By Jariatu Bangura from Koinadugu
Just two out of forty-three registered exploration companies are operating in Koinadugu district, a three-day tour to Koinadugu and Tonkolili districts by members of the Parliamentary Committee on Mines and Minerals discovered last week.
According to Chairman of the Committee, Hon. Amadu Kanu, a list presented by the Ministry of Mines and Mineral Resources indicates that forty-three (43) exploration companies have registered to operate in Koinadugu District, although only Central Mining Company and RIMCO exploration are currently operating in the district.
He said the tour was to know firsthand the relationship between the companies and the community people.
He explained that the visit was not meant to drive away any company, but rather to ensure that community people are the real beneficiaries of the mineral wealth, and to ensure that government benefits from mining activity post exploration.
He said even though companies might not have finished with exploration, yet communities should be developed.
He said the companies should work closely with district stakeholders, adding that as Committee members, they intend to bridge the conflict gap between the district council and the exploration companies.
“We have noticed the gap between the Koinadugu District Council and the exploration companies operating in this district of which include those that are mainly engaged in the exploration. However, we are for this time concentrating on those doing the exploration. You all know that mining across the world often degenerate into conflicts and we do not want that to happen in our country, hence the reason to come here in a way to settle such issues,” he said.
Hon. Kanu continued that the reason Parliament enacted the Mines and Minerals Act of 2009 was to create an enabling environment as well as ensure fair play for all parties concerned, including mining companies, to get back good returns on their investment and for the nation to benefit from its minerals.
Minister of Tourism and Cultural Affairs, Peter Bayuku Konteh, expressed his satisfaction with the Committee’s visit, noting that there are numerous problems in the districts relating to mining laws which are not being respected by mining and/or exploration companies.
“Some mining companies operating here do not have proper documents to operate here,” he alleged, to the applause of his audience. “Besides, some are under the pretext of exploration just to avoid their corporate social responsibilities. In fact 90 percent of these companies do not pay allowances at all.”
Minister Bayuku said Parliament should help the communities and restore sanity in the system by letting Sierra Leoneans derive maximum benefit from mineral wealth.
“Now, we want a list of all exploration and mining companies operating in this district, including their activity reports,” he demanded, adding that those operating legally will be supported, unlike those who engaged in illegal operations, who will be driven out of the district.
Chief Administrator of Koinadugu District Council, Sahr Emmanuel Yambasu, commended the Committee for the visit, and acknowledged that lots of wrongs had been permitted in the past, which Council was not prepared to repeat.
“Now, let us cultivate the habit of consultation,” he appealed. “This appeal is to the Ministry of Mines and Mineral Resources to not just issue licenses to mining companies, whether it is for exploration or not without letting us at the Council know. Otherwise, if you issue licenses without our knowledge, 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 tension and expectations.”
He encouraged the companies to operate by the rules and respect stakeholders, especially Council and the people’s representatives, including councilors and Members of Parliament, noting that “Council is mandated to oversee development across the district, so don’t ignore us please.”
However, Committee members held the view that exploration companies should be encouraged and supported because they are investing a lot of money, and that if they are being harassed they might as well pack their gears and leave. “If we are in a hurry to develop, we won’t benefit, so let us all be patient,” the Committee admonished.
Mr. Prince Cuffey, Deputy Director of Geological Surveys at National Minerals Agency, said only a small scale mining company was operating in Diang Chiefdom, and that Agency has a dual objective of ensuring that serious exploration exercise was ongoing in the district, while communities have the right to know which companies are operating in their locality.
“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 license to operate.
“For those with license but not operating, please let us know so we can recommend for a withdrawal of such license and for it to be given to those who mean business. Secondly, exploration companies are only exploring, so please don’t make big requests from them since after they graduate into full scale mining, they will be bound to honour their corporate social responsibilities,” he said.
RIMCO Mines Administrator, Egigba Moses, said the company was compliant with all the rules stipulated by their license, including employing Sierra Leonean geologists and other skilled staff, as well as awarding scholarships to students.
Meanwhile, Paramount Chief Gbawuru Mansaray lll of Wara-Wara Yagala, and Hon. Paramount Chief Alie Balasama Marah III of Sengbeh, both of Koinadugu district, endorsed the statement of the Mines Administrator.
The two Paramount Chiefs appealed for more engagement between mining companies and the Council, and other stakeholders, for the benefit of all.