Liberia Immigration Service, Others Blamed for Rampant Illicit Mining

The Liberian Senate, through its committee on Lands, Mines, and Energy, is accusing the Ministry of Mines and Energy and the Liberian Immigration Service of reneging on their statutory responsibilities, thereby creating a floodgate of illicit mining, mainly carried out by aliens.

The accusation by the chairman of the Senate Committee on Lands, Mines, and Energy, Grand Cape Mount County Senator Simeon B. Taylor, came during a public hearing yesterday in the Chambers of the Senate, attended by the Mines and Energy Minister Gesler E. Murray, and the Minister of Internal Affairs, Varney Sirleaf, along with the Commissioner of Liberia Immigration Service, Robert Budy.

The Senate, which convened as the “committee of a Whole” at the end of the hearing, mandated the Minister of Mines and Energy and the Commissioner General of the LIS to draw up a comprehensive action plan to curtail the growing wave of illicit mining across the Country.

The Senate, as a Committee of a Whole, cited the relevant authorities to address and find a workable solution concerning illicit mining across the County, as raised by many Senators.

Senator Taylor during the hearing asserted that LIS has the legal responsibility to deal with illegal entry into the country by aliens and foreigners, especially those involved with mining activities without the consent of the government.

The authorities of the LIS, according to Senator Taylor, are reneging on said responsibility, which is giving rise to rampant illegal mining.

Historically, Liberia has a very rich mineral deposit – particularly of iron ore, gold, and diamonds.  However,  the practice of alluvial and artisanal mining, which is widespread throughout the country, predominantly of gold and diamonds, takes place in many parts of Liberia.  This is primarily carried out by unlicensed and illegal miners, but it contributes to the country’s economy through royalties and taxes paid by licensed dealers.  

A minority of artisanal miners hold small-scale mining licenses.  In the mining sector, land disputes and overlapping mining claims are critical concerns.  Some of the most lucrative mines are in remote and inaccessible forest regions, and the government lacks the resources or capacity to monitor mining activities or enforce mining laws and regulations.  

And just a few years ago, in 2019, the bodies of five people were recovered from a collapsed pit in an illicit gold mine in north-eastern Liberia, Tappita City, Nimba County, while more than 30 people when missing in the walls of the pit caved.

Poverty and a weak economy mean there is no shortage of Liberians willing to risk death in illicit gold mines and this is despite the fact that the Ministry of Mines and Energy, has tried in finding a solution to the problem by developing a roadmap to regulate artisanal and small-scale miners. Thus encouraging them to organize into cooperatives, as a means of improving working conditions and attracting foreign investment. 

But the problem of illicit mining still exists and with the use of dredges, they are illegally operating along the waterways, which then becomes polluted.  

Concerning the Mines and Energy, the Chairman of the Committee Mines, Energy, and Natural Resources stressed that most of the problems in the mining sector are squarely based on the lack of enforcement by the regulatory and enforcement body.

Senator, at the same time, cautioned authorities of the Mines and Energy Ministry and the Liberia Immigration Service to improve on its enforcement and ensure that illicit miners are dealt with in line with laws. 

During their appearance, the Minister of Mines and Energy admitted that there is increased illicit mining across the country, but pointed to the lack of manpower and funding to enforce and monitor mining activities. The Mines and Energy Minister, at the same time, called for the issue of illicit mining to be treated as a “National Emergency”.

In his presentation, the Commissioner-General of LIS also cited the lack of officers to man the 176 inaccessible borders. Out of the 176 border towns, Commissioner Budy added that only 46 are accessible to roads, which are being manned by LIS officers.

For his part, the Minister of Internal Affairs, Varney Sirleaf called for the Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL) to be deployed to curtail the issues of illicit mining.