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The Gambia’s Mining Sector the Least Transparent

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How transparent are mining activities in The Gambia? Some experts told The Gambia Journal that The Gambia is one of the least transparent about the mining activities going on in the country. Take the case of Carnegie Minerals. Last year, government suddenly announced that it was giving the mining company Carnegie Minerals Gambia Ltd a week’s ultimatum to come out clean on the types of minerals it was mining and shipping out of the country. Soon after the company’s registration was cancelled, its assets impounded and its expatriate staff arrested and detained. Little has since been heard about the case since the company’s most senior expatriate staff jumped bail and was smuggled out of the country last August. But what is unbeknown to most people is that mining in Carnegie’s former Sanyang mines has been under operation for about a year now.  No one can tell you who is really carrying out the mining activities under the watchful eyes of armed members of the Police Intervention Unit, what sorts of mineral are being mined, under what licensing terms and at what gain to the Gambian state. 


Though Carnegie was officially established in The Gambia in July 2006, the company had been carrying out clandestine mining activities in the country since 2004 without the knowledge of most people in the tiny country. Affairs concerning mining and other precious business activities have always been shrouded in secrecy, reminiscent of old Soviet-type rule.  When President Jammeh announced the cancellation of the company’s mining activities about a year ago in April 2008, he claimed that the company had been engaged in the secrete mining for some precious metals like Uranium , Titanium, iron ore , etc, etc, that he had discovered the country had vast reserves of. Are the new undisclosed miners not also engaged in the same mining activities?  Who are they, what exactly have they been licensed to mine and under what conditions?  Even officials at the Department of state for mining can hardly tell you more than is generally known.  But people passing by the mining lot on the way to Sanyang beach have seen that the place is swarmed with miners, mostly foreigners, and armed police guards.


And it is not only this. Several months ago, people started seeing scores of brand new orange-colored Mercedes Benz trucks on the streets of the Greater Banjul Area. Many say the trucks are 75 in number and are meant for the lucrative sand mining activities for the construction industry. President Jammeh, they say, is to become the one and only sand miner in the country. He already has commercial hands in the distribution of rice and cement, in the running of bakeries; in the management of the Abuko abattoir and in cattle deals. Mr. Jammeh and his privately owned conglomerate, Kanilai Family Farms, will soon be active in all the sectors of the economy.  


There is a program aimed at fighting against the secrecy and corruption that shrouds many mining activities on the African continent and even elsewhere. It is being run by the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative Board (EITI) and on Monday 18th May, it announced that it has accepted membership of three African countries and one European:  Burkina Faso, Mozambique and Zambia, and Albania. This raises the African presence to over twenty. Announcing their acceptance today, EITI said the four new countries have been added as candidates. Other African countries signed to the program are Cameroon, Central African Republic, Côte d’Ivoire, Democratic Republic of Congo, Equatorial Guinea,

Gabon, Ghana, Guinea, Liberia, Madagascar, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria, Republic of the Congo, São Tomé e Príncipe, Sierra Leone, and Tanzania.


"With these four new candidates, 30 countries are now implementing the EITI process, further bolstering EITI as the standard for transparent management of revenues from the oil, gas and mining sectors," EITI said in a statement on Monday.


The World Bank Director for Oil, Gas, and Mining, Somit Varma, said: “I am encouraged that more countries from Africa and other regions of the world are joining the EITI process and recognizing the benefits of greater transparency in the extractive industries sector. It is, however, only when countries take full ownership of this voluntary initiative that it can succeed. The World Bank is committed to supporting governments in this effort.”


The EITI Board, the global initiative to improve transparency in the extractives sector, held a series of meetings with diverse stakeholders in Washington DC, hosted by the World Bank Group. There are presently ten donor countries and the European Commission currently providing funding to the World Bank-administered EITI Multi-donor Trust Fund (MDTF) - Australia, Belgium, Canada, Finland, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Norway, Spain, the United Kingdom and the European Commission.


According to the World Bank, Finland just joined as a donor country, and the United States and Switzerland will be joining the donor group soon.


The World Bank has been a supporter of the EITI since the early days, and this Trust Fund provides technical assistance for implementation of the EITI process in developing countries.


During last week the EITI held a series meetings, where amongst other themes such as the mechanism for external Quality Assurance of EITI implementation in the country as well as March 2010 deadline for the EITI candidate countries to complete EITI Validation were discussed.


The need for support of countries’ efforts to go through the Validation process was reiterated by the EITI Board Chairman, Dr Peter Eigen, who also said: “By committing to the EITI and undergoing an independent EITI Validation, governments and companies demonstrate their commitment to openness, transparency and good governance. It is impressive to see all the efforts in EITI implementing countries to prepare for Validation and meet the EITI standard. The international community recognizes such efforts and supports these governments and their stakeholders in their implementation of the EITI”.


Since it was put forward in 2002 the EITI has moved towards becoming the global standard for revenue transparency in the extractive industries. Through implementing the EITI, countries bring together companies, civil society and government representatives to monitor and account for payments being made to governments by extractives companies operating in their country. Countries that have met all of the reporting and operational indicators set out under the EITI guidelines and completed a rigorous validation process are then considered to be EITI Compliant, establishing that a country's revenue reporting standards in its extractive sector have achieved a greater level of transparency.


The EITI is a coalition of governments, companies, civil society groups, investors and international organizations, whose secretariat is hosted by the Norwegian government in Oslo and was formally opened on 26 September 2007.


The organization's objectives are driven by the fact that some 3.5 billion people live in countries rich in oil, gas and minerals and that with good governance the exploitation of these resources can generate large revenues to foster growth and reduce poverty.


The EITI says that however when governance is weak, it may result in poverty, corruption, and conflict. The EITI aims to strengthen governance by improving transparency and accountability in the extractives sector, setting a global standard for companies to publish what they pay and for governments to disclose what they receive. It is therefore not surprising that The Gambia is not one of the members given the Jammeh regime’s least transparent status.

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