Cameroon Tribune (Yaoundé)

13 November 2012

Cameroon: Gold, Diamond, Mercury - Damages of Illegal Exploitation

opinion

Surreptitiousness is the better word to describe what is happening to Cameroon's riches underneath. This concerns particularly minerals such as gold, diamond, mercury among others.

Statistics of what goes into the pockets of illegal exploiters are startling. Experts carelessly put the figure at FCFA 300 billion every year. This represents about 10.7 per cent of the 2012 State budget. This amount could have significantly saved the State from burning its fingers on the Treasury bond arrangement for the financing of the country's projects.

From the look of things, the growing illegal activities surrounding the mining sector is exacerbated by the laxity in implementing the regulations streamlined in the mining code. The hardest hit region where illegal and illicit mineral extraction takes place is the East, South, Adamawa and part of the Centre. The Framework for the Support and Promotion of Small-Scale Mining (CAPAM), an execution agency of the mining sector in the country, has been quite irked by the happenings around this precious natural gift. According to authorities of the agency, about 95 percent of the 200 kilogrammes of gold produced monthly goes into the circuits of fraudsters. In effect, alluvial gold is stealthily extracted from stream gravels accompanied by small quantities of alluvial diamonds in streams which drain cretaceous sandstone and conglomerates.

This activity which has been on for several years has gone almost uninterrupted until the creation of CAPAM. In a bit to contain the effects of the trade, the organisation last year launched "Operation Gold" to ensure that at least 70 per cent of the gold produced monthly from gold mines is channelled into strengthening Cameroon's gold reserves at the Central Bank. How successful this initiative will be is the question on every lip especially when one takes into consideration the historic imprints of this nefarious activity. In Bétaré-Oya alone or better still in the Lom and Djerem Division, considered to be the epicentre of the trade, CAPAM counted 12,000 clandestine miners scattered on 1,500 different sites.

Even as CAPAM is attempting to work out a lasting solution to the problem, the situation remains disturbing. In effect, the 2001 mining code that regulates the sector states inter alia that artisan mining is the preserve of nationals. But today, of the 26 companies operating as artisan miners, 19 of them are foreign and are the most active. Some are even known to sublet their licences to nationals which is why the Minister of Mines, Industries and Technological Development decided to annul of such licenses.

That notwithstanding, it is important to completely reorganise the sector so that it significantly contribute to the country's Gross Domestic Product. That is the big challenge for government and this entails looking for professional miners of industrial level and defining the contours within which well designed contracts will operate.

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