Mineweb: Ghana winds up for enviro-mining clash


A report by Asad Ismi on the involvement of Canadian mining companies in the pillaging of Ghana's natural resources raised the ire of Mineweb's Tim Wood. Since Mineweb has deleted it from their archive, we have reproduced his outraged editorial, which interestingly does not link to the original (footnoted) article.

By: Tim Wood

Posted: 2003/09/03 Wed 21:00 EDT | © Mineweb 1997-2003

NEW YORK -- The Ghanaian government is likely to open forest preserves to mining and exploration before the end of the year with a good deal of investment hinging on the decision. The move won't go unopposed. Reuters reported yesterday that Mines Minister Cecilia Bannerman briefed the media on plans to grant five licenses to companies wanting to extend operations into areas currently off-limits. The beneficiary companies are Newmont [NEM], Ashanti [ASL] & Nevsun [NSU], Birim [BGI] & Golden Star [GSS], and Red Back [RBK].

Ghana mine operators roll their eyes at the "reserve" designations because locals have already plundered them. In that vein, the minister stated that the "Many of these [forest] reserves are reserves only on paper."

That should make exploitation permits a foregone and sensible conclusion, but environmental activists have been mobilizing to oppose the move for months.

MiningWatch Canada, an Ottawa lobbying crew that starts from the premise that miners get their way too easily, too often, published a report on Ghana in early July. Breathlessly titled 'Canadian Mining Companies Destroy Environment and Community Resources in Ghana', the report accuses a clutch of companies of human rights abuses, land grabs and contamination – without any evidence in support.

The report is peppered with references meant to convey some force of fact, but they are used strictly for the convenience of MiningWatch Canada's agenda.

For example, it touts mining‚s 1995 contribution to Ghana's income and claims it was "small" at 14.4%. The absurdity of using eight year old data aside, the figure lacks any perspective to affirm mining's "smallness". It is a notion easily rubbished by the fact that at around the same time, 11% of Ghana's GDP came from foreign charity. When your country is receiving $9 per capita more in aid than other African nations, 14.4% of state revenues from mining is hardly small, especially since it provides a hefty chunk of foreign exchange which is critical to debt service.

Ghana has been one of the world's fastest growing economies since the early 1980s when it swapped Che Guevara and revolutionary slogans for World Bank and IMF austerity. If mining's contribution is smaller, it is because the rest of the economy has finally been given room to breathe – no bad thing for Ghana's industrious entrepreneurs.

MiningWatch Canada finds room to carp that mining is too small, but if it had its way the industry would be so small as to be invisible.

The report also complains that mining has forced small scale miners and farmers from their lands and livelihoods.

The suggestion that artisinal mining is more desirable than companies operating to international standards is risible, but no more so than the idea that productive farms have laid off workers en masse because of mining. Ghana‚s agricultural woes have a lot more to do with voodoo economics and corruption that forces most of the rural population to scratch a living out of subsistence plots. Indeed, agricultural land disturbed by mining is fractional relative to other causes.

The human rights charges are serious – so serious that if they were true the chief executives of the companies concerned would already be in jail. Evidently there have been abuses, but there are no facts linking them to the "multinational" companies MiningWatch Canada is now libeling in its sweeping condemnations.

Consider how MiningWatch Canada tries to paint Gold Fields as a race tyrant wherever it operates and then leaps to make a link with an Apartheid related law suit the company is facing in New York. "The suit is being brought by the South African government's apartheid claims task force," it claims. It is an outrageous fib.

Activists are welcome to stand watch because companies are hardly angels, but whose interests are served by the mendacity MiningWatch Canada is putting its name to?

The reality is that despite the sincere efforts, well demonstrated, of the "multinationals" to comply with international best practice, they must not expect praise or even acknowledgement. The activist community generally remains motivated to halt mining altogether because of its ideological war with the idea that development creates wealth.

There will be successes, but it's a long and inglorious road for miners trying to do the right thing. With Newmont already heavily targeted by a network of radicals, it is highly likely that the Ghana forest preserves could become the next Greenpeace and friends circus.