Last week the Daily Observer published a story titled, “MNG Gold Acknowledges Fault.” This story emanated from Kokoyah District, Bong County where the concerned company is mining gold in that resource endowed but impoverished district. Several local media outlets including foreign outlets have reported on the spillage of hazardous chemicals into creeks and other water sources used by residents of Kokoyah District for drinking cooking and washing mainly.
The Daily Observer correspondent in Bong County, Marcus Malayea, in his report carried in the July 18, 2018 edition of this newspaper headlined “Citizens Complain MNG Gold of Chemical Spillage”, reported that the cyanide spillage in creeks last year in that operational area was still affecting local residents who remain mired in chronic poverty despite the fact that such valuable resource is taken from their communities.
Earlier on July 12, 2018 the FrontPageAfrica newspaper carried a story headlined “Bong Residents Suffering Aftermath of MNG Gold Cyanide Spillage. Also in January the New Dawn newspaper in its January 4th 2018 edition reported a story on the same situation headlined “Kokoyah Residents Demand compensation from MNG Gold. Earlier in 2017, MMDOC, a Nigeria based publication in its October 5th 2017 edition reported a story headlined, “30 people hospitalized after exposure to chemical spill from MNG Gold reservoir in Bong County”.
Up till now, local residents complain that they still taste chemicals in their drinking water and suffer unusual rashes on the skin after bathing. Extensive but critical media coverage on the chemical spillage in Kokoyah District was perhaps the driving factor that led the MNG Gold to respond to public concerns on the matter. Its Environmental Expert, Ms. Meryem Tekol Pelenk acknowledged the error leading to contamination of water sources for the residents of Sayewheh Town and extended an apology.
She further clarified in the July 20th 2018 edition of this newspaper that MNG –Gold was in the process of repairing the Tailing Storage Facility from where the cyanide leaked, in order to prevent recurrence of this incident. This newspaper is reliably informed that the MNG Gold, a Turkish owned company bought over the shares of the American Liberian Mining Company, otherwise referred to as AMLIB, a company in which Mr. Carney Johnson, brother of former President Sirleaf was reported to be a major shareholder.
AMLIB, according to sources, was registered in an off shore tax haven located in the Channel Islands, a group of islands near the coast of France but administered under British law. In such tax havens the names of shareholders are not disclosed obviously because much of the money it attracts come from illicit sources or are acquired though illicit means. AMLIB is reported to have acquired the concession agreement in 2005, the very year President Sirleaf was sworn into her first term of office.
Details surrounding the acquisition of the concession however remain murky which gives rise to strong suspicions that the AMLIB Concession agreement may just be one of those 66 agreements signed into law during President Sirleaf’s tenure of office, all of which were illegal save about two. Under the rubric of these illegal concession agreements signed under President Sirleaf’s watch such as the AMLIB, MNG Gold, ExxonMobil, Aureus Gold concession agreements, foreign companies have continued to fleece the Liberian people of their resources while they wallow in abject poverty.
The MNG-Gold, for example, in exchange for a US$55 million investment, is set to recover a total of 480,000 ounces of gold over the life of the agreement. At current market price of 1,229.29 multiplied by 480,000 equals US$587,659,200 (five hundred eighty-seven million, six-hundred fifty-nine thousand two hundred United States dollars). Out of this projected income, the MNG Gold is paying a paltry sum of US$1,000 per month to county authorities as contribution to the County Development Fund.
To repair the damage caused by the chemical spillage, the MNG-Gold has underwritten hospitalization costs for some affected individuals and erected a few hand-pump wells to address concerns over the pollution and contamination of drinking water sources. Needless to say, the people of Kokoyah District, Bong County are being short-changed, robbed of their resources for a pittance by powerful foreign companies, some of which have the backing of the World Bank through its affiliate, the International Finance Corporation(IFC).
The cases of the Kinjor gold mines in Cape Mount, Hummingbird in Southeastern Liberia are examples of World Bank Group involvement in exploitative schemes that make nonsense of claims that they are here to help assist our development efforts. Since the people of Kokoyah District are poor and powerless in the face of a powerful foreign company, the Government of Liberia should do all it can to ensure the protection of the rights of its people.
One sure way to start is to commence a review of all such illegal concession agreements signed under President Sirleaf’s watch. Also the Environmental Protection Agency needs to conduct a comprehensive assessment of the damage caused by dangerous chemical spillage in Kokoyah District. Next the MNG Gold should be compelled to pay reparations to the people of Kokoyah District — not the US$1,000 it has paid to affected individuals.
Moreover, the company should be compelled to clean up the environment and restore it to its former state. What a turn around it would be for the people of Kokoyah District were the District to accrue at least even 15 percent of the over US$587 million it stands to gain from the mines in Kokoyah!
This should constitute a wake-up call to President George Weah who campaigned relentlessly on a mantra of Change for Hope”. What change can be now bring to bear on the fortunes of Kokoyah District and what Hope can he give or restore for the people of Kokoyah? MNG Gold needs to do more-much more for the people of Kokoyah!