The Great Debate
In its three weeks of sitting, the Jenkins Johnston Commission of Enquiry produced a plethora of un-missable highlights that incontrovertibly set the whole process alight. From the Fachima Hall in Koidu town to the Miatta Confrence Hall in Freetown, the commission tactfully raised the impasse to the plane of discussion and stimulates a debate that has served to elucidate on issues that have over time cultivated a deep seated riven between Koidu Holdings and the people of especially Tankoro Chiefdom. The hearings, it has to be said took off to a slow start but compensated for that as the process unfolded. And by the time the commission commenced its sittings in Freetown, the excitement was and remained at an astronomical altitude. In their animated testimonies to the commission, the people innocently set the agenda for the debate that was to climax the process, the debate that holds the single explanation to what has culminated into this quagmire, and the debate that explains why the whole scenario was laden with misconceptions and misunderstandings. This episode thus seeks to take you through the Tankoro (Edward Tamba Towie Nyandebo)-Koidu Holdings (Jan Joubert) debate.
The Case against Koidu Holdings
The case for the Tankoro Chiefdom, as was stated in a previous article, was made by the Chiefdom Speaker; Edward Tamba Towie Nyandebo. The 11-pages document that was read out to the commission, albeit by one of his subjects because he could not due to some problem with his voice, made a conscious attempt to dabble on a lot of issues including what the chiefdom holds as the reason for the stalemate between the company and the people of Tankoro. The presentation brushed on 6 main issues:
The Kimberlite Agreement
According to the chiefdom authorities, one of the areas they wanted the commission to address was the miming lease agreement between Koidu Holdings and the Government of Sierra Leone. It is the view of chief Nyandebo and his counterparts that the agreement should be revisited because it was done with a military government which did not consult them whilst negotiating with the company, as they claimed: “Tankoro Chiefdom was coerced into accepting an inequitable surface rent for the use of our land.” They remain unflinching in their conviction that a revisit of the agreement will see them gaining more than what they are having right now.
Relocation and Resettlement of Affected Property Owners
The chiefdom authorities also hold that the resettlement process has been the bed rock of the problems between the company and the community people. It is their position that the company has failed to adhere to the provisions of the EIA, which was conducted in 2003. They argued that the EIA clearly states that the resettlement of the people should precede any mining activities by Koidu Holdings. They also claimed that the quality and the pace of the resettlement process has always been suspect. They demanded schools, electricity and other social amenities for the settlement. They recommended to the commission that an independent evaluator should be hired to determine whether the structures the company has constructed so far are in accordance with the provisions of the EIA.
Surface Rent to Tankoro
Again, the chiefdom authorities indict the 1995 agreement negotiated by the NPRC and its 1996 ratification by the SLPP. They also called for the current profit sharing arrangement to be altered. According to them, the current equity shares arrangement gives Koidu Holdings 60%, government of Sierra Leone 30% and Kono community 10%. In their submission to the commission, they asserted that this arrangement also reflects the profit sharing arrangement. In addition to them registering their dissatisfaction with the current arrangement and asking that government gives 10% of its 30% to them for development purposes, they also insinuate that giving them a 20% profit share will address all the problems that define the current environment in Kono. Their statement further explained that Koidu Holdings holds 60% shares in the company, government 30% and Kono 10%.
Koidu Holdings’ Employment Policy
One of the areas of discontents, according to the chiefdom authorities was that related to employment in the company. They voiced their disapproval over what they claim to be the lack of Kono indigenes in both the management and board of the company. They accused the company of not advertising vacancies in the local media to allow qualified persons to compete. They questioned whether the company has got an insurance policy that covers its entire staff, and even alluded to lack of training for the national staff.
The chiefdom authorities, in addition to the fore-going demands, demanded that the company allow access to all the affected property owners to its clinic as was the case in the days of SLST, make available its waste materials and by-products to the community, make available all of its tailings to the Tankoro Chiefdom even before the end of its operation, and make available final recovery tailings at Swaray Town, kimber dust/top soil at Bakundu, and slimes dam at Swaray Town to them.
At the end of the presentation, the Speaker was beaming with pride, holding every conviction that their handy-work represents a compendium of recipes that hold the key to the problem. However, the smile was quickly wiped off his face by counsel representing Koidu Holdings; Berthan Macaulay Jnr. in cross examination, as most of their claims were reduced to mere speculations and assumptions. The counsel made it abundantly clear that neither government nor the Kono community hold any shares in the company. His revelations that Koidu Holdings pays the government $ 200,000 as mining fees and the Tankoro Chiefdom $ 29,000 as surface rent annually evoked some sobriety amongst the community people in attendance. The cross examination exercise no doubt gave the people food for thought. It was clear by the end of that process that most of the things contained in the statement are not as valid as they sounded.
The Case for Koidu Holdings
After the chiefdom authorities of Tankoro Chiefdom have presented their case to the commission, the commission left Koidu for Freetown. It commenced sitting in Freetown at the Miatta Conference Hall on Tuesday 29 January 2008. After two days of sitting, the enquiry reached its climax with the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Koidu Holdings, Jan Joubert, taking the witness box. His testimony to the commission lasted for almost 2 days and it certainly gave the commission some insight into a lot of issues relating to the company and its operations. As is expected, most of what he had to say was in the form of reactions to the very many allegations that have been leveled against his company in the past days. Of particular significance in his testimony was his reaction to the statement presented by theTankoro Chiefdom authorities. He painstakingly delved into and bisected each and every one of their demands and recommendations to give the commission the company’s perspective:
On the call for the mining lease agreement between the government and the company to be reviewed, the CEO informed the commission that the right to the Koidu Kimberlite Project, referred to as the Koidu Kimberlite Mining Lease Agreement ML 6/95 (KKPML), were awarded and ratified as NPRC Decree NO. 12 on the 22nd of July 1995, in accordance with the provisions of the Mines and Minerals Act (1994), and were adopted as an Act of Parliament on the 23 of December 1996. he declared that the terms and condition of the lease agreement have been scrutinized for fairness and reasonableness by various NGOs and other reputable institutions, including the World Bank, over the years and each time the agreement has been found to be sound and in line with international standards. He added that the royalties and fees in the KKP ML are higher than those of mining leases awarded recently to other companies in the country. He assured the commission that his company will welcome a review of the KKP ML and the adjustment of the high royalties and taxes the company has been paying compared to others.
Jan Joubert emphasized that there is no where in the Mines and Minerals Act of 1994 or the Koidu Kimberlite Mining Lease Agreement Act of 1996 that requires the government of Sierra Leone to consult with local chiefdom authorities when granting mining leases. He also noted that the terms and conditions in the mining lease are dictated by government and not the lease holder.
Responding to the issue of profit sharing, Jan Joubert explained that the Profit Sharing Agreement was signed between Koidu Holdings and the government of Sierra Leone on the 29 August 2006. In accordance with Clause 3.1.1 of the agreement, Koidu Holdings agrees to pay each of the government of Sierra Leone and the Koidu Community Trust a sum equal to 10% of the net profit generated by the company in respect of the Koidu Kimberlite Project. He further posited that there is no provision for profit sharing or participation in the KKP ML Act (1996) but that notwithstanding, Koidu Holdings agreed to share 20 % of its net profit with the community and the government in good faith.
The CEO informed the commission that the allegation that there are no indigenous Kono people in either the management of the company or on the Board of Directors is astonishing given that Paramount Chief Paul Ngaba Saquee V was appointed by government as its representative to the Board in 2006. On the representation of Konos in the company’s management, he pointed that Konos are not only represented in the company’s management, but they constitute almost 90% of the company’s work force. Mr. Joubert went further to explain that in a bid to redevelop the Koidu Kimberlite Project, the company absorbed all of the workers that were left behind by previous companies. But due to operational pressure, most of them were put on, on the job training. However, over time, he revealed, the company has sent some of its promising workers abroad for training programmes.
The realization that most of the staffs were illiterate, he noted, compelled them to intensify the on the job training. To further enhance the in-house training, the CEO disclosed, they identified one of the most experienced operators and sent him to the Volvo training facility in Sweden for a training course. Upon his return, he was made the training officer of the company. Two other workers were sent to Ghana on a two week training to acquire blasting certificates. The company also sent one of its staffs to South Africa to undergo a health and safety training. In 2005, an advertisement was placed on the local media for Banks men. 30 people applied and 12 of those were sent to South Africa to undergo training. In spite of all these efforts to capacitate their staff, the CEO noted that most of their workers are poached by other companies.
Speaking on the resettlement, Mr. Joubert said the company has been constantly barraged for the resettlement programme unjustly. Most of the time, he said, the criticisms are made by people who are not even qualify for resettlement-those people who built their houses in the concession after the EIA had been done. He submitted that the delays associated with the process were perpetuated by both the affected property owners and a few local NGOs. He explained that when they started doing the resettlement for the people to even identify the location was a problem let alone agreeing on a model structure. The first ten houses, he said, were built with cement bricks but the people later came up with the idea that it must be cement for cement and mud for mud. “Unfortunately, the company is been blamed today for something that was sanctioned by the affected property owners themselves,” Jan Joubert commented. He intimated the commission that since its inception, the process has been beset with a lot of obstacles created by either NGOs, or elements within the affected people. “This has not only served to slow the process down, but portray the company in a very bad light,” he added.
Reacting to the request for access to the company’s clinic, he said the medical facility at Koidu Holdings is not a hospital. It is an eight bed clinic which also comprises a consulting room and out patient facility. The clinic caters for each employee and two dependants, which in itself is already too demanding. Therefore, he said, comparing Koidu Holdings, a company that exports approximately 100,000 carats per annum to Sierra Leone Selection Trust (SLST) that exported approximately 1.4 million carats per annum, is ridiculous.
On the waste products, he said there are several issues that negate the request of the chiefdom authorities. Paramount amongst them is security. He said the security implications attached to the moving of waste products from the concession are huge. Besides, it is his position that, there are specified methods of handling waste products responsibly, which the company has been doing effectively. Any attempt at working ultra-vires those procedures will result to a hue and cry from both local and international environmental organizations.
whilst he admitted that the company has been doing its utmost best to make available its tailings to the community, the CEO noted that the company can not preoccupy itself on a permanent basis on such an operation otherwise it will seriously obstruct its operations. He argues that the notion that the company should completely hand all of its tailings to the chiefdom completely contravenes international standards. This also, he said, has got serious security implications for the company. In addition to that, he also brought to the attention of the commission the fact that when the company started using the tailings to fix the roads in the town, it was accused of dumping its hazardous waste in the town by the same people demanding it now. Mr. Joubert remains adamant that they have been very much committed to fulfilling their own part of the agreement whilst the government is yet to meets its own side of the bargain.
When all is said and done, it is apparent that the spine of all the discontents that culminated into this unfortunate incident is as much the continuous interference, by mostly extraneous people and groups, into the resettlement process as it is the result of misinterpretation and or misunderstanding of the terms of operations of Koidu Holdings. This in itself reflects an acute lack of information between the government and the chiefdom authorities on the one hand and the local authorities and the community people on the other hand. As unfortunate as it is, Koidu Holdings has been the victim of all these misgivings. However, it is becoming ever glaring that what is obtaining at present is an attempt by certain groups and people to use this situation as an opportunity to skew things in their favour and make whatever gains they can. Admittedly, it is baffling that the Tankoro Chiefdom authorities had all these concerns but never took them up with the company through the Paramount Chief, who incidentally, is the government’s representative in the company’s Board of Directors. It has to be said that the requests the chiefdom authorities made, rather than addressing the problems surrounding the issue, have the potential to cause further misunderstanding and tension between the company and the community people in the event the company can not meet those demands.
By The Devil’s Advocate