Sir Sam Jonah, the man touted to have transformed the Obuasi Mine of Anglogold Ashanti to the extent of leading the company to even list on the New York Stock Exchange in 1994, has distanced himself from the Obuasi township's underdevelopment as compared to Johannesburg in South Africa, a similar mining city which has been greatly transformed through the impact of mining.
In a televised interview with GTV Friday morning, monitored by Graphic Online, Sir Jonah was asked if it bothers him that, people feel that he should have done more for Obuasi.
His response was: "it bothers me that I am so misunderstood in that sense."
Sir Sam Jonah is currently the executive chairman of Jonah Capital, an equity fund based in Johannesburg, and is considered one of Ghana's richest men.
He joined Ashanti Goldfields Corporation in 1979 and worked in various capacities, including underground operations.
He became the chief executive officer at age 36 in 1986, and supervised the transformation of Ashanti Goldfields into a mining multinational, increased gold production from 240,000 ounces per annum to over 1.6 million ounces in over ten years, and oversaw the company's listing as the first operating African company on the New York Stock Exchange.
The Obuasi town, where mining has been happening since 1895 still have many development challenges and some people have been making comparisons with Johannesburg in South Africa, which also started mining around the same period and how the city has been greatly impacted with development from mining.
In various circles and in the Obuasi town, some have accused Sir Jonah of not doing much to help the town when he led the mine for over 10 years.
Responding to the accusation in the television interview on GTV, he said:
"First of all, when you say I should have done more for Obuasi, I was an employee, I was using other people's funding including that of the country because the country was the biggest shareholder before we went public… the country had 55 percent of the company, and Lonhro had 45 percent. I was the fund manager, you understand. So when they say I should have done more for Obuasi, I think that people misunderstand the role of the Chief Executive of a company, but you don't have the freedom or the authority to do what you like."
"However, because of my commitment to sustainability..., I made sure that when I became Chief Executive in 1986, me and my team came up with a plan for rehabilitation of Obuasi, modernization and worked closely with the architectural department of Tech (KNUST) and Town Planning Department and it was accepted by the company. We did the roads, we installed street lights, we didn't have street lights, we did three major dams constructed and everybody in Obuasi had water.
"We modernized schools in terms of physical facilities, we helped the local secondary school [Obuasi Sec Tech], we extended the facilities at the hospital so that everybody else could go there and not just dependants of the company, we did all of that."
To Sir Jonah, also a former Executive President of Anglogold Ashanti, there was a fundamental issue, which is at the core of the misunderstanding that people have.
"When people say look at Obuasi and look at Johannesburg, we all produce gold. You are right, Johannesburg was a gold town, Obuasi was and is a gold town, so is Tarkwa and so is Konongo.
"But do you know what the difference is, the difference is that Johannesburg, owners of the mine were South Africans although whites, so they had nowhere else to take their money. So they invested the money in their town and applied the taxes in the town and in the country."
He said Obuasi had since 1895, although founded by three Ghanaians, they sold it out, and so the company had been foreign-owned all that while.
He said Ghana as a country did not have any shareholding interest in the company until 1969 when the government was given 15 percent by Lonhro, who wanted the lease of the company to be extended for 50 more years.
He added that it was in 1972 that the Acheampong government through his command assumed 55 per cent interest in the mine, and that was when the people of Ghana for the first time became prominent owners of the mine.
At that time the company was valued at less than US$100million until it was listed in 1994, and the government's interest was reduced to 30 per cent.
He said for the 25 per cent that the government took, "they took US$330million off the table - cash -, and even if US$100million had been spent in Obuasi," he said Obuasi would have been a different place but it went to balance the national budget, because consistently, "we [Ghana as a country] had lived beyond our means. So when people compare South Africa, Johannesburg to Obuasi, what I want people to appreciate is in fact, it is down to ownership [of the company]."
His conclusion is that, he cannot be blamed since he did not own the company and did not had the authority to decide on how to spend the money from the company.
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