Wednesday, September 06, 2006

As bauxite prospecting begins at Atiwa Forest OKYENHENE condemns mining activities in Ghana

The OKYENHENE, Osagyefuo Amoatia Ofori Panin, King of Akyem Abuakwa, has censured the mining industry in Ghana, describing it as non-beneficial to the state. He has thus renewed his commitment to protecting the ecologically important Atiwa Forest Reserve (AFR) from the ravages of mining. Osagyefuo, an internationally noted advocate of environmental conservation, told The Chronicle in an exclusive interview at his Ofori Panin Fie in Kyebi that the history and record of the Ghanaian mining industry proved that the nation had not benefited from the industry as expected and as other countries with similar natural resources have benefited. “Let me correct this impression that I am against mining,” he noted. “I have all along suggested that the laws regulating the industry ought to be changed. There is no equity in the present arrangement; there must be shared benefits and shared burdens.” He Majesty was sure “this is because, the sector’s contribution to government revenue and to local communities have been relatively minimal.” The influential traditional leader noted that his position had always been that Ghanaians own the ore and for that matter they should be able to bargain with strength and negotiate hard for better deals. He said over the years, multi-nationals in the minerals extraction industry have enjoyed huge capital allowances, tax holidays, cheap labour and the practice of deferred royalty payments. “But despite this gesture from the nation, they have consistently been insensitive to the plight of the locals and I think it is morally wrong,” he opined. He said the city of Johannesburg in South Africa, for example, was completely transformed as a result of the gold deposit found there since 1886, stressing that today Johannesburg had become a major city in the world and was preparing to host the world cup in 2010. Narrowing down on the Ghanaian situation, he opined that Obuasi, Ghana’s richest gold town, had not seen any type of upliftment or transformation over the years; a situation that is “very say indeed”. “I think Obuasi and other mining towns such as Akwatia, where I grew up, Tarkwa, Prestea, Bibiani, among others, deserve better treatment. “These communities have suffered and continue to suffer various degrees of adverse impact of mining operations such as mining-related diseases, contamination of local drinking water, land destruction, youth unemployment and inadequate housing,” the Akyem Abuakwa overlord reiterated. The King pointed out that according to the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, in 1981, 61% of the people in mineral exporting countries lived on less than one dollar a day, and that by the year 2000, the percentage had increased to 82%; a situation that clearly indicated that more and more people are coming to live under the poverty line, and which he considered very unfortunate. Expressing his know-how in economics and a bit of statistics, he noted that Ghanaians have been told that mining is the leading earner of foreign exchange in the country. He recalled that in the 2004 budget statement, it was captured that mineral export amounted to USD830, 000,000.00 out of the total export revenue of USD2, 397,200,000.00, constituting 36% of total exports. He analyzed that in real terms, the mining sector contributes only 1.5% to the gross domestic product. On the basis of the analysis, Osagyefuo argued that the extractive industries are not making any significant and decisive contribution to the economy and do not hold the key to the sustainable development of our country. He said the situation clearly indicated that more and more people were going to live under the poverty line, adding that the country did not have any visible socio-economic gains as a result of the mining activities in spite of what the proponents of mining would want to demonstrate. The King who agreed to the paper’s request to have him speak on his position on the mining exploration rights given to a bauxite mining company, Alcoa, for mining in the AFR, intimated that mining companies in Ghana operate under highly favourable and profitable conditions and yet do not care to make any meaningful contributions to the development of their operational communities. “We certainly hope that as far as the bauxite is concerned, Alcoa will be different and I’m sure the sector ministry and the leadership in this country will include all stakeholders in the negotiations to transact contracts that will be equitable to all sides,” he implored. His Majesty said he was reliably informed and assured by a team of experts who conducted a biodiversity survey at Atiwa, sponsored by ALCOA, that the numerous unique and significant species and the water bodies plus the flora will not be threatened. The overriding question is: what about the long-term economic and social development of the area? “For the most part, all they do is provide a handful of boreholes, a few classroom blocks and other petty charities in the name of social responsibility, “ he said. Osagyefuo, who has so far demonstrated his commitment to the preservation of the environment through his Okyenman Environment Foundation, indicated that it was the natural resources of developed countries that made its citizens wealthy, but lamented that Ghana with all its natural resources still found majority of her citizens poor. To him, the situation is so because mining laws do not offer the necessary opportunities for citizens to own mineral properties. “Let me give an example: recently, the Saudi prince who came to buy the Ambassador Hotel is capable of making investments all over the world as a result of the oil deposits in his country. But who in Ghana can we say is rich because of Ghana’s mineral endowment?” He reminded, “The President’s vision was to make Ghana a middle-income country by 2015; we support that. But for us to be a wealthy nation, the Ghanaian citizen must be wealthy and the only way to achieve that is for us to own and control part of our mineral resources. “Property ownership is a key component to successful economic conditions.” His Majesty reiterated. “If they are coming just for their profits, then we don’t need them.” Source: The Ghanaian Chronicle, Accra - 6.9.2006


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