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sharing in governance of extractive industries

In search of sustainability and improved livelihoods in mining areas

Close to being a seemingly hopeless economic venture, mining- with its immense wealth- continues to sap the vitality of resilient people and capacity of the economy. The recent ‘alleged’ cyanide spillage by Newmont in Subri River is not surprising at all when the highly-rated mining company happens to be the 2009 award winners of the most irresponsible company in the world.

The mining sector has always defied logic analysis. It still remains a fact that mining in Ghana has rarely had a glorious history. Apart from enormous loss of revenues gained from gold as a result of extreme illicit capital flight, mining inflicts never-ending environmental, social and economic damages. When people living in mining communities continue to be mired in crushing poverty and social destitution, one has to wonder whether mining is being undertaken to benefit some platoons of bandits and scoundrels who line their pockets for their personal aggrandizement. With the influx of multinational mining companies, the case has been development that largely benefits these companies to the total neglect of the people and the economy at large.

According to the statement by Wacam, “Communities such as Dokyikrom and other villages living around the dam constructed by Newmont Ahafo mine on Subri River have blamed Newmont Ahafo mine for another cyanide spillage from their Tailings dam which contains cyanide and other poisonous chemicals into the Subri river dam”. The statement goes on to assert that Damso Communities saw many dead fishes floating on the river on the 6th of January 2011.

Newmont is known of its blatant environmental damages that have the repercussion of disrupting socio-economic activities of the local people. This is their modus operandi. Even before assessment by the Environmental Protection Agency, Ghana News Agency report on Ghanaweb of 7th January 2011 indicated that Newmont Ahafo had countered the communities’ claim stating that “Newmont position is that fishermen in the area applied chemicals when fishing in the river and probably caused the death of the fishes but the company is investigating”.

Given the widespread and longstanding negative impact of mining in the country, it is worrying when these trendy unacceptable attitudes of mining companies ostensibly have no end in sight. Newmont regardless of their generous contributions to community development has been embroiled in a quagmire of hypocrisy for so long. It is about time Newmont overhauled their modus operandi. How can the company blame the people of applying chemicals when they have not even investigated? The government early last year slapped the company with a 7-billion-cedi fine for negligently spilling cyanide in October 2008 after investigations by a ministerial panel which uncovered the Newmont’s shameful attempt to cover up its deadly activities.

In a petition to the Minister of Environment, Science and Technology that included 41 signatories of the local people affected by the spillage, it is clear that Newmont still perpetrates falsehoods and peddles lies. Newmont insisted that the dead fishes were detected by its patrol team when actually the people had informed the company upon detecting bad smell from the dam.

One cannot help but to blame the country with its weak and unenforceable minerals and mining laws. A country where irresponsible mining activities are undertaken with impunity should expect nothing than abject poverty and human rights abuses.

When the EPA should conclude that “It would be hasty to conclude that dead fishes in a water storage facility (WSF) at Newmont Gold Ghana Limited (NGGL) Ahafo Mine resulted from cyanide spillage”, the question dawns on the capacity of EPA to regulate the environment. Though the EPA confirmed dead fishes in the WSF, the agency has not yet established any scientific basis for the cause of the dead fishes.

The intention of Osagyefo Network for Rural Development (OSNERD) is not to indulge in any blame game. OSNERD believes that most mining companies in the country are rather perpetrating rural poverty rather than encouraging rural prosperity. Mining activities have rather ruined livelihoods of people in the rural areas. For centuries of gold mining and other mineral extraction in the country, it is widely argued that the prospects of these mineral resources have not left any easy blueprint for ensuring sustainable development and poverty alleviation. Obuasi, Tarkwa and other typical mining communities with their huge contributions to mineral wealth have nothing special to boast of. Infrastructure development and socio-economic livelihoods are in tatters and environmental damages have assumed heightened dimension.

We acknowledge that water pollution and environmental damages aggravate poverty and are a human rights concern of great importance.

OSNERD, therefore, charges the government, the Ministry of Environment, Science and Technology, and EPA to act with expediency to clamp down on these alarming mining illegalities. Investigations should be carried out on the cause of the dead fishes when fishing serves as a major economic activity for the rural people. In a more sustainable manner, OSNERD calls on the government to strengthen the Minerals and Mining Act and similar other environmental laws that would check irresponsible mining. Whether or not mining will lead to a meteoric ascent out of poverty depends entirely on the country establishing a jurisdiction where perpetrators have legal liability for environmental costs of extraction. Unavoidable environmental damage should be compensated for generously.

We again admonish Newmont Gold Ghana Limited to prove their worth not only in terms of generating corporate profits that are taken out of the country but improving livelihoods of the local people. Their operations should rightly reflect the International Finance Corporation’s (IFC’s) Policy and Performance Standards. There is no doubt Newmont operations regarded as benefitting the country are all delusions of grandeur.

OSNERD is an NGO that believes rural development strategies is the right antidote to increased poverty in the country. Contact: Michael Nkrumah, International Director (US) (michaelnkrumah@hotmail.com) and Stephen Yeboah, the National Coordinator (Ghana) for OSNERD. (stephenyeboah110@yahoo.com).

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