Flashback: Mining equipment floating over Cestos River near Buutuo Headquarters, a stone's throw from the Ivoirian border. This is occurring all over the country.
-Says Rep. Womba
Reports of constant illegal mining of the country's mineral activities in every part of the country, allegedly involving foreign nationals, have claimed the attention of Representative Robert Flomo Womba of Bong County Electoral District #4.
Rep. Womba, said he is appalled by reports that the government is losing thousands of dollars in revenue as a result of artisanal mining, even in Bong County. He claimed that Liberia earns majority of its foreign exchange from mineral resources, including iron ore, gold and diamond, most of it extracted by multinational corporations.
"These companies funnel money into public coffers and minimize environmental impacts," Womba said.
"Artisanal mining largely affects the environment, such as contamination of soil and water and deforestation, as well as health hazards and numerous social problems, like child labor, prostitution, drug abuse, corruption and violence," the Bong County Lawmaker said.
On the other hand, Rep. Womba said that artisanal mining operations are often to blame for the extreme poverty, adding, "all the multinational companies that were operating on our mountains have scaled down their operations, so our people have no alternative, but to do illegal mining."
Womba named Gbakona in Zota District, Gbarmue in Jorquelleh District #2 and Degei in Sanoyea District as some areas where illicit mining is heavily concentrated.
The trade, accordingly is not only undermining government revenue collection, "but has also led school age children to abandon the classroom for mining activities, thereby depriving themselves of the requisite academic qualification they would need to earn better paying jobs in the future."
Representative Robert Flomo Womba, District #4, Bong County.
Rep. Womba then called on the government to put in place measures that would allow artisanal miners to register and pay taxes as a means of generating revenue to boost development programs.
In Wainsue, Jorpolu Clan recently, Joseph S. Flomo, an artisanal miner, informed the Daily Observer that the miners got involved in the trade "because some of the multinational companies had mined and ravaged their lands without giving the locals anything in return, in terms of development projects.
"We are aware of the danger this primitive mining activities have brought to the communities, that include the numbers of foreign nationals, but many of the residents support the mining, because it is the only alternative for them to earn better living," Joseph said.
He claimed that, instead of seeing artisanal mining as a cause of poverty, the trade has accounted for hundreds of jobs directly or indirectly, noting, "sometimes the miners come on the field and work three to four months and, when they realized that they have earned some good money, they would leave without any authority being informed.
"In an environment of illegal mining, 'survival of the fittest' holds true," Joseph Kollie said referencing the lawless activities including prostitution, widespread abuse of illegal substances, etc.
John B. Togbah, a miner, informed this newspaper that the registration for artisanal mining is time consuming with too much bureaucracy coupled with disincentives, "so those interested in the trade found their way through other means."
"The trade, though illegal, helps alleviate poverty to some extent, and also provide many opportunities for the locals," Togbah said.
A student of Environmental Science at the Cuttington University also observed that artisanal mining is associated with a number of environmental consequences, such as deforestation and land degradation, as well as open pits which pose as death traps for wildlife and possibly humans. "A large proportion of artisanal miners are unaware of the laws governing mining activities and the environment," the student, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said.
It may be called that, in recent times, there have been reports of illegal mining activities covering the entire country. Buutuo headquarters, near the Liberian/Ivoirian border, including the northern Nimba County town of Belwalay, east of Buutuo, is reportedly overwhelmed by illegal miners, some of them coming from Burkina Faso and Ghana to explore areas in Nimba County and beyond, including Haindii in the Bong Mines area..
Though the Ministry of Lands, Mines and Energy is yet to officially speak to the issue, its inspectors have reportedly visited some of the mining sites, but the trade continues unabated.