Responsible Mining: Where Does Ghana Stand?

Trees planted by Newmont Goldcorp Akyem Mine

November 8, 2019//-Mining is part and parcel of the extractive industry that depletes a stock resource. While its exhaustion can be postponed through metal recycling and efficiency, it can never be sustainable.

According to proponents, mining can be considered to contribute to sustainable development if its economic benefits outweigh social and environmental costs, and if its revenues are invested in building sustainable industries, enterprises and productive capacities.

Activities can be considered “sustainable” if the overall stock of capital is at least not diminished and preferably augmented, they argued.

They therefore suggest that mining can contribute to sustainable development, but only if it gives rise to long-term net benefits (environmental, social, or economic) that equal or exceed the values that existed prior to exploitation.

Over a decade, Ghana’s mining industry has tried to improve its image in terms of mine safety, environmental restoration, and community relations.

Through the Ghana Chamber of Mines and government, the concept of sustainable mining has been promoted throughout the industry.

In 2009, Ghana gazetted the “Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Directive on The Harmonization of Guiding Principles and Policies in the Mining Sector”.

One of the key principles of the Directive is the obligation placed on mining companies to respect the rights of local communities.

It states: “Companies shall obtain free, prior and informed consent of local communities before exploration begins and prior to each subsequent phase of mining and post-mining operations; maintain consultations and negotiations on important decisions affecting local communities throughout the mining cycle (Article 16)”.

Mining companies have the obligation to respect and promote recognized human rights, including the rights of women, children and workers (Article 15).

The Directive which was enacted by the 62nd Ordinary Session of the ECOWAS Council of Ministers in Abuja, Nigeria in May 2009.

The computation of the compensation should take into consideration: losses; disturbances; losses and damages suffered by immovable assets; loss of revenue (including expected losses of agricultural revenue) in accordance with best international practices (Article 4).

Newmont Goldcorp Akyem Mine – Reforestation Project Phase III

To protect the environment, the Directive has designated “no go zones” for mining activities if such lands have environmental, social and cultural sensitivity (Article 4) – forest reserves for example.

Previously, the jargon sustainability was not in the mining lexicon, today there are vice presidents as well as senior managers responsible for sustainable development within the mining industry.

However, per the industry’s definition of sustainable mining, it follows the model of “weak sustainability” that allows trade-offs among economic, social, and environmental responsibilities and is less strict than the concept of responsible mining.

Indeed, mining issues in Ghana and the rest of the world are complex and responsibility boundaries between the companies and local, regional, and national governments are often fuzzy.

So obtaining a “social license to mine” in Ghana’s gold dominated mining industry requires companies to gain the respect, trust, and collaboration of government and local populations.

Without proper dialogue and strong communication between these parties on all aspects of the proposed mining project, it is likely to be rejected locally, and eventually nationally.

Practices of Responsible Mining

The practices promote the best mining companies to keep doing good, at the same time shun those that cause most damage to the environment, livelihoods, among others.

These practices are not only limited to large mining companies alone they can be applied to small and artisanal mining, but those types of mining deserve special treatment through training, education, poverty reduction, health and safety, and alternate job creation.

Social and Environmental Assessment

Ghana’s laws mandate Social and Environmental Assessments (ESIAs) that begin as soon as a project’s engineering feasibility planning starts, with standard procedures.

The major environmental laws applicable to the mining industry are the Environmental Protection Agency Act 1994 (Act 490) and the Environmental Assessment Regulations 1999 (LI 1652). The EPA is the regulatory body that administers these laws.

Mining companies are required to be registered with the EPA and obtain an environmental permit prior to commencement of their operations or project.

The applicant is required to submit an application and pay the requisite fees after which the EPA will carry out an initial assessment and issue a screening report for purposes of determining whether the application is approved; objected to.

The applicant also requires submission of a preliminary environmental report (PER); or requires the submission of an environmental impact statement (EIS).

“Where the EPA is of the view that a significant adverse environmental impact is likely to result from the activities of any undertaking, the applicant shall be asked to submit an EIS on the undertaking in order that the environmental impact of the proposed undertaking can be assessed.

Where an EIS is acceptable to the EPA, it will communicate this in writing to the applicant and issue the environmental permit”, according to lawyers at Kimathi and Partners, an Accra-based law firm.

Companies that have received approval for either their PER or EIS are required to obtain an environmental management plan (EMP) within 18 months of commencement of operations and every three years thereafter.

The EMP is required to set out steps that are intended to be taken to manage any significant environmental impact that may result from the operation of the project or undertaking.

The Minerals and Mining (Health, Safety & Technical) Regulations 2012 (LI 2182) primarily govern the construction of tailings storage facilities, including hazard classes, embankments, tailings storage facility impoundment, tailings discharge system and safety arrangements for tailings storage facilities.

These facilities are monitored by the Chief Inspector of Mines. As per LI 2182, the design and construction of tailings storage facilities must be done by a qualified engineer approved by the Chief Inspector of Mines.

Each mine with a tailing dam is required to appoint an independent engineer to conduct yearly annual dam safety audits.

Although there are no specific requirements for emergency drills with the local communities, tailings facilities are only permitted to be sited in areas where failure of the embankment is not likely to result in a threat to human life.

For management and recycling of mining waste, the Minerals and Mining (Health, Safety and Technical) Regulations include provisions on the management and handling of waste products.

It places the obligation and the right to explore and exploit waste products in tailings ponds and waste piles on the mineral rights holder, the lawyers said.

The principal community engagement laws applicable are the Minerals and Mining Act and the Minerals and Mining Regulations.

The EPA is the regulatory body that administers these laws regarding community involving programmes and projects to mitigate the effect of mining on the environment.

Transparency

Another cardinal practice of responsible mining is transparency which urges mining companies to make clear statements about having zero tolerance for corruption and for fostering a culture of open information exchange, particularly with communities.

Dr Steve Manteaw, Co-Chair of Ghana Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (GHEITI), the Ghana subset of the global EITI, said potentially impacted people, both women and men, must fully and openly participate throughout the approximately ESIA preparation period.

Acceptance by stakeholders  

Before moving machines to the mine, there must be acceptance among all the stakeholders including mining company employees, local communities and residents, and the government departments or agencies that receive taxes, royalties and grant permits, as well as the shareholders and managers of the company.

It is important to point out that responsible mining companies don’t force mines on people and communities who don’t want them.

The aim of best mining companies is always to ensure that all potentially impacted stakeholders actually welcome a project because the risks are slight; compensation is great; and job training, employment, and local procurement are attractive, General Manager of Goldfields Damang Mine, Michiel Van Der Merwe told some members of the Parliamentary Select Committee on Mines and Energy at the mine in September 2019.

General Manager of Goldfields Damang Mine, Michiel Van Der Merwe conducting the MPs around the mine

Mining must not affect agric and other resources

Additionally, responsible mining companies do not prioritize minerals over people’s sources of food and water.

Although threats to life through depletion of water and food from mining are severe, mining companies in Ghana are addressing these by supporting vegetable and crop farming as well as animal husbandry in their operational communities.

Compliance with International Standards

Ghana has ratified international treaties, conventions and protocols relating to CSR and environment issues.

These include: the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights; International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination;  African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights; African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child; Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa; Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants 2001; UN Framework Convention on Climate Change; and Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI).

Insurance and bonds

After mine closure, a mining corporation may declare bankruptcy or be taken over by another company. If, some decades after a mine closes, a toxic waste lagoon ruptures, liability may not be clear.

To avert this, reclamation bonds are instituted to finance clean-ups and restorations.

For instance, Gold Fields Damang Mine has turned its reclaimed land into profitable uses.

  Out of a total area disturbed of 1,448.91 hectares, 465.66 hectares have been rehabilitated, Mr Michiel Van Der Merwe revealed.

The hectares of tree crops including oil palm, rubber and coconut are being planted by the gold mining company under its rehabilitation and reclamation programme.

Reclaimed mining pit being used for oil palm plantation. Gold Fields Damang Mine site

He added that the programme was boosting sustainable agriculture in the mining community and its surrounding areas.

The company’s policy on reclamation is to rehabilitate disturbed areas while mining operations are ongoing and not to wait until the end of mine life.

This approach also takes into consideration the life-of-mine plan, reclamation criteria and the socio economic activity the land can be put to after mining.

Royalties, Taxes and Fees

As experts in the industry put it net benefit means the profits, benefits, among others accruing to the mining company or government, minus the environmental and social impacts accruing mainly to the impacted communities.

All mining companies have been religiously abiding by Ghana’s fiscal regimes. The country’s mining sector has witnessed a steady growth in recent times, contributing significantly to revenue generated by the government.

The mining sector contributed GH¢15.8 billion and GH¢17.1 billion in 2016 and 2017 respectively, according to data from the Ghana Chamber of Mines.

The sector has proven to be one of the largest sources of revenue to the government as mineral royalties, corporate taxes and employee income taxes play pivotal roles in collecting revenue from the sector.

The increment in revenue is mainly attributed to the increase in the volume of production of traditional minerals, coupled with favourable prices of commodities on the international markets.

So, responsible mining practices when followed religiously are capable of enhancing the relationship between the host communities and the companies.

They can also prevent environmental impacts, and improve the profits of mining companies in Ghana.

By Masahudu Ankiilu Kunateh, African Eye Report

 

 

 

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