The Parliamentary Oversight Committee on Mines and Minerals and a Civil Society Coalition on extractives have expressed shock and dissatisfaction over the dreadful environmental condition of mined-out areas “without proper reclamation of the land” by the Sierra Rutile Limited Mining Company based in Bonthe and Moyamba Districts.
After a brief tour of the Rutile Mining sites by Members of Parliament, National Advocacy Coalition on Extractives (NACE) in collaboration with Christian Aid and the media, it was observed that most of the land had been destroyed as a result of the mining operation and little effort was being made to rehabilitate or improve the mining communities.
Several kilometers of arable land has been completely destroyed by the Rutile Mining Company in their quest to mine for Rutile and other minerals whilst communities within the mining area are seemingly living in squalor and abject poverty, it was observed.
Moriba Town, Mugbewemo and other villages within the Mining area are buried in stretches of artificial lakes and ponds as a result of the mining operation; water which environmentalists say is harmful to both human and aquatic animals.
Hon Chernor Bah, Chairman of the Oversight Committee said the purpose of their visit was to ascertain, at first hand, the mining operations of the company. “We also want to observe the implementation of the revised Mines and Minerals Act with our civil society partners and the media to ensure transparency of the exercise for national development and economic growth in a win-win situation” he said.
Acting General Manager of Sierra Rutile Limited, Haji Daboh, while briefing the visiting delegation said Sierra Rutile Limited (Titanium) was one of the biggest mining companies in the country but that the rebel war left it in ruins. The recent collapse of one of its dredges called SOLUNDO, he went on, had caused serious financial and production setback for the operations of the company.
He said the Government of Sierra Leone was one of the major guarantors for the €25m loan provided by the European Union to assist in the development of the Mining Sector in Sierra Leone.
Haji said “only one dredge is currently working at Rutile Mines and the company is faced with a financial debt burden.” He went on that they were spending a lot to produce 80,000 tons annually with “little or no profits”. He said the large Rutile Mineral deposit was gradually diminishing in the area and that the company was working towards getting other minerals for the international market.
Since our operation scaled down, he said, “we are presently mining Rutile, heminite and also zircon minerals which are being sold to a Chinese company but the company is struggling to survive the market.” He also said conditions of service for the company’s staff are appalling with inadequate staff accommodation and other facilities for the workers. He said that due to financial constraints at times the company has had to defer tax payment to other dates.
The Operations Manager of Sierra Rutile Limited, Mack Button said the company was facing difficult times but that they were resolute to make it happen for the better as the company had seven lease arrears within the two districts.
“We are using dredges to mine because it is cheaper and during the process we create artificial ponds and lakes for the dredge to float and excavate the soil with 58 buckets hauling 1100 metric tons per hour”. He said they also do “dry mining in hilly areas”. The Environmental and Safety Officer of the Sierra Rutile Limited Ansumana M. Jabati said the company has an Environmental Impact Assessment Action Plan being implemented strictly according to the regulations of the Mines and Minerals Act. “We are having reduced radiation active materials at the mining and production site and occupational health safety records are at 141 loss time injuries” he went on. Jabati said workers are protected with gloves, boots, glasses and air protectors while dredge workers are provided with life jackets and other protective measures to ensure safety at the work place. He went on that the abandoned lakes and ponds would be used as fishing ponds while others would be reclaimed for farming purposes.
The Community Relations Officer Dauda Kamara told this reporter that the company had continuously paid their surface rent, crop compensation and the Agriculture Development Fund to people affected by the mining operations. He confirmed that the needs of the people were enormous and the company was working with stakeholders to improve the communities and also provide them with basic amenities. Members of Parliament and Civil Society were also briefed by a cross section of affected community people who expressed grave concern over the “destruction” of their environment “without adequate measures” put in place to replenish it. They also lamented over the “underdevelopment” of communities within the mining area.
By Saidu Bah