The Ghana Institute of Journalism is objecting to a new public relations collaboration between the mining company Newmont Ghana Gold Ltd. and the weekly newspaper "Junior Graphic" to make positive information about gold mining available to children in Ghana.
To demonstrate its commitment, Newmont is reported to have donated 30 million Ghana Cedis (US$3,296) to the "Junior Graphic." The newspaper, published by the Graphic Communications Group Limited, is expected to publish positive information about mining activities targeted to Ghanaian children.
Abdulai Abdul-Rahman, president of the Ghana Institute of Journalism, the Ghana chapter of the international Federation of Environmental Journalists, said today, "While not rejecting any fruitful, profitable and socially viable collaboration that enhances the education and development of Ghanaian children, we are not comfortable with the timing of the donation and intention of Newmont Ghana with regard to the packaging of the program and the target, unsuspecting Ghanaian children."
Abdul-Rahman says the journalists object in part because they say Newmont Ghana has dumped human waste into a river within the company's Ahafo Project operational area that is a source of drinking water for local communities.
In December 2005, the Wassa Association of Communities Affected by Mining (WACAM) held a press conference to show video footage of the sewage and waste water treatment facility at the Ahafo Project. The video showed the flow of fecal matter and sludge from the company's facility into a gutter, into a pond, and then into the Asuopre River in Kenyase, a tributary of the Tano River.
"The video footage revealed the deliberate flow of fecal matter/sludge through a hidden pipe from the treatment facility directly into the Asuopre River," said Abdul-Rahman.
WACAM Executive Director Daniel Owusu-Koranteng said at the press conference that although Newmont had tried to create the impression that it was an accidental discharge of fecal sludge into the environment, WACAM's investigations indicated that "the facility was a permanent structure that allowed regular flow of fecal matter and sludge into River Asuopre."
"Our follow-up and investigations show that residents in the area depended on the river as a source of drinking and for domestic activities," Abdul-Rahman said. "We know that many people, especially vulnerable children in the Ahafo area, drank the water in the Asuopre River polluted by Newmont and might have been affected."
The management of Newmont Ghana has said it welcomes an independent investigation into the issues raised by WACAM on the alleged spill of fecal matter.
Newmont Ghana's Director of External Affairs Dr. Chris Anderson told the "Daily Graphic" newspaper in December that if an independent body was able to establish wrongdoing on the part of the company, it was willing to compensate victims and rectify any problems in its mine construction sites.
Anderson said that all the allegations made by WACAM were false and were meant to portray Newmont in a bad light. He said there was no spillage of fecal matter into the river, since there was an efficient system for disposal of waste matter at its Kenyase mine construction site.
But Owusu-Koranteng said Dr. Anderson's statement that there was no spillage of fecal sludge, contradicted the "earlier releases of Newmont where the company conceded spillage for which preliminary test results established that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) limits had been exceeded.
"The important question is that if the facility was that safe and efficient why did the company undertake a clean-up of the facility when the issue was put into the public domain," said Owusu-Koranteng.
"WACAM believes that the cleanup of the facility was part of a grand design to destroy vital evidence relating to the disposal of fecal matter into River Asuopre," he said.
Anderson said in the company's defense that, “Newmont had entered into an agreement with the Ghana Health Service, to undertake a comprehensive review of the health status of the residents in its two operational zones in the country, to ensure that the people are always healthy."
Abdul-Rahman says Ghanaian journalists are "surprised" that Newmont has not apologized to the community or compensated the people.
He calls Anderson's statements "inconsistent and contradictory," and says Newmont has "resorted to cheap publicity and propaganda strategy by donating just 30 million Cedis to "Junior Graphic.""
Abdul-Rahman says the journalists "will be happy if Newmont will be sincere enough to provide information about the negative impact of mining on the environment, society and children."
"We urge management of the various media houses not to allow their medium to be used to achieve the selfish and parochial interest of multinational companies like Newmont," he said.
Headquartered in Denver, Colorado, Newmont Mining is the largest gold company in the world. In December 2003 the company announced that, following approval of its foreign investment agreement by the government of Ghana, it was proceeding with development of the Ahafo project.
The costs of development are estimated at approximately $350 million, with gold production expected to begin in the second half of 2006. The company said it expects Ahafo to be the first of at least two Ghanaian operations that together will form the company’s next core operating district.
Announcing the Ahafo development decision in Accra in 2003, Newmont Chairman and CEO Wayne Murdy said, “We have worked hard to build a positive and mutually beneficial relationship with the government and people of Ghana, and we are excited to begin development activities at Ahafo."
Murdy said, "The Ahafo project will generate steady-state annual gold sales of approximately 500,000 equity ounces, with higher production in the initial years.”
The agreement with the Ghanian government establishes fixed royalty and tax rates for the lives of Newmont’s projects, and reflects commitments on the part of Newmont with respect to job training for local citizens, community development and environmental protection.
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