Prairie Mining Brings On Former Politician To Manage Its CSR Programmes In Poland

Tuesday, 9 December, 2014

When you’re thinking about undertaking a major CSR programme in a foreign country, it pays to get someone local in to make sure you get it right. That at least is the approach taken by Prairie Mining, a small Australian mining company that’s aspiring to build one of the world’s lowest cost coal mines in Poland.

Poland is a long way from Australia, although both countries do have prolific and long-standing coal histories of production in common.

Nonetheless, Poland as a former Eastern Bloc country now in the EU comes, like anywhere, with its own specific challenges. And that’s why Prairie Mining has appointed the country’s former deputy minister of Transport, Construction and Maritime Economy to be a director of its local subsidiary.

Patrycja Wolińska-Bartkiewicz signed on the dotted line in October, and Prairie’s chief executive Ben Stoikovich reckons she’s going to have a big impact.

“She’s going to manage all our CSR”, he says. That’ll involve a fair amount of work right down at the grass roots level, but also a big contribution slightly higher up the food chain, at the regional level.

That’s because the Lublin tenement lies across a regional boundary, where intriguingly Bogdanka does not.

That’s likely to lead to an interesting dynamic going forward, says Ben. “There’s an invisible line”, he says. “A large percentage of the Bogdanka royalties go into the region where the mine is, and Bogdanka pays into Lublin.” So far, so normal.

But Prairie’s ground also lies inside the more southerly region of Chelm, and the disparity in regional wealth between Lublin, which receives regularly royalty payments from Bogdanka, and Chelm, which does not, is quite marked.

“Chelm is desperate to have a shaft sunk in their region”, says Ben. If Prairie can find the economic justification for doing so the political payback is likely to be substantial.

But it’s not all about County Hall. “We put together a stakeholder engagement plan as part of the environmental and social impact assessment that we did”, says Ben. “That includes a lot of community and consultation processes, and has created forums for communities to lodge complaints. And there’s also a website where they can lodge things on.”

The fact that such complaints are lodged shouldn’t be taken as a negative. By allowing the community a voice, and by being proactive in the response, Prairie can prevent the kind of resentment building up that can often spill over into the types of demonstrations that hold up development for months, and even years.

And Ben recognises that in many ways, the more local the politics, the more important it is. He talks of the “little towns” and “little provinces”. “You’re better off convincing the towns than you are convincing Warsaw”, he says.

To that end, as the economic studies at Lublin continue Prairie will make a concerted effort to get into communities. “We’re probably going to focus on education and training”, says Ben. And as every government functionary knows, from the lowliest councillor to the holder of the highest offices in the land, you can never have too much of that.