Very rich yet, so poor: the sad story of mining communities in Ghana

BY: Timothy Ngnenbe
A group demonstrating over bad roads at Tarkwa in the central region.
A group demonstrating over bad roads at Tarkwa in the central region.

It was a bright and sunny Wednesday morning at Tarkwa in the Tarkwa-Nsuaem Municipality in the Western Region. I was part of a team of journalists who went on a four-day tour of some mining companies in the Western and Central regions with the Minister of Lands and Natural Resources, Mr Kwaku Asomah-Cheremeh.

We were informed that some youth had blocked the main Tarkwa-Takoradi highway to demonstrate over the deplorable nature of their roads. Clad in red attire, they burnt lorry tyres, chanted and sang “ye ni abre, ye ni abre korrr,” to wit, “we are poised for action.” Not even the tooting of horns by frustrated drivers of the fleet of stranded vehicles could tickle the aggrieved youth to back down on their action.

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Only last Tuesday, October 16, farmers in mining communities in the New Abirem district in the Eastern Region staged a mammoth demonstration against Newmont Akyem Mines, leading to severe injuries to five of them.

The farmers have been agitating over the past three years for a compensation package from Newmont following the takeover of their farmlands.


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Work has stalled on this project at UMaT located at Tarkwa.

The sad story

After well over a century of mining, residents of Tarkwa and other communities such as Prestea, Bogoso, and Dunkwa-on-Offin, have seen little development as the residents continue to wallow in poverty.

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Their land and water resources have been devastated by the activities of illegal miners, leaving them to hunger and thirst for their pound of flesh.

The Birim, Offin, Pra, Ankobra, Densu and other rivers that served as sources of clean drinking water for these towns and villages have now been reduced to nothing but milky-brown liquid that can neither support plant or animal life.

Fertile farmlands that produced food crops to feed them can barely serve that purpose because of illegal mining.

MDF

It was in response to the development gap in mining communities that the government passed the Minerals Development Fund (MDF) Act, 2016 (Act 912) to provide additional revenue for projects in such areas.

The MDF derives its funds from 20 per cent of mineral royalty received from the Ghana Revenue Authority (GRA) from holders of mining leases, money approved by Parliament for the fund, grants, donations, gifts, as well as money that accrues to the fund from investments made by the MDF board.

The MDF also provides for the establishment of Mining Community Development Schemes for each mining community to facilitate socio-economic development of host communities.

Section 21 of the MDF Act allocates 80 per cent of revenue that accrues from the mining sector to the Consolidated Fund while 20 per cent goes to the MDF through the Office of the Administrator of Stool Lands (OASL).

Per the current arrangements, only 4.9 per cent of the total amount goes directly to the metropolitan, municipal and district assemblies (MMDAs) for development.

The reality

With the setting up of the MDF, one would have expected that key infrastructure projects would be laid in critical areas of the local economy to make life better for the people.

However, residents of mining communities such as Tarkwa, Takoradi, Prestea, Ayanfuri, Dunkwa-on-Offin, Bogoso are still deprived of development projects, while the bumpy, dusty, ragged and pothole inundated roads lead nowhere.

Mining companies engage in one corporate social responsibility (CSR) projects or the other, but these projects are not sustainable.

It is surprising that although some projects have been started under the MDF, work on such facilities have stalled due to lack of funds.

For instance, some nine projects being executed under the MDF at the University of Mines and Technology (UMaT) by the MDF since 2010 are still stagnating at various completion stages because the meat is said to have been eaten to the bone.

Is the MDF a toothless dog?

The Graphic Business reported in its June 12, 2018 issue that years after the passage of the MDF Act by Parliament, the government was yet to fully implement the law that will give legal basis for the disbursement and management of ceded royalties received from mining companies.

The paper stated that some GH¢115.04 million of mineral royalties due traditional authorities, stools, MMDAs since 2016 was locked up with the Ministry of Finance in violation of Section 4 (3) of the MDF Act which mandates persons who receive money intended for the fund to lodge it into it within six working days.

In an interview with the Administrator of the MDF, Dr Noris Hammah, in Accra, he disclosed that the outstanding MDF arrears were in access of the GH₵155.04 million quoted by the Graphic Business.

Dr Hammah said although the MDF fund for 2018 had been paid up to the second quarter of the year, all was not well because there was a cap on the percentage of royalties that had to be paid into the fund in contradiction to the MDF Act that stated categorically that it should be 20 per cent.

“Although we have received some money in the fund up to the second quarter of this year, there is a cap on the percentage that enters the fund, so it is not up to the mandatory 20 per cent, but the MDF Secretariat has not been told the percentage capping,” he added.

Crux

The demand by residents of mining communities for good roads and other infrastructure is a worthy call. They suffer the direct repercussions of the activities of mining companies than anyone else.

It is a fact that the government needs resources to implement policies across the country. However, what belongs to Caesar must be given to him.

Urgent steps must be taken to pass the legislation that will give legal backing to the disbursement of the MDF to take care of designated projects in mining communities as provided for in the Act.