The Sierra Leone Telegraph: 6 May 2014
The parliamentary committee on mines and mineral resources was in the Koinadugu district on a three-day working visit last week, where they inspected and discussed mining activities in the district, especially companies engaged in exploration.
Following recent clashes and violent confrontation between mine workers and the security forces in the Tonkolili iron ore district, which left at least one person dead and several injured, the parliamentary committee is anxious to avoid similar conflicts elsewhere in the country.
Committee chairman – Amadu Kanu, told stakeholders in the district that the mines committee is not fully apprised of mining activities in Koinadugu, especially the role of Koinadugu district council. He said that his committee wants to be educated, so that proper engagements can be made to avoid conflicts.
“We have noticed the gap between the Koinadugu district council and mining companies operating in the district,” he said.
“This includes some of the companies engaged in exploration and those currently doing mining. However, we are at this time concentrating on those doing exploration. You all know that mining across the world often degenerate into conflicts – we don’t want that to happen here.”
Mining activities in the district raises several unanswered questions. For example; do the licensed exploration companies employ Sierra Leonean geologists?
Do they produce and submit bi-annual reports of their activities as required by the ministry of mines? How are these companies treating their workers, including their relationship with the communities in which they operate?
Also, how many companies are operating in the district, and are they monitored properly?
“The reason parliament enacted the 2009 Mines and Minerals Act is to create an enabling environment and promote fairness for all parties concerned – both for the mining companies to get back their return on their investment, and for us as a nation to also benefit from our minerals.”
In response, minister of tourism and cultural affairs, who was former District chairman of Koinadugu district council – Peter Bayuku Conteh, welcomed the parliamentary committee assessment meeting.
He said that there are problems. First, mining laws are not respected by the mining or exploration companies. And, no one fully knows who is in charge. Is it the chiefs, is it the mines ministry, or the district council?
“Some mining companies operating here don’t have proper documents to operate here at all,” he said to the applause of all. “Besides, some are under the pretext of exploration just to avoid their corporate social responsibilities. In fact, 90 percent of these companies don’t pay royalties at all.”
Minister Bayuku said parliament should help the communities who are so vulnerable in the hands of these companies, and bring sanity into the system, including letting Sierra Leoneans derive maximum benefit from the mineral resources.
“Now, we want a list of all exploration and mining companies operating in the district, including their activities report,” he said. “Those who are legal will be supported, but those who are not will be driven out of Koinadugu District. The way it should be is for us to have those who are legitimate to have a free hand so that we all benefit together.”
The chief administrator of Koinadugu district council – Sahr E. Yambasu, said that indeed much has gone wrong in the past, which the Council wants to bring to an end.
“Now, let us cultivate the habit of consultation,” he appealed. “This appeal is to the ministry of mines and mineral resources. Do not just issue licence to mining companies – whether for exploration or not – without letting us at the Council know. Otherwise, there will be confrontation. As such, to avoid it, bring all stakeholders on board.
“Another thing is sensitization – that is, let the different communities know the difference between mining and exploration – I am sure if they know, it will lessen much tensions and expectations.”
Mr. Yambasu said he wants to know whether during exploration and when minerals are extracted, the benefits will be enjoyed by the community and other stakeholders. Besides, the nine years given to mining companies for exploration is such a long time – why not issue shorter term lease?
He encouraged all to go by the rules, and respect for each stakeholder to be encouraged, especially the council and the people’s representatives – such as local councillors and members of parliament.
“For your information it is the council that is mandated to oversee development across the district, so don’t ignore us please,” he concluded.
It is for these same reasons, said the Mines Committee, that they are in town, and whilst here they are not looking back on past wrongs – but for ways as to how such wrongs can be avoided in future, because the people’s welfare is the Committee’s concern.
However, it was the Committee’s view that exploration companies be encouraged and supported, because they are investing a lot of money and equipment; but if they are being harassed, then they may have to consider leaving the district.
“If we are in a hurry to develop, we won’t benefit; so let us all be patient,” the Committee advised.
Mr. Prince Cuffie, Deputy Director of the geological survey, national minerals agency, said that presently there is only one small scale mining company based at Diang Chiefdom.
“Our objective at the national minerals agency is for Sierra Leone to benefit from its minerals. But for this to happen, two things must take place: If mining is to occur, serious exploration should happen, and while this is ongoing, the community and stakeholders have a right to know who has a licence to operate; and for those with licence – but not operating, please let us know so we can recommend for a withdrawal of such licence and for it to be given to those who mean business.
“Secondly, exploration companies are only exploring, so please don’t make big requests to them yet, until after they graduate into full scale mining when they will be bound to honour their corporate social responsibilities. However, if they give to the communities, thats fine; but it is not obligatory on them to do so. So be patient until they graduate into full scale mining,” he said.
Presently, there are two mining companies doing exploration work in the district – Rimco Mining – a Nigerian company, and central mining company from Ukraine.
Rimco Mining has seven licences to carry out exploratory work for iron ore and gold, and other minerals. Its mines administrator – Egigba Moses, said they are obeying all the rules as stated in their licences, including employing Sierra Leonean geologists, and other skilled staff, as well as providing scholarships.
The communities they operate in at Falaba and its environs, agreed to this, including the two paramount chiefs at Kabala – PC Gbawuru Mansaray III of Wara-Wara Yagala, and PC Alie Balansama Marah III of Sengbeh.
Both Paramount Chiefs appealed for more engagements between the mining companies and the council and other stakeholders, for the benefit of everyone.
They also warned that people have taken licence without engaging in any mining activities. These people should start work, or give way to more serious companies to take over.
Central Mining Company, also has a four-year licence for an 84.8 square kilometers to explore for gold beyond Falaba.
Laurov Konstantine – its Director, said they started work early this year, and hope that by June of this year, they would have secured the required 40 grams of gold dust samples to be taken to Canada for analyses.
He said that the company presently employs 10 geologists – all of them from Ukraine – working at their site. And, they have promised to help the local mining communities once results of the tests are returned from Canada and confirmed there is the required deposit of gold in their allotment.
There were concerns from other stakeholders including the Campaign for Good Governance. Its representative in Kabala – Khalilu Bah, said most often these licences are given without sensitization and consultation with the affected local communities.
Another concern raised is that most often, these mining companies change their names as soon as they finished exploration to evade their corporate responsibilities.
“And my final concern is about the mines monitors in the field – most of them are not on salary. This is dangerous, because they will be compromised by mining companies,” he said.
Another concern came from the councillor of Ward 147 at Diang Chiefdom – Hawa Mufala Kondeh. She said Diang is a very small community, and exploration licences have been issued to nine or ten companies who take away their land and swamps, depriving the community of their farming livelihood, except for a small portion of land which is used for grazing their cattle.
“We the people of Diang are suffering terribly because we have no land to do our farming. Somebody must help us please,” she pleaded.
This is true, agreed Alice Saio Koroma, another councillor at Ward 146 also at Diang Chiefdom.
“You people should visit Diang Chiefdom to see how these mining companies that have been given licence to operate there have left our land,” she said. “Now what do you people call exploration – is it turning our land upside down and leaving it like that? And we councillors are not even countenanced. Well, all right, give licence, but at least notify us. The truth is Diang is terribly poor; our land is so small: we are actually deprived,” she said.
The Committee agreed that more needs to be done by all stakeholders concerned. Prior to the stakeholders’ meeting, the Committee visited both mining sites belonging to Rimco and Central Mining, which are located about 37 miles away from Kabala.