Chinese in illicit mining in Maryland County?

Chinese in illicit mining in Maryland County?
Chinese in illicit mining in Maryland County?

Africa-Press – Liberia. A Chinese mining company operating in Maryland County has been linked to illicit mining activities, but management denies.

Amid citizens’ outcry about its legitimacy, a Chinese mining company, Soar Mining Company, operating in Karluway, Maryland County Electoral District#3, allegedly exploits natural resources in the county without benefiting localities.

The alleged illicit mining activity is happening in Gbeken, said to be the hometown of former presidential candidate Mr. Alexander B. Cummings. Miners are using dredging machines.

The location of the illicit mining site makes it difficult to access it easily, as miners reside in tanks erected in the forest, not too far from the operational site.

However, during a visit to the mining site on May 25, 2024, community residents told The NEW DAWN that the lack of law enforcement and governance in their area has motivated illicit mining activities, which often compelled them to negotiate with illicit miners in an attempt to extract little benefit from their resources.

They explained that on several occasions, the Chinese mining in that area apologized for violating community tradition, after which they were forced to enter a social contract with them to get some benefits from their resources.

They noted that during one of the negotiations, they demanded the Chinese mining company pay 100,000 Liberian Dollars monthly and 2,000 United States Dollars (US$2000) every six (6) months for Surface Rental Fees, but such an agreement hasn’t been finalized.

The residents also disclosed that they discussed a verbal Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the company that included the construction of an elementary school, paying three volunteer teachers, paving roads to the town, monthly dues, and erecting hand pumps, among other things.

However, a copy of the MOU, which the Chinese company has yet to officially confirm, was sent to Senator J. Gbe-bo Brown for review before approval.

Though the company hasn’t approved it, the citizens are optimistic that once it’s addressed, they will enjoy their resources. For now, the company’s activities are not benefiting the people of the town.

“Though we can’t fight them because the people we think should’ve talked like [officials] from the Ministry of Mines and Energy can only go to the people, and once they come out, they will be the ones appearing on behalf for the Chinese.”

“As we speak, day and night, new Chinese Nationals are coming in and out; we don’t know whether they are coming with paper from the government, we don’t know, but we think our own people are the problems,” a community source narrated.

The NEW DAWN also noticed during interaction with a Liberian manager of the company that one of the Chinese nationals nearly got in a fistfight with a journalist for photographing him at the mining site.

The Chinese were heard saying, “I don’t want police to come here, stop taking my pictures, please remove it from your phone.”

Despite the claim of illicit mining, the general town chief of Gbeken, Johnson Pokolo, disclosed that they and the company haven’t agreed.

He explained that they had two miners whose names he didn’t disclose in a clan that is now being occupied by Soar Mining Company. The two miners later invited Soar Mining for a subcontract. But after the contract ended, they were surprised to see the company still operating in the field.

“So we halted their operation, and they came to apologize to us, but while apologizing, they asked the town for clans, and we did it with conditions that they should provide other benefits, which they haven’t done yet. We are worried because our communities are not benefiting from the Chinese, though they have promised to fix our roads, erect pumps, build elementary schools, and give us other benefits, but we aren’t seeing these things coming to reality”, Chief Pokolo said.

He pointed out that due to the company’s failure to meet its obligations, the town’s youths and women stopped the Chinese operation, but with the intervention of Karluway’s concerned youths, they were given a grace period to work.

“Let me say, we locals of the town are suffering due to outside forces; though the town is blessed with these resources, we are not getting anything as a people because companies visiting our area claim to be sent by our government or our representatives and Senators. But since we don’t want to fight the government, we will allow them, but we are not getting anything from our government and not to even talk about those companies that sometimes come to operate,” Chief Pokolo alleged.

He maintained that the town’s local leaders are happy to work with the Soar Mining Company only if it is willing to address the town’s people’s requests.

Speaking on behalf of the company, the Liberian manager, Nyemah Sheriff, stressed that they haven’t received other permits, including EPA, because they haven’t begun real mining activity in the area.

Despite several excavator machines and Chinese seen in the mining site, Mr. Sheriff insisted they’re not mining but engaged in prospection, adding that once prospection is done, they will obtain all necessary documents.

The sheriff disclosed that Soar Mining Company began prospecting in February, but they haven’t received much information about whether the place is productive due to other pressures and demands from community inhabitants.

“Yes, we came here in February, but since then, we haven’t begun normal work due to other pressure from the town or local county authorities,” he added.

However, he promised that once they were done with prospection and normal activities began, the people’s needs and wants would be addressed.

When Maryland County Development Superintendent Fred Bartoe was contacted concerning the county’s stance on the illicit mining activities in Gbeken Town, he promised to respond later.

Meanwhile, efforts by The NEW DAWN to contact the Ministry of Mines and Energy agent assigned in Maryland County proved fruitless, as he was inaccessible.

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