April 11th, 2005, Accra, Ghana
The purpose of this press conference is to update the media and the public on the campaign around the sudden and reckless liquidation of Bonte Gold Mines Limited (BGM) in March 2004.
As you may be aware Bonte, which holds a 30-year mining lease and was operating in Bonteso in the Ashanti region of Ghana, is a subsidiary of Akrokeri-Ashanti Gold Mines Inc., a Canadian-owned mining company listed in the Toronto Stock Exchange.
You would recall that on July 20th, 2004 TWN-Africa organised a press conference to draw attention to the sudden and reckless liquidation of Bonte and the failure of the state regulatory institutions to avert the situation. Since that conference, a number of civil society organisations continue to take various actions to protect the environment community interest.
As part of the collective effort, TWN-Africa is happy to inform you that a group of public interest law firms-the Centre for Public Interest Law (CEPIL) and the Centre for Environmental Law & Development (CELD) both members of the National Coalition on Mining have filed a law suit against the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Minerals Commission, and Bonte Gold Mines Limited (BGM) the company in liquidation.
Under the laws of Ghana, permission to sue a company in liquidation is a mandatory requirement which must be granted by the High Court. In line with this mandatory requirement CEPIL and CELD went to the Fast Track High Court, Accra to seek permission to sue Bonte alongside the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Minerals Commission. We are happy to announce that CEPIL and CELD have obtained this permission from the Fast Track High Court.
With this permission the stage is now set for Bonte to appear in court jointly with EPA and Minerals Commission. A statement of claim has already been filed, and a writ of summon has also been served on Bonte and the two state regulatory institutions – EPA and Minerals Commission.
CEPIL and CELD are suing Bonte, EPA and Minerals Commission on grounds of negligence and destruction of the environment. In a statement of claim CEPIL and CELD stated the EPA and Minerals Commission “have jointly and severally refused and/or neglected to comply with their respective statutory obligations with regard to the environmental degradation caused by” Bonte. The two organisations are therefore seeking a declaration for an order of mandatory injunction on Bonte, EPA and Minerals Commission compelling them to take all steps necessary for the rehabilitation of the environment caused by Bonte.
At the July 2004 press conference TWN-Africa stated categorically that Ghanaians were entitled to ask how the company was able to liquidate:
- Without following the due processes for mine decommissioning?
- Without notice to the workers?
- Without paying up to date wages to workers and compensation to farmers whose land has been acquired about 15 years ago for mining?
- Leaving a debt of about US$18million owed to various state institutions and private companies?
Similarly, the media and the public are entitled to know developments since the last press conference. We particularly recognise the media as allies in the struggle to ensure that the state and its citizens gain the maximum net returns from mining activities without undue damage to the environment, the livelihood of local communities, and people’s rights.
We believe strongly that the problems created by Bonte and in fact what pertains in the mining industry in terms of the imbalance in the share of mineral wealth, the destruction of the environment and community livelihood sources, and the different levels of conflicts accompanied with human rights violations could have been averted or at least minimised if the state regulatory agencies live up to their responsibilities and duties.
The problems associated with Bonte’s liquidation are a graphic illustration of not just a significant failure on the part of government regulatory institutions, in particular the Minerals Commission and the EPA but also the determination of state regulatory institutions to protect transnational mining corporations in the name of foreign direct investment.
Although Ghana experienced an increase in the level of foreign direct investment in mineral production over the last two decades especially from the period 1990 up to 1996, the result of such increases have been contradictory to the specific concerns and developmental priorities of the national economy, the environment, and the local communities affected by mining. In fact, the translation of the mineral wealth into building the productive capacity of the national economy in general and the local communities within which the mine projects are located has been either ambiguous or negative. Yet, the activities of the companies have been decidedly destructive to the environment and the livelihoods of local communities. Bonte’s liquidation is illustrative of this fact.
At the last press conference in July 2004 the Third World Network-Africa made six-point demands on the government and the mining industry. We want to take this opportunity to restate those demands:
- That a mechanism should be worked out for immediate payment of entitlement and or compensation to the affected workers and farmers.
- A reclamation plan should be immediately developed and implemented to rehabilitate the degraded environment and to reconstruct the portion of the Bonte stream that is affected by Bonte Gold Mines alluvial operations over the last 15 years.
- The relevant state regulatory institutions, namely the Minerals Commission, the EPA, and the Mines Department must ensure that mining companies fulfil the notification for liquidation.
- Closely related to the above, these institutions must step up their monitoring responsibility, and the state should adequately resource them to perform effectively.
- Government should institute a full-scale investigation into the liquidation.
- The Chamber of Mines should evolve and make public mechanisms for regulating its members.
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