Who’s Authorizing ‘Illicit Mining Activities’ in Gbeken, Maryland?

Who’s Authorizing ‘Illicit Mining Activities’ in Gbeken, Maryland?
Who’s Authorizing ‘Illicit Mining Activities’ in Gbeken, Maryland?

Africa-Press – Liberia. A Chinese mining company named Soar Mining Company operating in Karluway, Maryland County, specifically in the Gbeken town, is under scrutiny for alleged illicit mining activities.

Despite community objections and questions surrounding the company’s legitimacy, the mining operations continue, involving dredge mining in rivers in the area. Angry residents see no recourse in sight after years of agitation, as they barely feel the presence and impact of the national government in the area.

Gbeken is the hometown of the former 2023 presidential candidate Mr. Alexander B. Cummings. The illicit activities are taking dense forested areas that are difficult to reach.

“The location of the illicit mining site makes it difficult for easy access. The miners reside in tents built in the forest, not too far from their mining field,” one local told the Daily Observer.

“The people are destroying our forest, water, and soil and we are getting no benefits. We have complained, and we are tired now. No one is taking action and the Chinese are having a free ride in our forest — and are taking away our resources,” he said. “We are powerless and we cannot do anything.”

The lack of law enforcement and governance in Gbeken has led community members in Gbeken to engage in negotiations with the Chinese mining company to benefit from local resources, residents told this reporter during a recent visit to the area.

Although informal agreements were made regarding fees, benefits, and development projects, there have been challenges in the implementation and fulfillment of these arrangements.

At one of the negotiation meetings, the locals demanded the Chinese mining company pay L$100,000 monthly and US$2,000 every six months for what they termed as Surface Rental Fees. The agreement is, however, yet to be consummated.

There is also a verbal Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that mandates the company to build an elementary school, undertake the responsibility of paying three volunteer teachers, construct roads to the town, and erection of hand pumps, amongst others.

A copy of the MOU, which hasn’t been officially confirmed by the Chinese company, was sent to Senator J. Gbleh-bo Brown for viewing before approval.

The town chief of Gbeken, Mr. Johnson Pokolo, expressed concerns over the company’s failure to meet its obligations and deliver promised benefits to the community.

“So we halted their operation, and they came to apologize to us. But while apologizing, they asked the town for areas and we did with conditions that they should provide other benefits which they haven’t done yet.

“We are worried because our communities are not benefiting anything from the Chinese mining company, although they have promised to fix our roads, erect hand pumps, build elementary schools, and give us other benefits. But we aren’t seeing these things coming to reality,” he said.

Pokolo pointed out that due to the failure of the company to meet up with their obligations, the Town youths and women have stopped the Chinese operation but with the intervention of the Karluway 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 people because companies visiting our area claim to be sent by our government or by our Representative and Senators but, since we don’t want to fight the government, we will allow them. But we are not [hearing] anything from our government, let alone those companies that sometimes come to operate” the Town Chief alleged.

He indicated that the local leaders of the town are happy to work with the Soar mining company only if they are willing to address those requests made by the townspeople.

Another resident indicated: “Though we are suffering, we can’t fight them because the people we think should be talking are our big government people. But they can only go to the miners and, once they come out, they will be the ones appealing [on behalf of] the Chinese.

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

Despite these allegations, the company has said that it is not yet involved in full-scale mining activities — maintaining that it is in the prospecting phase and has not yet commenced full-scale mining.

Nyemah Sheriff, the company’s Liberian Manager, stressed that they have not gotten permits from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and other relevant authorities. “So we are yet to begin full-scale mining activities,” he said.

Despite several Excavators seen in the company’s operation area, Sheriff noted that they are only carrying out prospecting. “Once we are done prospecting, we will obtain all of our necessary documents,” he said.

Soar Mining Company began prospecting on the site in February 2024, but the manager noted that the company is not yet convinced as to whether the location is productive for full-scale mining activity.

“We came here in February but since that time we haven’t begun normal work due to other pressure either from the town or local authorities of the County,” he said. “Once we are done with the prospecting and normal activities begin, the needs and wants of the people will be addressed.”

Efforts to obtain official comments from senior authorities in the county have been ongoing. Maryland County Development Superintendent, Fred Bartoe, has yet to respond to the matter despite promising to do so.

Additionally, attempts to reach the agent of the Ministry of Mines and Energy assigned to Maryland County have been unsuccessful.

The situation in Gbeken underscores the complex dynamics between mining companies, local communities, and government authorities, highlighting the challenges and negotiations involved in balancing economic interests and community welfare in resource-rich areas. The need for transparent communication, adherence to regulations, and sustainable development practices remains essential to ensure the fair and responsible exploitation of natural resources for the benefit of all stakeholders involved.

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