WEALTHY resource companies operating overseas are tapping into Australian taxpayer funds to set up aid projects potentially benefiting their corporate social responsibility credentials.
Aid and mining watchdogs have expressed concerns about the practice, arguing the corporations are wealthy enough to bankroll their own aid and that linking donations to controversial mine operations is a conflict of interest.
Nine mining companies all operating in Africa have been linked to the successful applications via the Foreign Affairs Department’s Direct Aid Program – a scheme that allows heads of missions to give up to $30,000 to local causes.
About $215,000 of taxpayers’ money went to the mining company-conceived projects last financial year, including a school for the deaf, providing trade skill training to local workers, establishing women’s groups and digging wells.
Two applications involved uranium mining companies, Paladin Energy in Malawi and Bannerman Resources in Namibia.
Other successful applicants included the nobium miner Globe Metals and Mining in Malawi, gold miner Endeavour Mining Corporation in Ghana and copper miner Mawson West in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
The coalminer Intra Energy Corporation, gold miner Resolute Mining in Tanzania and Middle Island Resources, which is involved in gold mining in Burkina Faso, also were associated with successful applications.
Paladin, which has been the subject of some controversy in Malawi over job cuts, was last year linked to a funding application through its employees’ charity – Friends and Employees of Paladin for African Children.
Paladin’s (African) Ltd general manager, international affairs, Greg Walker, who was invited late last year to be Australia’s honorary consul to Malawi, was involved in the process, according to 2012 correspondence from Australia’s ambassador to Zimbabwe, Matthew Neuhaus, to Mr Walker. The letter obtained under freedom of information confirmed Mr Walker’s successful application for the employees’ charity funding proposal.
The Aidwatch director Thulsi Narayanasamy said it was not the place of the Australian aid program to fund the corporate social responsibility programs of wealthy mining companies.
The Mineral Policy Institute’s executive director, Charles Roche, said the programs created a conflict of interest with aid linked to the mining proposal rather than the fact it was coming from Australia.
But DFAT and the companies rejected the claims. “It is in everybody’s interest to encourage Australian companies to operate in a socially and environmentally responsible manner,” a DFAT spokeswoman said.
Several companies said they spent large amounts on aid which the DAP funding merely complemented.