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03.08.2005 General News

Minning Bill Recipe For Conflict

Larry-Alans Dogbey (The Enquirer)

Without sufficient caution with respect to the Minerals and Mining Bill, the mining sector which generates substantial revenue to sustain Ghana's beleaguered economy, will soon be in ruins as a result of the enormous powers that the Bill gives the Minister of Mines and Mining Companies (MC's).

The powers conferred on the Minister and preferential treatments for the MC's, are such that conflict could erupt in most mining communities as happened in Prestea recently between the people of Wassa Fiase Traditional Area and the Management of Bogoso Gold Limited (BGL).

The bill which was recently laid before Parliament for consideration but was subsequently withdrawn last Tuesday by the Minister of Land, Forestry and Mines, Prof. Dominic K. Fobih, when all was set for it to considered by the legislators, has been identified to include clauses that make nonsense of certain provisions in the 1992 Constitution.

The Enquirer's checks in Parliament have revealed that, a revised bill was last Wednesday given to the legislators for consideration for the third time after the last two had been withdrawn.

The withdrawals and revisions that have characterized the bill, is suspected by legal and mines experts is due to some fishy deals and unconstitutional issues surrounding the Stability Agreement, signed between government, and the two mines giants, AngloGold Ashanti and Newmont Gold Ghana Limited.

Hence, the bill is being subjected to methodical schemes to make the law favorable to the two companies to prevent any legal tussle that may arise in the future over the concessions.

But even with the revision, issues of environmental degradation, resettlement packages, payment of compensation on crops and immovable properties in concession areas of the mining companies have either not been addressed by the bill or, in cases where they been touched, their determination has been left to the sole discretion of the Minister of Mines.

For instance, Section 69 (6) of the Bill, which talks about ?compensation for disturbance of owner?s surface rights,? states that the owner or lawful occupier of any land, subject to a mineral rights, though is entitled to and may claim from the holder of the minerals right (MC's) or compensation for any disturbance of rights of the owner with respect to damages, losses and deprivation, the Minister of Mines and a person authorized by the Minister, may take necessary action to give effect to resettlement agreement or determination.

This, according to experts, is a clear abuse of the principle of separation of power between the executive and the judiciary since by that clause, the Minister, and for that matter his appointee, assumes and plays a quasi-judicial role in settling compensation cases, an issue which ought to be addressed by court.

This and other issues, such as the stability agreement which gives only mining companies unfair advantage over non-mining companies registered under Ghanaian law by the drafters of the bill, has been condemned by the Centre for Public Interest Law (CEPIL) a legal aid institution which provides legal support to mining communities in the country.

In an interview with The Enquirer, a few hours after the withdrawal of the Bill by Prof. Fobih, last Tuesday, the Director of Litigation of CEPIL, Augustine Niber, expressed delight about the withdrawal, and expressed hope that the loose ends of the bill will be tightened to reduce the risk it poses to the security stability and revenue generation interest of the country.

He is of the view that inspite of the tax exemptions and other benefits the mining companies enjoy in Ghana, their activities have rather been a bane in the lives of the people within the concessionary areas.

Presently, MC's by the Minerals and Mining Law, 1986 (PNDC 153) are exempted from paying tax on the equipment they bring in for the extraction of gold, as well as a 5-year tax free holiday from the day a company starts it operations yet, they are said to have done little about the development of the communities.

The PNDC Law also makes room for the companies and their executives to retain 70% of their proceeds in off shore accounts after selling gold outside Ghana, and also transfer 100% of their salaries outside the country, something that other companies are not entitled to.

Inspite of these tax incentives, Mr. Niber, told the paper the MCs both small and large have not lived up to their social responsibilities in their concessions, and instead, are engaged in a gross abuse of people rights, non-payment of compensation, environmental pollution, killing, maiming and the denial of basic rights of the individuals, citing the case AngloGold Ashati.

He observed alleged that currently, lots of expatriates and their Ghanaian partners are taking undue advantage of the law to acquire concession, lease equipment from local companies to extract gold, retain the money after sales only to liquidate the company after five years with a flimsy excuse of bankruptcy only for the same officials to set up another company to run the same concession and liquidate same in five years.

He is, therefore, cautioning Parliament to be very critical of the current Bill when is brought back to the House for deliberations to help check the abuse of peoples rights, and to ensure that the country reaps the full benefits of what the nation is endowed with.

He advised Parliament to look thoroughly at the Stability Agreement, the payment of compensation to the people and the unlimited powers conferred on the Minister of Mines, to avoid an infringement of the Constitution and curtail the wanton abuse of the people's rights by the MCs.

Meanwhile, the Wassa Association of Communities Affected by Mining (WACAM), a human rights and environmental advocacy organization, has petitioned Commission on Human Rights and Administrative Justice (CHRAJ) to investigate the havoc AngloGold Ashanti is wreaking on mining communities.

The petition, cataloging incidents of killings and maiming the Security of AngloGold Ashanti have been meting out to members of mining communities in its operational area.

The petition signed by Mr. Daniel Owusu-Koranteng, Executive Director of WACAM, ,said Mr. Clement Kofi Baffoh, a small-scale miner of Aduaneyede, near Obuasi died on June 9, 2004 under mysterious circumstance while in the custody of AngloGold Ashanti Security. It said on june 21, this year, AngloGold Ashanti Security shot Awudu Mohammed, another small-scale miner, but its Public Relations outfit claimed that he was pierced by spikes on a gate when he attempted to run away. Surgeons at Komfo Anokye Teaching Hospital, Kumasi who treated Mohammed, have since said that he was shot.

The petition said AngloGold Ashanti had introduced the use of guard dogs on people they suspect of trespassing on their concession, and cited the case of Mr. Clement Kofi Scott, another small-scale miner, was attacked by dogs.

Other cases listed were the beating to death of Kwame Poku of Sanso, near Obuasi in February 1994; Justice Opoku alias Papa Yaw, in December 1997 and Kofi Sarpong, in January 1997 by AngloGold Ashanti Security and a combined team of the Military and Police.

The rest of listed cases were that of Kwaku Bio alias Kwaku Firi of Old Anyinam, who was reportedly mauled to death by the guard dogs of Anglogold Ashanti Security. Bio had gone to look for firewood in what he perceived to be a nearby bush, which happened to be part of the concession of the company. The firewood was found lying by his dead body.

The petition said Mr. Benjamin Annan, Assemblyman for Sansu, had been championing the struggle to seek justice, and called on all men of goodwill to join the fight against the mining giant that devours without mercy.