Two months ago, eight members of US Congress were meeting with community groups in Ghana to discuss the impact of gold mining on poor communities. Now, these legislators are preparing a bill that can help community members claim their right to a share of mining revenues.
The delegation of US representatives and their staff, led by House Financial Services Committee Chairman Barney Frank, Democrat of Massachusetts, visited Ghana as part of a three-country African tour. On March 28, they met with a number of groups in the capital city of Accra, including Oxfam America partners the Center for Public Interest Law and WACAM.
The subject of the meeting: Why does gold mining, Ghana's largest industry, make big profits for companies and the government, but bring few benefits for the poor communities where the mining actually takes place.
Daniel Owusu-Koranteng, executive director of WACAM, told the representatives that some farmers have not been not fairly compensated when mining companies purchased their land. "Companies will pay a farmer 9 Ghana cedis, about $8, for a cocoa tree, when the cocoa tree can earn a cocoa farmer about $20 per year for an economic life of 40 to 50 years."
He said gold mining has been a cause of environmental harm in Ghana, citing the US-based Newmont Mining Corporation's plans to build a gold mine in the Ajenua Bepo nature reserve—despite a petition from over 200 farmers asking them to preserve the country's rapidly dwindling forests.
The coalition also talked about the lack of transparency on the part of mining companies and governments. When contracts and payments are kept secret, corruption and mismanagement can spread, making it harder for poor communities to get their share of mining revenues. While the government of Ghana must create more transparent policies around mining, the US also needs to make a concrete commitment to help, Owusu-Koranteng said.
A new piece of US legislation could help communities by requiring mining companies to be more transparent about their practices. On May 12, Representative Frank and other members of the House Financial Services Committee will introduce the "Extractive Industries Transparency Disclosure Act" in the House of Representatives. The bill will require oil, gas, and mining companies registered in the US to disclose the amount and type of the payments they make in the countries where they operate.
"Now that they've met our partners, and heard how mining affects people's lives, the Congressional Delegation knows that oil, gas, and mining companies must respect the rights of the communities where they operate—in Ghana and elsewhere," says Keith Slack, director of Oxfam's Right to Know, Right to Decide campaign. "We must urge other members of Congress to follow suit and pass this crucial legislation."