Public Agenda (Accra)

8 April 2005

Ghana: Runaway Mining Firm Dragged to Court

Accra — A liquidated mining firm, Bonte Gold Mines Ltd. together with the Minerals Commission and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have been sued in a landmark case in which two NGOs are demanding the reclamation of the environment the company damaged in the course of its operations.

Bonte Mining Company is a subsidiary of a Canadian mining company.

At the heart of the suit at the Fast Track High Court is a case of alleged negligence and destruction of the environment brought against the defendants (Bonte Gold Mines Ltd., the Minerals Commission and the Environmental Protection Agency) by the Center for Public Interest Law (CEPIL) and the Center for Environmental Law, two Accra-based NGOs.

The plaintiffs, acting on behalf Ghanaians, claim that Bonte Mining Ltd, which operated in Bonteso in the Ashanti Region was liquidated on March 25, 2004. In the course of its operations the company created various ponds which have become a breeding ground for mosquitoes and water borne disease vectors. Besides, the operations of the company rendered the land unsuitable for agricultural purposes as well as destroying the Esease and Jeni rivers from which the company initially drew its water for operation.

The plaintiffs note that Bonte Gold Mines Ltd (third defendant) had a statutory obligation to the people of Bonteso and the Republic of Ghana to ensure that its operations did not destroy the environment. Similarly the first defendant EPA has a statutory responsibility to ensure that the company not only complied with the rules and regulations to conduct its operations in an environmentally friendly manner, but also rehabilitated the environment after terminating its operations.

On its part the second defendant (Minerals Commission) is mandated by the state to monitor the implementation of all laid down statutory policies on the exploitation of minerals. The plaintiffs maintain that due to the above rules and obligations, the third defendant ( the company) was required to deposit a reclamation bond against any default relating to the reclamation of the environment arising out of its operations.

The plaintiffs regret that in flagrant violation of its statutory obligations to reclaim the environment, the company folded up without providing for the re-generation of the environment within a reasonable time frame.

The plaintiffs aver that notwithstanding the fact that the company brazenly reneged on its statutory duty to restore the environment, the state agencies overseeing the mining sector (EPA and Minerals Commission) failed to ensure compliance.

"Therefore the Republic of Ghana has suffered serious environmental degradation with the likelihood of undermining the efforts of the government and Ghanaians to safeguard and protect the environment for posterity", said the suit

According to the plaintiffs, it is the duty of all persons to ensure that public institutions and administrative authorities execute their public duties by monitoring the operations and/or activities of all individuals, entities or bodies, whose operations or activities are potentially harmful to the environment.

"It is also the duty of all persons to ensure that the environment of the Republic of Ghana is preserved for posterity and that it is in the public interest that any environmental degradation resulting from the activities of any individual, entity or body be reversed."

The plaintiffs claim that defendants have jointly and severally refused to comply with their respective statutory obligations with regard to environmental degradation caused by the third defendant (Bonte Gold Mining) in the Ashanti Region of Ghana.

They are therefore seeking the court's declaration that by failing to restore the degraded environment, as a result of its operations, the company is in breach of its statutory obligation to reclaim the environment.

Secondly, the plaintiffs are seeking a court order that first and second defendants (EPA and Minerals Commission) are under obligation to ensure that any damage caused to the environment as a result of the company's (third defendant) operations or activities are remedied upon termination of its activities in Ghana.

The plaintiffs are also seeking a declaration that by neglecting or failing to ensure that the company operated in a sustainable manner, the state agencies are in breach of their statutory obligations to ensure environmentally friendly mining in Ghana.

Further, they are seeking an order of mandatory injunction against the company and/or its agents, servants, successors compelling it to remedy the environmental degradation it has caused at Bonteso upon termination of its operations.

Above all, the plaintiffs are praying the court to compel the state agencies to take the necessary steps for the rehabilitation of the environment caused by the company. Hearing is yet to be fixed.

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