Aggrieved workers of the Liberty Gold Mine operated by the Bea Mountain Corporation in Kinjor, Grand Cape Mount are appealing to the government through the Ministry of Labor and other agencies to immediately order the company to increase their salaries and settle their claims.
Bea Mountain Corporation, which is a subsidiary of Aureus Mining Company, is operating under an 8-year concession agreement with the Government of Liberia. Details of the concession agreement remain scanty but according to sources, the company is expected to produce a billion dollars worth of gold over the 8-year period.
It also remains unclear just how much the people of Kinjor as well as the Government of Liberia stand to receive from the production of a billion dollars worth of gold. It is also unclear how much the World Bank through its offspring, the International Finance Corporation (IFC), stands to benefit from the operation as the largest shareholder.
But one thing which experts in the industry seem to agree on is that the people of Kinjor as well as the government of Liberia are being shortchanged.
The distressed workers said the lack of due process in job dismissals, the disparity in amenities and salaries for expatriate versus local workers, the demand for improved services, and fulfillment of overdue obligations lie at the heart of the current problem at Kinjor.
They further alleged that they have on several occasions called on the county leadership to address the matter before the onset of the rainy season – well before the matter got out of hand – but felt that their concerns went virtually ignored. “These people, Cape Mount Caucus, you are seeing here today are very wicked; we have called several times but they have refused to come to our call. Or is it because they have heard about the ‘country devil’ is why they came? That’s just the beginning,” said an aggrieved resident.
Varney Kromah, a local resident, said that over the past months and years, they have been complaining about problems that include unemployment and unfair labor practices, including the issue of resettlement benefits, cooperative farming, and the planting of cornerstones among others.
And because management had allegedly paid deaf ears to their concerns, on February 5, 2018 residents requested the intervention of the ‘country devil,’ which paralyzed the entire operations of Aureus Gold, according to Varney Kromah.
The intervention of the ‘country devil’ stalled the free movement of non-members and shut down other businesses. The situation led to the shooting and wounding of two persons, namely Zina Dassin and Francis Benson, by officers of the Emergency Response Unit of the Liberia National Police. The wounded persons are still undergoing treatment at the J.F.K Memorial Hospital.
Emmanuel Kamara, spokesperson of the group, said Bea Mountain is “using us like tools,” without providing any incentives for services rendered. He declared, “We have held several meetings with them including management and the Board Chairman, who assured us that we will receive our due benefits, but to no avail up to present.”
But one of the workers, Miatta Paul, told the Daily Observer in Kinjor over the weekend that they are yet to receive anything regarding the payment of the benefits the company owes them, including money they promised to be given for their children’s school fees. According to Miatta, the Bea Mountain management promised each worker US$200 for their children’s fees.
Ms. Paul, who is one of the contractors on the gold mine, revealed to our reporter that in order for the New Liberty Gold to operate in the area, about 325 families in two villages, Kinjor and Larjor, were forced to leave their homes, farms, and artisanal mines that had provided income for them.
Construction began on the mine in 2014, and the first gold sales came a year later. Even though the company describes the operation as a ‘key asset,’ the promised better amenities are yet to materialize years later, and there has already been one major chemical spill that has polluted the environment, Miatta Paul said.
In return for their relocation to a new village, also named Kinjor, which was carved out of the forest near the mine, the company promised to make life better: new houses, a school, hand pumps, which could have made all the difference for them.
For their part, Traditional Council of Liberia chairman Chief Zanzan Karwor and Cape Mount District #2 Representative Mambu Sonii said from the investigation conducted, they see no conflict between the residents and Bea Mountain managers in Kinjor.
They observed that what is stalling progress in the area is the people themselves and not the company. They warned that until the inhabitants of Kinjor including the youth and elders of that area stop the internal wrangling, development will continue to elude them. They further declared that the company continues to exploit them because of their disunity.
Chief Zanzan Karwor, who spoke on behalf of the Traditional Council, called for a revisit of the Resettlement Action Plan and Concessional Agreement, and used the occasion to order a halt to all Poro activities in the area.
He blamed community and government relations manager, Sando Wayne, for hastily calling in the Liberia National Police’s Emergency Response Unit (ERU), whose intervention led to the shooting and wounding of two civilians. Chief Karwor said Wayne should understand that he is a Liberian and should also consider himself as a ‘twin father,’ meaning he should work for both sides.
For his part, Representative Mambu Sonii of District #2 lauded Chief Karwor for his sound analysis in the Kinjor case, adding that he believes that the problem in Kinjor is the people themselves, and called on the Minister of Internal Affairs to have another meeting to settle the internal problems between the elders, youth, and the landowners, or else ‘they will always continue to cry.’
In remarks, Internal Affairs Minister Varney Sirleaf thanked all of the speakers for their participation and said several meetings will be called in order to find a lasting solution to the Kinjor problem.
Minister Sirleaf vowed to constructively engage the landowners including the elders so they can all sit down to a dialogue on the Kinjor issue. The Internal Affairs Minister in his remarks appealed to the Bea Mountain management to install varnished ceilings in all of the housing units under construction for the residents, all part of promises made to residents.
He also encouraged the company to have the clinic effectively running. The minister further called on the company to consider the agriculture program that forms part of the Resettlement Action Plan so the uneducated can take advantage of it. Minister Sirleaf then imposed a US$1,500 fine on the management of the Bea Mountain Mining Company.
Clarifying the fine, Minister Sirleaf said the it does not imply guilt, but was intended to cement the broken relationships between the company and the residents of Kinjor and Lajor.
In conclusion, Sando Wayne, community and government relations manager of Bea Mountain, acknowledged the plight of the workers and residents, and promised to get back to them very soon.