Liberia: ‘Unregulated’ Artisan Mining In Several Counties Robbing Gov’t of Revenue
Monrovia – Liberia’s revenue is “seriously being drained” due to rampant illicit mining by individuals suspected to be foreigners, some Liberians residing in artisanal mining communities have told FrontPageAfrica amid increasing concerns about the Ministry of Mines and Energy’s inability to adequately supervise and regulate the sector.
There are proliferating mining activities in Bong, Grand Bassa, Gbarpolu and Lofa Counties while long-term mining in several southeastern counties like Maryland, Grand Kru, Sinoe, Grand Gedeh and Rivercess Counties have left little or no socioeconomic benefits for locals affected by the mining.
The bigger picture, some say, is that the country is now losing millions of revenue albeit increasing socio-economic challenges and environmental degradation – contamination of soil, water and deforestation.
Although the Mines and Energy Ministry is yet to robustly tackle the situation, its inspectors have reportedly visited some of the mining sites, but the trade continues unabated.
However, Representative Vicent Willie of Grand Bassa County, who heads the House of Represenatives’ committee on Land, Mines Energy and Natural Resources and the Environment, says there are two major factors compunding the problem.
First, Liberians are fronting for forigners, who are carrying on these mining and second, the LME is poorly supervising these actvities across the country.
Unlike large scale mining or exploration, only Liberians, according to the new Mining law of 2000, are exclusively allow to obtain Class C lincense.
With respect to Class B linceses, the law states that a foriegner shall only own a share less than 40 percent whereas a Liberian can own and control 60 percent of the equity or share.
However, due to ineffective inspection or supervision by the LME a lot of Liberians are said to be allegedly fronting for foreigners to obtain Class B lincese.
“When the Liberians registred their business, and because they lack the technical capcity and the financial strength, they go and hired these Chinese and Ghanians and bring them as supporters or go into partnership with them,” Rep. Willie said.
LME recently lifted a ban on the issuance of drag mining that involves the use of heavy earth-moving equipment. Before the ban was imposed, there were frequent complaints about environment hazards and concerns about bridges being destroyed.
With the ban now lifted, Class B mining is expected to increased but concerns about poor enforcement of regulation still looms.
And Hon. Willie says the LME is handicapped by low budgetary allotment, which makes it improbable to effectively regulate and supervise mining activities across the country.
“They don’t have that capacity – because they need to go with security; they need to have agents all over, and have sight visitations – they have had very little budgetary support.”
In the 2018/2019 budget, LME receives approximately US$1.9 million allotment but generated over US$9 million in revenue, making the Grand Bassa County District #4 lawmaker to assert that if the Ministry receives more support it would curb some of the challenges and raise more taxes.
“Increase their budget so that they would be able to go after illicit miners,” he said, disclosing that the LME budget has been further sliced in the impending 2019/2020 national budget.
“So, the best way to mitigate this probleme is to put more money in the budget for the Mines and Energy Ministry, and beef up the police nad immigration officers in these counties to enforce the mining law.”
His comments come as the budget remains as the Legislative for review and passage into law.
Difficult To Curb Illicit Mining
Meanwhile, Hon. Willie says the close knit relationship between miners and locals makes it difficult to clamp down on miners illicit activities.
“It is their own sons and daughters that are working with these miners and it makes it compound-complex and there are even intermarriage going on – and I learned that these miners are even giving money to the communities.
“They take heavy equipment on these bridges which spent our own money to build for our people, destroy it and leave it like that and then it comes back to us as politicians and when we want to take action against these miners, the community gets offended”.
Illicit Mining ‘Creating Jobs’
At the same time, Bong County’s District #4 Represenative Robert Flomo Womba says illegal miners have increased because “some of the multinational companies had mined and ravaged their lands without giving the locals anything in return in terms of development projects”.
“We are aware of the danger this primitive mining activities have brought to the communities, that include the numbers of foreign nationals, but many of the residents support the mining, because it is the only alternative for them to earn better living,” Womba says.
He claims that the trade has accounted for hundreds of jobs directly or indirectly, noting, “sometimes the miners come on the field and work three to four months and when they realized that they have earned some good money, they would leave without informing the authority.”
Growing Social Problems In Bong County
Meanwhile, there are also numerous social problems like child labor, prostitution, drug abuse, corruption and violence, says Mohammed Nasser, who heads a youth initiative in Bong County.
“All the multinational companies that were operating on our mountains have scaled down their operations, so our people have no alternative, but to do illegal mining thereby creating several other problems including drainng the country’s revenue collection,” he said.
“It has also led to school age children abandoning the classroom for mining activities, thereby depriving themselves of the requisite academic qualification they would need to earn better paying jobs in the future.”
Reports suggest that mining activities is increasing in Bong County specifically concentrated in Gbakona, Zota District; Gbarmue, Jorquelleh District #2, and Degei, Sanoyea District and several other areas.
“Though illegal mining sometimes helps alleviate poverty to some extent, and also provide many opportunities for the locals, it’s important for laws of the land be respected,” adds Daniel Kerkulah, a resident of David Dean Town where there are hundreds of artisanal miners.
“In an environment of illegal mining, ‘survival of the fittest’ holds true,” Kerkulah said referencing the lawlessness that include prostitution and widespread abuse of illegal substances.
Gormai Kollie, a resident of Hindi in the Bong Mines community, alleges that many miners are working “without documents” and if their activities are not effeiciently regulated the risks of mudslide will remain very high and there could be a reoccurrence of the Nimba County landslide of February this year.
She called on the government to put in place measures that would allow these miners to register and pay taxes as a means of generating revenue to boost development programs.
Emmanuel Mafelah In Bong County Contributed to this Story