Colombia Mines Minister aims for greater transparency

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By Peter Kennedy

Colombia Energy Minister Maria Fernanda Suarez.

Colombia Energy Minister Maria Fernanda Suarez is aiming for greater transparency in the way the country’s resources are managed.

She said Colombia hopes to achieve that goal by completing the digital transformation of the country’s National Minerals Agency by the end of 2019.

“We are aiming for full transparency of the land mass,” said Suarez during an interview at this year’s Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada conference in Toronto.

The 44-year-old former pension fund manager was making her first visit to the PDAC conference after being named Colombia’s minister of energy and mines in July, 2018. It is a role that requires her to oversee not only the country’s mining industry, but also its oil and gas sector.

Not surprisingly, she is finding the job to be “pretty challenging.”

Mining executives who are familiar with Colombia say there is little doubt that the country has an enviable geological endowment.

But in recent years, the Latin American country has gained a reputation for messy mining disputes and a sloth-like government bureaucracy that makes it highly challenging for some mining companies to getting permit applications processed in a timely fashion.

The CEO of one TSX listed company with operations in Colombia said he became so frustrated with the permitting situation that he opted to switch his focus from Colombia to the United States.

During the interview with Resource World, Suarez indicated that she is aware of these concerns, but insisted there are “two sides to the story.”

When the digital transformation that is under way at the National Minerals Agency is complete, she said it should be much easier for government agencies to keep track of permit applications as they travel towards completion.

However, she said the terrestrial biodiversity that is a feature of the Colombian landscape presents challenges to that do not exist in neighbouring countries like Chile. She was referring to the fact a country like Chile, for example, offers the mining sector a greater opportunity to explore and develop mineral properties that are far away from human habitation.

As a result, she said foreign mining companies that aim to do business in Colombia should be mindful of the need to gain a social license to operate and to be respectful of environmental regulations as well as residents of nearby communities.

Colombia is currently producing a broad suite of metals and minerals, including copper, platinum, emeralds, nickel, gold, coal, and iron ore.

Canadian companies that are active there include Atico Mining Corp. [ATY-TSXV; ATCMF-OTC], Cordoba Minerals Corp. [CDB-TSXV, CDBMF-OTCQX], Miranda Gold Corp. [MAD-TSXV], U3O8 Corp. [UWE-TSX, Santiago; UWEFF-OTCQB], Fura Gems Inc. [FURA-TSXV; FUGMF-OTC, BJ43-FRA] and AuVert Mining Group.

The group also includes Gran Columbia Gold Corp. [GCM-TSX], Iamgold Corp. [IMG-TSX; IAG-NYSE], Continental Gold Inc. [CNL-TSX, CGOF-OTCQX], B2Gold Corp. [BTO-TSX; BTG-NYSE], Batero Gold Corp. [BAT-TSXV], Antioquia Gold Inc. [AGD-TSXV; AGDXF,OTCQX], Alicanto Mining Corp., and Max Resource Corp. [MXR-TSXV; MXROF-OTC, M1D1-FSE].

Gran Colombia is currently the largest underground gold and silver producer in Colombia, with several underground mines in operation at its Segovia and Marmato sites. The majority of the company’s production comes from the Segovia operations, which are located in the Segovia-Remedios mining district in Antioquia, roughly 180 km east of Medellin, northwest Colombia.

Segovia was hit with 42 days of civil disruption in 2017. It was a year when the company had to deal with illegal mines operating within its mining title as well as an explosion that damaged a company pipeline that supplies water to 1,200 residents in Remedios.

However, on the day that Suarez was interviewed, Antioquia Gold said it has successfully started production at its Cisneros mine in Antioquia, Colombia. A preliminary economic assessment has indicated that Cisnoeros can produce 150,900 ounces of gold over a life span of five years.

When Suarez was named Colombia’s Minister of Energy and Mines, President Ivan Duque said she was expected to lead a drive for greater diversification of national energy, efficiency and competitiveness in the sector, provide energy security for Colombia, and social and environmental responsibility in all energy mining production sectors.

Colombia’s energy ministry has said urgent investment is needed to replace the country’s dwindling oil reserves. In July 2018, they had slipped to 1.8 billion barrels. At current rates of production, that is only enough oil to last for six more years.

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