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11.04.2005 General News

EPA, Minerals Commission and Bonte Gold Mines to be dragged to court

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Accra, April 11, GNA - The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Minerals Commission and Bonte Gold Mines Limited, which was liquidated last year, are to be dragged to court on grounds of negligence and destruction of the environment.

The Centre for Public Interest Law (CEPIL) and the Centre for Environmental Law and Development, which are members of the National Coalition on Mining, have filed the lawsuit.

The lawsuit said the EPA and the Minerals Commission, "have jointly and severally refused or neglected to comply with their respective statutory obligations with regard to the environmental degradation caused by Bonte Gold Mines in the Ashanti Region".

Bonte Gold Mine Company, which engaged in mining alluvial gold on more than 27,000 hectares for more than 15 years, was liquidated last year without fulfilling its environmental corporate responsibility. Announcing this at a press conference in Accra on Monday, Mr Abdulai Darimani of the Third World Network-Africa (TWN), a non-governmental organization, said the two law firms "are seeking a declaration for an order of mandatory injunction on Bonte, EPA and the Minerals Commission compelling them to take all steps necessary for the rehabilitation of the environment".

Referring to its maiden press conference on the issue in July 2004, Mr Darimani said the TWN stated categorically that Ghanaians reserved the right to ask how the Company was liquidated without following the due process of decommissioning and notifying its workers. He said Bonte Mines also failed to pay up-to-date wages to the workers and compensation to farmers whose lands were acquired. Besides, the Company left a debt of about 18 million dollars owed to various State institutions and private companies.

Mr Darimani said the problems created by Bonte and what pertained in the mining industry in terms of the imbalance in the share of mineral wealth, the destruction of the environment and the community livelihood sources and human rights violations...could have been averted or minimised if the State regulatory agencies had lived up to their responsibilities.

He reiterated that there was the need for a mechanism to be worked out for immediate payment of entitlements and compensation to the affected workers and farmers.

Mr Darimani called on the Government to institute a full-scale investigation into the liquidation of the Company.

When the Ghana News Agency called at the EPA last year after the TWN Press Conference, it was told that Bonte Mines presented a reclamation plan but this was rejected and it was asked to submit another one, which it did in March 2004. Shortly after this it went into liquidation without prior notice to the EPA and even the Chamber of Mines.

It said there was no indication that the Company was going to fold up, though it had a bad history and the fact that it was engaged in medium-scale mining.

The EPA said it had contacted the Liquidator of the Company, the Registrar General's Department, to look at how best the reclamation of the degraded land could start.

The Registrar General's Department said the Department was brought in at the tail end of the story and it contracted PricewaterhouseCoopers to liquidate the Company on the orders of a High Court. It was also discovered that most of the Company's plant and equipment were leased and could, therefore, not be sold to pay for its liabilities.

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