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GHANA CHAMBER OF MINES. Cracking the whip  on illegal mining

The Ghana Chamber of Mines was set up as a voluntary private sector employers association, with the vision of protecting those working in the mining industry and providing them with a unified, respected and collaborative voice. The states and affairs of the mining industry in Ghana affect the whole country, as the mining industry accounts for 5% of the country’s GDP and as Ghana is Africa’s second largest gold miner, there is an increased demand for work, hence an increased need for the miners themselves to have representation.

Underground mine excavator facing coal wall .

The chamber’s desire and commitment to serve both members’ and the country has reinforced the need and strengthened their efforts to build an information-driven, people-centred and development-oriented industry where everyone can access, share and utilise accurate information and knowledge on mining and mining related activities.

To put the importance of mining into perspective: Export earnings from minerals averaged 35% and the sector is one of the largest contributors to Government revenues through the payment of mineral royalties, employee income taxes and corporate taxes. In 2005, gold production accounted for about 95% of total mining export proceeds.

The extractive mining industry of Ghana generated an annual revenue of GH₵75.7 billion (US$35 billion) in 2014 and other than industrial minerals and exports from South Ghana, such as timber, diamonds, bauxite and manganese, South Ghana also has a great deposit of barites, basalts, clays, dolomites, feldspars, granites, gravels, gypsums, iron ores, kaolins, laterites, limestones, magnesites, marbles, micas, phosphates, phosphorus, rocks, salts, sands, sandstones, slates and talcs that are yet to be fully exploited. It also attracts a high amount of international interest and investment as the parliament of Ghana has no plans to nationalise Ghana’s mining industry. Therefore, providing support for the miners themselves and information to the public with regards to the activities and future plans of the mines, the chamber’s online presence has proved to be a valuable one as it has created a single port of call for people wanting to access important information that may pertain to them. They have become the voice for the mining industry within the country and it is a title and a responsibility that they take very seriously, which is why it comes as no surprise that it was the chamber’s CEO, Sulemanu Koney, who called for the Government to intervene in what has become the perennial invasion of mining concessions by illegal miners.

“The chamber represents the collective interests of companies involved in mineral exploration, production and processing in Ghana and has been since 1928,” Koney says, “We are funded by our members who produce over 90 percent of the country’s mineral output and as such it is in the best interests of the country to stop theft by illegal miners.”

In a recent statement, released February 2016, Koney explained that the country stands to lose if steps are not taken to address the theft and that the chamber wants specific steps to be taken to restore order at the AngloGold Ashanti mine, where the Director of Communications of the company died in a mysterious accident. The mysterious accident in question is when John Owusu, Public Affairs Director of Anglogold Ashanti, lost his life when his driver, fleeing the hostilities of illegal miners on concessions owned by AGA, accidentally ran over him.

The chamber was quoted, “Companies such as AngloGold Ashanti – Obuasi Mine in recent weeks and Perseus Mining at Ayanfuri in recent months, have seen an escalation of activities of illegal miners on their concessions. These companies, who employ thousands of Ghanaians, are compelled to use all legal means to eject the illegal miners from their concessions with the help of the security apparatus. This has often resulted in violent confrontations leading to injuries and destruction of property.”

Henceforth, the Ghana Chamber of Mines are urging the Government to urgently and resolutely turn its attention to the perennial incidents of illegal miners invading concessions of large-scale mining companies particularly during election years. The situation has arisen again with the advent of illegal miners encroaching on the bona fide concessions of large-scale mining companies.

“The country stands to lose heavily if the activities of the illegal miners are allowed to fester ahead of the election in November 2016. There is a clear and present danger to our environment and to Ghana’s economy as illegal miners fight large-scale mining companies for concessions the latter have obtained legally. This in itself breeds a sense of insecurity and fear among investors, which will cause a slowdown in investment in the country’s minerals sectors” said the Chief Executive Officer of the Chamber, Mr Sulemanu Koney in a signed press release.

THE DOUBLE EDGED SWORD OF ILLEGAL MINERS AND VIOLENCE

Part of the chamber’s mission is to attract foreign investors; businesses looking to invest heavily into the mineral sector, but the issue is how do you attract foreign or local investment when you cannot be seen to be protecting the mines which you own from theft? It is one thing to be robbed upon delivery but another for it to be taken from you at the source.

“If the Government does not put in place security measures, there will be no way to prevent an imminent loss of investor confidence in the country, which adds to the risk of some companies cutting investments,” he added.

Over the years, mining companies have received support from the National Security Committee on Lands and Natural Resources in addressing the encroachment of their concessions by illegal miners. However, there are pockets of illegal miners that continue to encroach on the concessions of companies in spite of the interventions of the State.

This illegality deprives duly licensed companies of the opportunity to exploit the inherent mineral resources more safely and prudentially and it creates additional costs for the companies, in the sense of rehabilitating the land so destroyed by the illegal miners. The consequences of this illegality are far-reaching. Pits excavated by illegal miners claim the lives of company employees as well as those of residents of host communities. The resultant destruction to the environment is immeasurable.

“Honestly, the country earns next to nothing from the activities of these illegal miners. Only a few unscrupulous individuals benefit from it. It is no secret that the Government loses significant amounts of fiscal revenue every year as a result of such illegal mining activities. Apart from projecting a bad image for the entire mining sector, the repercussions to the environment are ominous. If the activities of the illegal miners are not nipped in the bud it would undermine Ghana’s efforts at attracting and sustaining the much needed investment into the mining industry,” he continues.

AngloGold Ashanti – Obuasi Mine in recent weeks and Perseus Mining at Ayanfuri in recent months, have both seen an escalation of illegal mining activities on their concessions. These companies, who employ thousands of Ghanaians, are compelled to use all legal means to eject the illegal miners from their concessions with the help of the security apparatus. This has often resulted in violent confrontations leading to injuries and destruction of property.

In a pivotal example, Koney highlights how AngloGold Ashanti has particularly been inundated by illegal miners, which has directly impacted its ability to attract investors to partner it to revamp the mine. This means that much needed improvements to machinery, equipment, ventilation and miner safety are now not being done and to add insult to injury, the miners are having to work harder to accommodate the theft.

Simultaneously, the recent surge in illegal mining activities at the Obuasi mine have been violent, leading to the death of one of the company’s senior employees and so followed the withdrawal of the military that had been stationed at the mine. AngloGold Ashanti has, as a result, evacuated some of its employees for safety and security reasons, which means the illegal miners have remained on the mine, “Currently, as we speak, they have worked their way to certain underground workings and are using explosives in the process,” he says.

The audaciousness of illegal miners in perpetrating the act, despite the recently passed Minerals and Mining (Amendment) Act, which it and ascribes punitive measures, is baffling to say the least and it denotes a complete disregard for the law under the light of not fearing any major repercussions from a slack Government.

“The chamber is calling on the Government to return the Military to AngloGold Ashanti, Obuasi to protect life and property on the mine in order to restore investor confidence and attract the necessary investment into the mining sector,” Koney says, adding, “It is time for the Government to crack the whip on illegal mining and make it an unattractive venture for all who engage in it.”

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