By Alloycious David and Emmanuel Freudenthal
Liberia’s first industrial gold mine failed to hold its promises, dashing the hopes of local residents of Cape Mount County.
Contrary to President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf’s assurance that the New Liberty Gold Mine will positively impact the lives of Liberians, the 325 families displaced by the mine have not yet moved into the houses they had been promised.
The International Finance Corporation (IFC) injected over US$19 million into the project with the aim of bettering the lives of Liberians.
The houses should have been finished three years ago and now lie in ruins, overtaken by grass. In the resettled town, called Kinjor, residents still live in the inadequate structures that were meant to host them temporarily.
There is no sign that their construction works will resume anytime soon.
The company in charge of the project, Aureus Mining, now renamed Avesoro, has also failed to construct a health post in Kinjor, as required by an agreement signed between residents and the company, known as the ‘Resettlement Action Plan’. Residents claimed that the absence of a health center is contributing to health problems and untimely deaths.
Residents also complained that they did not receive adequate compensation for the crops they lost when their farms were destroyed to make way for the mine.
Gbaley Dorley, 32, alleged that his farm was completely destroyed by the company. In exchange, he got less than a hundred United States dollars in compensation for the cassava, coconut, and pineapple he cultivated.
Another problem being experienced in Kinjor is lack of safe drinking water. Residents said the community has less than five functional hand pumps and that many of them do not work during the dry season.
The company’s operations, according to some residents, poses health hazard. Kulah Dassin, a 36 year old mother of eight children, explained that in March 2015, the company polluted their river with cyanide, which killed all the fish in the river.
The children, who usually bath and wash in the river,suffered from rashes, which look like ringworms, she claimed.
Dassin disclosed that the application of traditional medicine has helped to cure the rash, but that it is still visible on children.
The Town Chief of Jikandoh, called Pa Jimmy, corroborated this claim that hundreds of fish died in the river,and added that “I immediately placed a call to the company’s management when we noticed that the fish were dying.”
Pa Jimmy also narrated that Debar Allen,the company’s manager, and a team came quickly to collect water samplesin the river and took some of the dead fish back to their office. Debar Allen, admitted that the company accidentally dumped cyanide in the river but said the company has taken action to advert the situation.
The company’s General Manager instructed them to stop using the water. In restitution for the pollution of their river, Aureus Mining constructed two hand pumps to provide community members with safe drinking water.The company is compensating residents by providing them with cartons of fish.
Although the company and the Ministry of Health has not provided official statement on the safety of the river, and no one was examined by a doctor to determine the seriousness of the matter, however, community members have resumed bathing and washing their clothes in the river.
The Environmental Protection Agency of Liberia attempted to investigate the leak, but said that the company obstructed its investigation, which led to a US$10, 000 fines for the company.
Allen further stated that construction works on the houseswere halted to focus more on the mining, because according to him, the company was running out of funding. But contradicted him when he the individuals resettled in new Kinjor was satisfied with where they staying and that the company was thinking about what to do with the units when they are completed.
The company’s ownership remains sealed in secrecy, Aureus Mining is part of several shell companies registered in secrecy jurisdictions and named in the Panama Papers. The NEWS also unearthed that it has links to former President Charles Taylorwho is currently serving a 50 year jail sentence for war crimes committed in neighboring Sierra Leone.
Taylor’s former associate, the late Senator Keikurah B. Kpoto created the Liberian subsidiary of Aureus Mining, the Bea Mountain Mining Corp. This company was given a mining license under Taylor’s government.
The World Bank and Aureus Mining failed to provide information on inquire whether Taylor’s associates or some of his ex-officials still hold shares in New Liberty Gold Mine and whether they are aware that the project had link with Taylor.
Aureus Mining has not only failed to meet the aims for which the World Bank infused over US$ 19 million into New Liberty Gold Mine, but has created more sufferings, inflict pains and enriched shareholders at the detriment of Liberia.
Via email, the bank disclosed that it conducted desktop review of the project and held several meeting with Aureus Mining, but refused to provide further information, because it entered a confidentiality agreement with the company that prevents it from providing more information on the project.
Emmanuel Freudenthal is a freelance reporter investigating businesses in Africa, while Alloycious David is an award winning Liberian investigative journalist