17 September 2012

Liberia: 25 Cancelled Diamond Mining Licenses - Owners May Take Legal Action

Owners of 25 diamond mining licenses that were cancelled by the Ministry of Lands, Mines and Energy (LME) for various infringements of the mineral and mining laws of the Republic of Liberia have the right to take legal actions against the LME or request the ministry for a hearing of their grievances.

This was disclosed by the acting Minister of Lands, Mines and Energy (LME) Counselor Betty Lamin Blamo when she addressed the regular Thursday press briefing of the Ministry of Information, Culture Affairs and Tourism (MICAT) at the Charles Gbenyon press hall of the Ministry last week, to react to a Reuters News Agency report that Liberia does not have the resolve to implement the Kimberley Diamond certification scheme.

According to the acting LME minister, "the minister told those whose licenses were cancelled and any license holders that they have a right to a hearing of their grievances if they can forward a formal request for hearing to the ministry after which the minister will designate someone from the ministry to represent the ministry's interest in hearing grievances," she said.

It can be recalled that few months ago, the Minister of Lands, Mines and Energy Mr. Patrick Sendolo announced the cancellation of 25 mining licenses whose holders had engaged in various illegal activities contrary to the mining and minerals of Liberia.

Among the offences that the LME minister listed at the time were: engaging in mining activities outside their designated concession areas. He said some of the license holders have encroached on reserved forests and bushes, made potholes on roads and other public places as well as done mining in sacred sites such poro-society bushes which leaves government with no alternative but to cancel their mining licenses.

In a reaction to a Reuters Report, which the LME term as a misrepresentation of facts at the regular MICAT press briefing last week, the acting Minister Counselor Betty Blamo told journalists a number of measures that the LME has taken as an indication that the government of Liberia through the LME reaffirms its unwavering commitment to remain compliant with the international diamond certification process.

According to Counselor Blamo, the process seeks to ensure that diamonds exported from the country are tracked and profiled, through a rigorous record keeping measures intended to discourage trading in blood diamond that were from conflict zones whose proceeds were used to fuel civil wars and conflicts inn regions across the world including West Africa.

Madam Blamo said as far back as 2006 after the moratorium on the export of diamonds was lifted, the LME set up a task force comprising several stakeholders to chart a way forward for the implementation of the Kimberley process. "We fulfilled the requirement of setting up a Government Diamond Office (GDO) and secondly an evaluation department within the LME," she said.

Other measures that the LME have taken, according to the acting minister, was shifting from the environmentally unfriendly pit mining usually called the alluvial diamond mining technique to a more environmentally friendly trench mining method.

She denied a reporters question that they do not have the capacity to police the entire country or the assumption that they have not done anything at all.

"A we have recruited and trained inspectors and mining agents, secured motorbikes, established a security task force comprising of the Police and the Bureau of immigration, harmonized working relations between the local authorities such as superintendents, commissioners and chiefs to monitor the diamond mining activities," she said.

The acting minister hinted that recently a female inspector that was assigned to a diamond mining village was threatened by the local authorities which are some of the reasons why coordination measures have been taken.

Concerning the LME relations with donor partners such as USAID, Counselor Blamo expressed gratitude for the high level of cooperation with USAID although they have threatened to withhold support as a result of budget cuts from their head office in Washington. "it is only policy differences".

She added that some of the disagreements with USAID, which have been funding the developments, came about because what they were proposing were not in the mining and mineral laws of Liberia which LME is strictly abiding by. For example, they are proposing a 25 acres for the delineation of mining lots to small miners groups, while the mineral and mining laws of Liberia is stipulating 5 acres per lot, she stressed.

The LME acting boss also described what the Kimberley certification process entails, adding that it means the issuance of license to mining gang owners and export dealers permits or licenses as well as vouchers and registration certificates to ensure proper documentation.

She said a piece of diamond is certificated at the origin or birth place of the precious stone, which are all measures geared towards enhancing profit and revenue to government from the diamond mining sector of the economy as the royalty is shared by the land owner, the miners and license dealers, writes John Momoh.

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