Liberia: ‘No Policies, Regulations on Small-scale Mining’

Illicit mining in Liberia Illicit mining is causing the government to lose millions of United States dollars. 

... — New research outlines implications

High fees of licenses for artisanal and small-scale miners, lack of enforcement and limited knowledge about mining and environmental issues have resulted in miners operating illegally, says a new report by Green Advocates International (GAI).

The report was generated from findings of a study conducted by GAI, which revealed that lack of legal framework, policies and regulations, specifically to the Artisanal and Small-scale Mining (ASM) sector, coupled with complex and often convoluted supply-chains, make the ASM operators susceptible to exploitation.

Also, the lack of access to credit and low level of knowledge among miners about commodities (gold and diamond), value and pricing, are issues requiring attention in the ASM sector, the report says. 

The Head of Programs at Green Advocates International, Francis K. Colee, explains: “In Liberia, people are mainly using diggers and shovels to get involved with artisanal and small-scale mining. The process is very tedious and involves lots of digging. And all this work is to recover just a small stone in the soil. But the biggest problem in the ASM sector is the lack of regulation. 

“Without a regulation specific to the ASM sector, we will not be able to bring about the desired improvement needed to uplift the ASM sector, the miners, the mining communities and the environment or to make the ASM sector financially viable for post-war economic recovery,” he added. 

The research, titled ‘The State of Artisanal and Small-Scale Mining (ASM) in Liberia, was presented during a one-day national meeting with policy makers, civil society, development partners, mining associations and affected mining communities at the YMCA Conference Hall, Crown Hill.

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. 

Key findings from the draft report revealed that one of the major challenges to local miners is the lack of legal, policy and regulatory framework.  

“That’s huge. So, what we see happening is that because there is no regulation, there is a temptation for the Ministry of Mines and Energy to revert to regulations promulgated in the 1979 Mining Law, which are no longer legally applicable, given that we already have the Mineral and Mining Law of 2000,” Colee added.

Momo G. Daffah, a resident of Grand Cape Mount County, Weajue Community, thanked GAI for the continuous efforts in ensuring the plight of affected communities is heard. He however pleaded with GAI to conduct fact-findings on the concessions agreement that was signed by the government for Bea Mountain. 

“Our Weajue community was once covered with a lot of artisanal mining, especially areas where Bea Mountain has occupied and it was occupied by our very citizens. Now that the government has legally given our mining claims to Bea Mountain and that the company is not in the position to employ us; the question is, how do our citizens survive?’’ he asked.

The Bea Mountain investment highlights challenges in working with both large-scale mining and small-scale mining in the same landscape, raising concerns about transition, alternative livelihoods, resettlement, etc.

Another miner, Fantu Borbor, pleaded with Green Advocates and policy makers to help provide equipment for them and encourage more investors to support them. Currently, Class ‘C’ miners or artisanal and small-scale miners are not permitted to use heavy earth moving equipment in their operations.  

The research report addressed this restriction, calling on the government of Liberia to revisit the decision. According to the report, the January 2020 moratorium imposed by the government of Liberia on the use of heavy earth moving equipment in the ASM sector, even if they operate as a cooperative, has implications for the Washington Declaration, which requires governments to help expand access to equipment in the ASM sector. 

At the same time, the report finds that such restriction also undermines trust and confidence and serves as a disincentive for local banks to offer loans to local miners for their operations. 

Josephus V. Sampson complained that they are faced with issues of recovery, deforestation and other environmental concerns. He suggested that without smart mining equipment, people are just digging everywhere in the name of searching for diamonds and gold. 

“People just go there to mine, they are looking for gold and diamonds. We want to ask GAI to help us with smart mining equipment that will tell people here is the diamond, dig this place then they will not be digging all our big, big trees.’’

Nyan S. Kokek, Regional Diamond Officer, Gbarma Mining District, disclosed that the proliferation of illicit buyers from Guinea, Ivory Coast, Mali, and Senegal, is posing a serious challenge to their work. 

The research report also highlighted illicit mining and Illicit Financial Flows (IFFs) as key issues for policy consideration in the ASM sector.

Lee Wonbay, from the Ministry of Mines and Energy, said the Ministry is seriously challenged with mobility to allow inspectors actively access the mining sites.  However, he says as enforcement officers, they cannot go beyond their limit but will continue to make recommendations.