MAC/20: Mines and Communities

Gold mine too close for comfort for Gnana town

Published by MAC on 2005-12-06


Gold mine too close for comfort for Ghana town

By Orla Ryan, Reuters

6th December 2005

PRESTEA, Ghana

Ghana's Ashanti gold belt has a centuries-old mining tradition but a pit operated by a U.S.-based company may be too close for comfort for one town.

Where Prestea town ends, the Bogoso gold mine begins, a degree of proximity which is straining the relationship between the community and Bogoso Gold Limited (BGL), a subsidiary of Colorado-based Golden Star Resources.

The mine's presence has forced the relocation of the police station, the post office, the labour office and the town's only fuel station. The hospital overlooks the mine.

Residents say daily blasts from the pit have cracked buildings and wrecked electrical appliances. Some fear the dust could create health problems.

"It is injurious to our health ... it has left so many buildings cracked while personal belongings, TVs, fridges, they were all destroyed," says Kwesi Blay of the Concerned Citizens Association of Prestea, which says the town should be moved.

The dispute highlights the often tense relationships that exist in mineral-rich developing countries between mining companies and the poor communities in which they operate.

These strains are compounded in Prestea by high unemployment, disputed compensation claims from locals and some 5,000 illegal miners who want to work the concession themselves.

Ghana's Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) says the town does not need to be resettled.

But in September it ordered the mining company to temporarily stop work at its Plant-North pit until it had relocated the police station, built a bypass road and put a fence around the mining site.

The company completed these requirements and resumed mining at the pit in early November.

"LEARNING A LESSON"

"The complaints from the Prestea township were so serious, there was nothing we could do but stop them (temporarily)," EPA spokesman William Abaidoo said.

"When you move close to a settlement, you are bound to get problems; when you are blasting, the noise and vibration alone creates some panic. Among some people, it is like an earthquake," he added.

Abaidoo said BGL, which is 90 percent owned by Golden Star, was "learning a lesson". The Ghanaian government holds the remaining 10 percent of BGL.

Prestea is the site of Golden Star's largest mine in Ghana and it is forecast to produce 130,000 ounces of gold this year. That production would have topped 140,000 ounces had it not been for the brief closure, company officials say.

The company also has another mine in Ghana's Ashanti gold belt, Wassa, which will produce about 80,000 ounces this year. It is also preparing an environmental plan to start mining near another settlement, Bondaye.

Bruce Higson-Smith, BGL's acting general manager, admits there have been problems: "A few people dropped the ball, we got things done, (but) it had already incensed the EPA."

He said the complaints about the effects of the mine blasts were exaggerated and added the company had changed the pattern of blasting to reduce noise and vibration.

With mining in the town set to continue until June or July next year, he said he met regularly with community leaders.

The mining company's labour relations have also reflected the strained ties with the wider community.

In November, about 100 protesting workers surrounded the company's offices, trapping managers inside overnight in a dispute about bonuses which delayed work for a day.

The company says talks with unions are continuing.

But the question of compensation claims demanded by some Prestea residents for damage to their persons and property remains a thorny issue.

PIT INVASIONS

Two years ago, Daniel Bekoe says he fell 20 feet and hurt his head when his balcony collapsed beneath him while blasting at the Bogoso mine was taking place.

His claim for damages was still being assessed. "They asked me to write an application for medical assistance, then they asked me to write another application," he said.

The mine's management said it was analyzing numerous claims of damages to try to weed out genuine claims from false ones.

"We are absolutely going to take responsibility for damage we caused but at the same time, there are a number of people taking advantage," Higson-Smith said.

Local tensions have been aggravated by the job losses which followed Golden Star's 2002 joint venture with ailing Prestea Gold Resources, which held the license for the underground mine and owed its 2,000 staff five months in back pay.

BGL now employs 221 people and is assessing whether to restart the underground mine at the site. But it says this is unlikely to create more than a few hundred extra jobs.

Meanwhile, an estimated 5,000 illegal miners -- or "galamsey" as they are locally known -- eke out a living with their own small-scale mining, often on BGL's concession.

"We get pit invasions on a nightly basis ... stealing our ore," Higson-Smith said. "Under the laws of Ghana, any gold is BGLs. Getting action to get rid of them is proving to be a difficult thing," he added.

In huts sheltered by tarpaulins just outside of Prestea, illegal miners dig pits and haul out rock which may contain strains of gold.

While residents' associations have called for stronger mining laws, EPA's mining director Anthony Andoh says that if BGL had conformed to the terms of its permit, problems would not have arisen.

"Bogoso should be a good corporate citizen and learn how to respond to people's problems." he said.


Cyanide spillage embarrassing Mines Ministry

News in Ghana

6th December 2005

The Minister for Lands, Forestry and Mines, Prof. Dominic Fobih (MP) has expressed concern about the reported cases of cyanide spillage in the mining areas of the country and called for warning systems to be put in place to forestall future occurrences.

He noted that though the effect of these spillages on the neighbouring communities were minimal, the panic created and the inevitable reaction from the affected communities and civil society organizations did not only embarrass his ministry but also dented the confidence in the operational systems of the mining companies in the country.

According to the minister, the fact that the spillage could not be contained within the operational areas but allowed to affect water bodies in the vicinity showed that either adequate provisions were not made or there were some system failures.

Prof. Fobih, who was speaking at this year's Mines Safety Day, hosted by Wexford Mining Company at Akyempim in the Mpohor Wassa East district of the Western Region last week Saturday, noted that since some of the reported cyanide spillage cases had already been investigated, early warning systems should be put in place to forestall future occurrences.

The minister was also not happy about the way illegal miners, popularly known as 'galamsey" had sprung up across the mining communities in the country, with the operators refusing to avail themselves for the training that was being offered by the regulating agencies.

He noted that as a result of this stand, taken by the galamsey people, their operations were always haphazard and dangerous.

To buttress his argument, Prof. Fobih mentioned the recent incident at Nyafoman in the Eastern Region where a group of illegal miners were allegedly buried alive due to the dangerous manner in which they were carrying out their mining operations.

The minister further told the large gathering that his ministry intended to assist the illegal miners who seriously wanted to make a living from small scale mining, adding that eight locations which would be granted to such people after they had registered as cooperative groups had already been identified.

"I am aware that if areas reserved are not viable, these miners will not stay there for long. I have therefore contracted the services of the geological survey department and a private geological consultant to explore two of the identified areas so as to delineate viable areas for the small scale miners," he said.

Prof. Fobih also revealed that following loads of petitions sent to his ministry, he had made representation to the government to release part of the mineral royalties paid to the central government to the mining communities to carry out development.

He said if the representation were accepted by the government, special fund would be established in the mining communities where part of the royalties received by the government would be paid into it to carry out their own development projects.

The minister also appealed to all players in the industry to support the passage of the mining bill into law to replace the current one that had been in operation for over twenty years now.

He said those who were advocating against the passage of the bill were not doing the country any good and therefore called again on the industry players not to allow themselves to be confused.

The Deputy Western Regional Minister, Madam Sophia Honer-Sam, on her part, noted that while the government was doing everything possible to create a conducive atmosphere for investors to operate in, they must also reciprocate the gesture by being responsive to their social responsibilities.

She noted that many of the accusations levelled against the mining companies by the indigenous people were that they were not responsive to their demands.

According to her whilst some of the allegations could be said to be frivolous some of these concerns were genuine.

The mine manager of New Century Mines, Mr. Sam Agyeman, noted that since the mining areas had high prevalence rate of the HIV/AIDS virus, the fight against the disease by the mining companies should be carried to the local communities they operate in.

This year's Mines Safety Day was under the theme, "Health and Safety in the Mines: Expanding Frontiers to Host Communities".

The accompanying safety competitions among the companies that made it to that level was won by Anglogold-Ashanti Bibiani Mine with their counterparts from Iduaprime and Obuasi coming as first and second runners up respectively. The fourth position went to Abosso Goldfields.

The Ghana Chamber of Mines organized the programme in collaboration with the Mines department.

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