (section 85(4)).

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A Guide to the Mineral and Petroleum Industry in South Africa

What laws apply to the mineral and petroleum industry in South Africa? What potential pitfalls must a person look out for when they consider entering into these industries in South Africa?

Unfortunately this isn’t an easy or quick question to answer because the applicable laws and regulations will depend on the projects scope and characteristics – the intended mining or production activities, infrastructure requirements and the project location. But there are two acts that can serve as a starting point. The principle act regulating the mineral and petroleum sector is the Mineral and Petroleum Resources Development Act (MPRDA), and the principle act regulating environmental management is the National Environmental Management Act (NEMA).

In any project it may, however, be necessary to consider various other laws and regulations. The purpose of this note is to give a starting point for a more in depth exploration of the laws applicable to the mineral and petroleum industry.

The following list has links to discussions on some of the acts and regulations in South Africa that may be considered. This list is unfortunately incomplete and non-exhaustive.

Mineral and Petroleum Licensing and Permitting

Environmental Management

Water Management

Taxation

  • Income Tax Act, No 58 of 1962 (Income Tax Act);
  • Mineral and Petroleum Resources Royalty Act, No 28 of 2008 (Royalty Act);
  • Mineral and Petroleum Resources Royalty (Administration) Act, No 29 of 2008 (Royalty Admin Act).

Industry Specific Legislation:

  • Diamonds Act, No 56 of 1986 (Diamonds Act);
  • Petroleum Products Act, No 120 of 1977 (Petroleum Products Act);
  • Precious Metals Act, No 37 of 2005 (Precious Metals Act).

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When the Minister of Mineral Resources Ignores You

If a commercial transaction is concluded with a person that holds a right issued by the Department of Mineral Resources (“the department”) care must be exercised to ensure that the required regulatory approvals needed for the implementation of the transaction has been granted.

Examples of commercial transactions that need ministerial approval in terms of the Mineral and Petroleum Resources Development Act No 28 of 2002 (MPRDA) before they can be implemented include agreements that would result in:

  • a transfer a prospecting right or mining right, for example a sale, cession or donation of the right;
  • a transfer any interest in prospecting right or mining right, for example the transfer of an undivided share in a right; and
  • a transfer a controlling interest in a company holds a prospecting right or mining right, for example a sale of shares agreement or an issue and allotment of new shares resulting in a change of control (section 11(1) of the MPRDA).

To get consent to implement these transactions a formal application must be submitted to the department. Unfortunately, the legislation does not provide any maximum time limits that are applicable when considering the application. In most cases an application submitted to the department is approved without too much delay, but in some cases months, if not years, may pass without the application for consent being considered.

Delays in the approval process can have drastic consequences on commercial transactions because without the required consent they can’t become effective and can’t be implemented by the parties.

What can a person do if there is a significant delay in the approval process after the application for ministerial consent has been submitted?

The most common answer is for a person to bring an application to court, and ask the court to grant an order forcing the department to perform its duty. This court relief is referred to as a mandatory interdict, or a mandamus.

In many situations this relief would be a sufficient; the matter is referred back to the department for consideration within a court specified time line.

The purpose of this article is, however, to explore alternate legal remedies that could be used if there is a significant delay in the approval process. Particularly:

  • Can a person bring a court application for a court order granting an application that was submitted in terms of the MPRDA, without the need to refer the matter back to the minister for consideration?

The General Right to Just Administrative Action

Any action taken by an organ of state must be (i) lawful; (ii) reasonable; and (iii) procedurally fair. If an action does not meet with these requirements a person who has been affected by the action has the right to approach a court to “review” the infringing action, and ask the court for appropriate relief.

This right of judicial review stems from the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa 1996 (the Constitution), and is given effect by the Promotion of Administrative Justice Act 3 of 2000 (PAJA) (in particular see section 33 of the Constitution).

Both actions and inactions of the government can be reviewed by a court. This is because an “administrative action” is defined to include any decision taken, or the failure or refusal to take a decision, by an organ of state when exercising a public power or performing a public function in terms of legislation (the definition of “administrative action” as read with the definition of “failure” contained in section 1).

A court has wide powers when reviewing an administrative decision (see section 8 of PAJA). In cases where the government’s administrative action amounts to the failure or refusal to take a decision, then the court may grant any order that it just and equitable, including an order:

  • directing the taking of a decision; or
  • declaring the rights of the parties in relation to the taking of a decision.

Accordingly, if the minister fails to consider an application that has been submitted by a person in terms of the MPRDA, the ministers inaction will be “an administrative action”, and falls within the ambit of PAJA. Under these circumstances a person should be able to approach the court for appropriate relief.

The right to approach a court directly for relief in terms of PAJA is, however, curtailed if the applicable legislation, such as the MPRDA, contains an internal appeal procedure (section 6(2)(g) and 7(2)(a) of PAJA).

Court Action Versus the Department’s Internal Appeal Process

A person’s right to approach the court to review an administrative decision in terms of PAJA is not unlimited. A person can’t approach a court until any internal appeal process in the applicable law, such as the MPRDA, has been exhausted (section 7(2)(a) of PAJA).

It is intended that a person’s first port of call should be the legislated internal appeal procedure. A person can only approach a court if the applicable act doesn’t have an appeal procedure, or after the appeal procedure has been followed.

Exceptions to this rule do, however, exist, and a person is entitled to approach the court directly without first exhausting the internal appeal procedure is there are “exceptional circumstances” (section 7(2)(c) of PAJA).

To phrase these requirements differently, a court can be approached to review an administrative action if:

  • an internal appeal was submitted but it was unsuccessful (section 7(2)(a) of PAJA); or
  • the particular law has no internal appeal procedure that is applicable; or
  • the particular law has an internal appeal procedure, but there are exceptional circumstances that are applicable, the court exempts the applicant from having to follow the internal appeal procedure (section 7(2)(c) of PAJA).

What is the correct legal process if the minister fails to consider an application that has been submitted by a person in terms of the MPRDA?

This will depend on whether the MPRDA contains an internal remedy that can be relied on when the minister fails to take any action.

Can the MPRDA’s Internal Appeal Procedure be used when the Minister Fails to Take a Decision?

Is there an internal appeal in situations where the minister fails to take a decision, or does the internal appeal procedure in the MPRDA only apply to decisions that have actually been taken? Is it correct to argue that the internal appeal procedure must be followed in a situation where the minister fails to make a decision in terms of the MPRDA?

If the internal appeal procedure doesn’t apply to a failure to take a decision then there will be no requirement to institute an internal appeal. In these circumstances a person will be entitled to approach the court immediately without having to prove that there are exceptional circumstances that allow the court to exempt the person from the internal appeal requirements.

In order to answer this question the internal appeal procedure that is set out in the MPRDA must be examined.

The Internal Appeal Procedure in terms of the Mineral and Petroleum Resources Development Act

The MPRDA has an internal appeal process that can be relied on in some circumstances (section 96). This internal appeal process can be summarised as follows:

  • A person is prohibited from applying to court for the review of an “administrative decision” of the department until they have exhausted the remedies set out in the MPRDA (section 96(3)).
  • A person whose rights or legitimate expectations have been materially and adversely affected, or who is aggrieved by any “administrative decision”, may appeal within 30 days of becoming aware of such administrative decision (section 96(1)), setting out:
    • the actions appealed against; and
    • the grounds on which the appeal is based (regulation 74(2)).
  • A copy of the appeal will be dispatched by the department to:
    • the person in the department responsible for the administrative decision, who must then within 21 days submit written reasons for the administrative decision appealed against (regulations 74(5)(a) and 74(6)); and
    • any other person, whose rights may be affected by the outcome of the appeal, who must then within 21 days submit a replying submission indicating the extent and nature of his or her rights, and how they will be affected by the appeal (regulations 74(5)(a) and 74(7)).
  • The department will then dispatch the written reasons and any replying submissions that it received to the appellant, and the appellant is then afforded 21 days to reply to these reasons and submissions (regulation 74(8)).
  • Within 30 days from the receipt of the appellant’s response, the minister or director-general must either:
    • confirm the administrative decision concerned;
    • set aside the administrative decision concerned;
    • amend the administrative decision concerned; or
    • substitute any other administrative decision for the administrative decision concerned (regulation 74(9).
  • The lodging of an appeal does not suspend the administrative decision, unless it is suspended by the director-general or the minister (section 96(2)(a)).

Does this Procedure Apply when the Minister Fails to Take a Decision?

As discussed, a person does not have the right to approach a court to review any administrative action unless any internal appeal procedure in the MPRDA has been exhausted or unless there are exceptional circumstances that allow the court to exempt the person from the internal appeal requirements.

The MPRDA does have an internal appeal process (section 96), but does the MPRDA’s internal appeal procedure apply in situations where the minister fails to take a decision?

An “administrative action” is defined in PAJA to include the failure to take a decision, but the MPRDA’s appeal procedure doesn’t use this term. The MPRDA’s internal appeal procedure states that it applies to “administrative decisions”, a term that is not defined.

The wording and context of the internal appeal procedure supports a conclusion that the term “administrative decision” can only relate to decisions that have actually been taken, and doesn’t apply to a failure to take a decision:

  • The MPRDA requires that any “decision taken” must be taken within a reasonable time, must be in writing, and must be accompanied by written reasons for the decision (sections 6(1) and (2)). In a situation where the minister has failed to consider an application there will be no “decision” taken. This non-decision is not capable of being reduced to writing, and similarly it will not be possible to give any reasons for the non-decision.
  • An internal appeal must be lodged within 30 days of becoming aware of the administrative decision (section 96(1)). It is impossible to comply with this requirement if no positive action is taken, especially when the MPRDA does not prescribe a fixed duration during which the decision must be taken. If the minister has an indeterminable amount of time to consider the application, when must this 30 day period be calculated from?
  • The internal appeal procedure is worded to apply to an administrative decision that “was taken” (section 96(1)(b)). The language of the section clearly implies that there must have been some form of act by the minister, not just a failure to take a decision.
  • The internal appeal procedure does not automatically suspend the decision that is appeal against (section 96(2)(a)). In a situation where there has been no decision at all, this provision can’t be applied because there is nothing to suspend.
  • As part of the internal appeal procedure, a person must be provided with written reason by the person who took the decision that is appealed against (regulations 74(5) and 74(6)). In a case where no decision has been taken at all, it is not possible for the department to comply with the regulation and give “written reasons for the administrative decision”.

The conclusion that the term “administrative decision” can only relate to decisions that have actually been taken, and not to a failure to take a decision, can also be demonstrated by considering what the final appeal procedure could be if the term “administrative decision” did include the failure to take an action.

  • What would the legal situation then be if the minister either failed or refused to consider the appeal in the required time lines?
  • An internal appeal would be submitted, and it would request that the minister either (i) amends the department’s failure to take a decision; or (ii) substitutes the failure to take a decision with a positive decision to grant the application (regulations 74(9)(c) and (d)).
  • What would the legal situation then be if the minister ignored an application that was submitted an internal appeal would have to be lodged with the department against this failure to take a decision.
    • Would this failure to consider the appeal fall also under the definition of an “administrative decision” in terms of the MPRDA? Would a person be prevented from applying to a court to review the failure to consider the appeal until the internal remedies in the MPRDA have been exhausted, requiring the appellant to lodge a second internal appeal against the ministers failure to determine the first appeal (section 96(3))?
    • Must the person now bring an application to court, and ask the court to grant an order forcing the minister to perform their duty and determine the first appeal (ie a mandamus)? If so, then the person has now expended considerable time and resources to bring a court action just to place it in the same position where it was immediately after lodging the appeal, namely its appeal has been lodged and the minister is now compelled (in terms of the court order this time) to comply with the required time lines.
  • When the minister considers the appeal, the minister may decide that the appeal fails, and to substitute the failure to take a decision with a decision to refuse the application.
    • In this case the person will then have to lodge an internal appeal against the ministers decision to refuse the application.
    • Once the internal appeal procedure has been exhausted, the applicant would then only be entitled to approach a court to review the administrative action.

This process is a far cry away from that an internal appeal process should achieve; a quick and cost effective method to resolve irregularities before instituting legal action.

I would submit that the term “administrative decision” in terms of the MPRDA has a narrower definition than “administrative action” under PAJA, and that this term should not be interpreted to include situations where there has been a failure to take a decision, but only to include situations where a decision has indeed been taken which is prejudicial.

The Alternative: Reliance on Exceptional Circumstances to Bypass an Internal Appeal Process

Even if the above argument is rejected, PAJA allows a person to bypass any applicable internal appeal process if there are exceptional circumstances that would allow the court to exempt the non-compliance with the internal appeal procedure (section 7(2)(c)).

It would be prudent for any person who wants to bring a court action without first lodging an internal appeal to ask the court to grant an exemption from having to lodge in internal appeal, as an alternative to the argument that there is no internal appeal.

The “exceptional circumstances” that are typically accepted by the courts when granting an exemption from complying with internal appeal procedures are discussed in the next section.

Appropriate Legal Action and Possible Relief

If the minister ignores an application that has been submitted and does not consider it at all, an affected person will be able to approach the court in terms of PAJA directly without first exhausting the internal appeal procedure because the internal appeal procedure will not be applicable in these circumstances. As an alternative, an affected person can ask the court for an exemption from the internal appeal process if there are exceptional circumstances that are applicable.

An affected person can approach the court as soon as there has been an unreasonable delay in taking a decision (sections 6(2)(g) and 6(3)(a) of PAJA). It is possible to ask the court to grant any order that it just and equitable (section 8(2) of PAJA), including an order:

  • substituting or varying an administrative action (section 8(1)(c)(ii)(aa));
  • directing the taking of a decision (section 8(2)(a)); or
  • declaring the rights of the affected person (section 8(2)(b). (It might be noted that the legal action listed has relief in terms of both sections 8(1) and 8(2) of PAJA, even though the failure to take an administrative action falls in the ambit of section 8(2). I submit that the wording of section 8(2), permitting the grant of any order that is just and equitable, would not preclude the court from substituting its decision where the minister has failed to act. See the discussion by C Hoexter (Hoexter, C. 2012. Administrative Law in South Africa. Cape Town: Juta, at pg. 557) for further argument in support of this submission).

There has been a lot of recent discussion about the legal doctrine of the separation of powers; how the courts (judiciary) should not overstep its role and perform acts that fall into the realm that should be occupied ministers (the executive). PAJA does, however, directly empower the court to come to the aid of a person when the executive acts unlawfully, and allows the court to effectively make a decision on behalf of the minister when the minister fails to take a decision in a reasonable time (see sections 8(1)(c)(ii)(aa) and 8(2)(a) of PAJA; de Ville, JR. 2003. Judicial Review of Administrative Action in South Africa. Durban: LexisNexis Butterworths, at pg. 370; Hoexter, C. 2012. Administrative Law in South Africa. Cape Town: Juta, at pg. 552).

There are four situations where a court will be prepared to substitute its decision with the decision of the minister, without referring the matter back to the minister for decision. These are:

  • when the end result is a forgone conclusion;
  • when any further delay will cause unjustifiable prejudice;
  • when the original decision maker has exhibited bias or incompetence; or
  • where the court is as well qualified as the original authority to make the decision (Hoexter, 2012, pgs. 552 – 557).

For many applications the MPRDA doesn’t allow the minister to use any discretion when considering the application. The power granted to the minister is not a discretionary power; the minister must grant consent if the requirements for transfer are complied with. If the requirements are met the result is a forgone conclusion; the minister must grant the application.

Applications where the minister is compelled to grant a compliant application include applications for consent to transfer a right (section 11(2)), applications for prospecting rights (section 17(1)) and applications for mining rights (section 23(1)).

For these categories of applications it can be argued that, (i) the court is as qualified as the minister to make the decision, and (ii) that the end result of the application is a foregone conclusion. Once the court has had the opportunity to review and consider the application that was submitted, the court will be as well qualified as the minister to determine if the application placed before it meets the objective criteria the applicable section, and grant the application if all the requirements are met.

In addition to meeting these two requirements for substitution of a decision by the court, a person may also be able to advance reasons to show the court that further delay will cause unjustifiable prejudice.

Based on these considerations I submit that a person would be entitled to approach a court for direct relief and ask the court to substitute its decision with the minister’s decision.

Conclusion (Too Long; Didn’t Read)

What should be done if an application has been submitted to the Department of Mineral Resources, and the department has failed to take any action or consider the application?

  • If time is not of the essence in the underlying commercial transaction, a court application can be brought asking for an order to force the department to perform its duty. The matter would then be referred back to the department for consideration within a court specified time line.
  • If time is of the essence, a person can approach a court for direct relief and ask the court to grant the application, effectively substituting its decision with the minister’s decision. In order to be successful it must be argued that:
    • the MPRDA’s internal appeal process does not apply to situations where the minister fails to take a decision, alternatively that there are exceptional circumstances that would allow the court to exempt the non-compliance with the internal appeal procedure; and
    • the end result is a forgone conclusion; or
    • when any further delay will cause unjustifiable prejudice; or
    • when the original decision maker has exhibited bias or incompetence; or
    • where the court is as well qualified as the original authority to make the decision.

This work by Clinton Pavlovic is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.