Tag Archives: Barrick Gold

Enga landowners say Porgera talks broken down

Radio New Zealand | 28 June 2019

A landowning group at the site of the Porgera mine in Papua New Guinea’s Enga Province says negotiations with the owner Barrick have broken down.

The Canadian company is pushing to renew its contract in August for another 20 year period.

The company has said it had met with senior landowners to discuss their issues.

But the Justice Foundation for Porgera Ltd, which said it represented the bulk of local landowners, said without their commitment any agreement would be worthless.

It said Barrick needed to come to it to negotiate the necessary protocols.

The mine is currently the subject of a multi-billion-dollar lawsuit for damages caused over its 30-year life and PNG’s Prime Minister James Marape has recently committed to ensuring PNG citizens have greater control over their resource wealth.

The contract renewal comes amid unresolved allegations of rape, sexual assault, drownings and shootings at the mine site.

Justice Foundation for Porgera chair Jonathan Paraia said: “Barrick knows full well the vast majority of landowners are sick to death of the human rights abuses, the environmental destruction, the hollow promises”.

He said they were highly offended at the lack of respect Barrick’s CEO has shown towards them while trying to engage them in a significant international mining contract with a 20-year life.

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No tangible development in Western despite decades of mining

A father holds his malnourished son in Western Province, Papua New Guinea. Photo: Sally Lloyd

Marape Tells Awi Yoto To Improve Western

Leiao Gerega  | Post Courier | June 24, 2019

For almost 38 years Western province has seen no tangible development taking place despite helping the country generate millions in kina from the Tabubil mine.

The province remains one of the least developed in the country with low health status and lack of basic delivery of service to its people.

Prime Minister James Marape who visited the province on Friday to launch both the provincial and district five year development plans was implored by Governor Taboi Awi Yoto to look at the provinces needs which include;

  • Creation of one or two electorate added to the province’s current three electorates;
  • Uplift moratorium on the Province’s need to recruit new public servants;
  • Fix issues with the province’s dividend trust account through former operations with Ok-Tedi;
  • Find common ground on issues regarding WP’s major development program called the PNG sustainable development program;
  • Building of a major port to export its resources;
  • Request Ok-Tedi and Porgera to compensate middle and south Fly over mining waste pollution;
  • Current 33 percent shares in Ok-Tedi be lifted to previous 64 percent and
  • Stop fly-in and fly out of Ok Tedi workers to ensure money goes back to the people

Mr AwiYoto admits that the slow progress of development of the province was due to disunity amongst the leaders.

He assured Mr Marape that they are now ready to work together to ensure their people benefit from the money owed to them.

The 2018-2022 development plan under the theme “a new way forward” focuses on three key areas which are health, education agriculture and covers the province and its three districts in the Middle, South and North y.

“This is no easy task….everyone in this country have their own issues,” Mr Marape said while giving examples to how Buka and Lihir have fared poorly over the years despite the huge mining activities.

“Our agriculture and mining resources have been lost over the years while the people are suffering. Waigani is stealing from them and we are here now to turn things around,” Mr Marape said.

“These new work will take years but we want to direct and steer the country in the right path,” he said.

Mr Marape who travelled later to Tabubil to hear presentations from Ok-Tedi mining limited says everything will be discussed in Waigani after which they would strictly ensure monies owed to the people under various areas will be “unlocked.”

Mr AwiYoto says despite giving so much to the country the province has been failed by so many governments over the past years and is confident there is certainly a positive journey ahead.

Around 17,000 people gathered to welcome the prime minister at the Kiunga Township on Friday.

Mr Marape grew up as a child in Western province where his father was a Seventh Day Adventist pastor.

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Reporters investigated abuse and corruption at a Barrick gold mine in Tanzania. They faced threats and censorship

Marion Guégan and Cécile Schilis-Gallego | The Star | June 18, 2019

In Tanzania, reporters trying to investigate violence, environmental damage and other wrongdoing connected to a gold mine in the north of the country are trapped between the silence of a mining giant and the lies of a repressive government. At least a dozen reporters — local and international — who wrote about the mine have been censored or threatened. Forbidden Stories, an international consortium of 40 journalists publishing in 30 media organizations around the world, unveiled the shameful history of gold leaving the North Mara gold mine to end up in coveted high tech phones and computers. This is part of the “Green Blood” series, a project pursuing stories of journalists who have been threatened, jailed or killed while investigating environmental issues.

“Truly innovative products leave their mark on the world instead of the planet,” Apple proudly claims on its website. “We are building a better world for future generations,” says Canon’s CEO. Nokia’s “technology improves lives.”

“Right now responsible sourcing is clearly part of the cost of doing business, it’s part of the commercial need of a company to access markets and financing, among others,” said Tyler Gillard, due-diligence expert from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

In other words, it pays to advertise green and ethical products. That’s why big tech companies get the gold they need for certain electronic components from certified suppliers. In the case of Apple, Canon, Nokia and more than 500 companies registered with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, that means MMTC-PAMP in India.

Yet, certifications guaranteeing conflict-free minerals have focused on small-scale miners, not multinationals. In Tanzania, a gold mine indirectly owned by the Canadian gold mining giant Barrick has a documented history of human rights abuses and environmental damage. The North Mara gold mine currently sends its gold bars to MMTC-PAMP in India, where the gold then makes its way into many of the most popular tech gadgets in the world.

Canon and Nokia both highlighted that the Indian refiner had previously been audited and found conformant. “If allegations are confirmed, this smelter will be red-flagged and we will ask our supply chain to divert business from this smelter,” said a Nokia spokesperson. Apple shared a similar statement.

At the other end of the supply chain, local and foreign reporters who have tried to cover what is happening on the ground have faced intimidation and censorship from the state. Forbidden Stories, an international consortium of 40 journalists publishing in 30 media organizations around the world, found wrongdoing was ongoing at the North Mara gold mine, despite the company’s claims.

The mine, near the Kenyan border in northern Tanzania, has been plagued with violence for about two decades. As a result, the mine is surrounded by a two-metre wall and guarded like a fortress — both physically and metaphorically.

Forbidden Stories talked to several reporters who had been discouraged from reporting on the mine. Some received anonymous threats, others were censored by authorities. One reporter even decided to flee the country for over a year.

“They have created fear.” Jabir Idrissa, a 55 year-old journalist from Zanzibar, has not forgotten what happened to him two years ago. He was then working for two newspapers, the Swahili-language weekly MwanaHalisi and Mawio, both part of a newspaper group recognized for its investigative reporting.

In June 2017, Mawio published a story linking two former Tanzanianz presidents to alleged irregularities in mining deals signed in the 1990s. “We had a long discussion in the newsroom when we were deciding on stories,” Idrissa says. “Truly, there are topics we didn’t report on because of the general environment,” he said. But this one was a must, he said. They couldn’t avoid it “because journalism is a job of telling the truth.”

This is particularly difficult in Tanzania, where press freedom has been threatened for the last five years and, more specifically, since the election of John Magufuli to the presidency in 2015. A recent law provides for more than three years’ imprisonment, a fine of more than five million Tanzanian shillings ($2,100 U.S.) or both for knowingly publishing information or data deemed “false, deceptive, misleading or inaccurate.”

In addition, “journalists are attacked without reason,” according to Ryan Powell, a media development specialist working in East and West Africa. “Police will harass journalists, and people do not interfere.” Tanzania now ranks 118th out of 179 countries on Reporter Without Borders’ World Freedom Index. It dropped 25 places in the last year.

The day following publication of Mawio’s investigation, Minister of Information Harrisson Mwakyembe banned the newspaper for two years. The editor-in-chief of Mawio, Simon Mkina, claimed he started receiving threatening phone calls. As for Idrissa, he lost his job and was ostracized from any other journalistic opportunity. Left without resources, having to feed his three children, he left Dar es Salaam and started working in his cousin’s second-hand shop in Zanzibar.

The story that caused all this hardship was about Acacia Mining, a U.K.-registered company that has owned the North Mara gold mine under different names since 2006 and whose majority shareholder is gold giant Barrick. The Canadian parent company could soon become the direct owner of the North Mara mine and two others because of a tax dispute between Acacia and the Tanzanian government.

After benefiting for years from an extremely advantageous tax agreement with the Tanzanian government, the company is now losing an arm-wrestling match with authorities on the environmental front. In May, authorities fined the company 5.6 billion Tanzanian shillings ($2.4 million U.S. dollars) for alleged pollution from North Mara’s tailings dam.

January Makamba, the minister responsible for the environment, said the amount of the fine was justified, among other things, by the persistence of the problem.

“It’s been 10 years, and the tailing storage facility is still seeping,” he said about the dam supposed to prevent runoff of the environmentally damaging by-products of the mining operation.

“North Mara gold mine has kept water with poison in this facility for a long time, and this dam is not built properly, so poison has been seeping into underground water and nearby rivers and streams.” Makamba conceded some responsibility on the part of the Tanzanian government, saying it “consistently believed what the mine was telling.”

Acacia Mining told Forbidden Stories that it “has already recognized the need for additional tailings management” and that it “has commenced planning and design for a new tailing storage facility.”

Opposition politician Tundu Lissu, who has written on the environmental aspects of the mining industry in Tanzania, noted “the pollution of rivers and grasslands where villagers are taking the water from and raise their animals,” as well as “serious health problems associated with pollution.”

“I saw six people who washed in water near the mining area and they got a very bad reaction,” said Dr. Mark Nega, a former district medical officer in the area, about patients he saw in 2013.

In 2009, a study found high levels of arsenic in water in the vicinity of the mine. Elevated concentrations of arsenic are frequently found near gold mining sites. In 2015, farmers from the area sent samples of water coming from the mine to Kenya to be tested. Toxicology analysis carried out by a Kenyan government analyst found “nitrates and nitrites levels considered unsafe for livestock’s consumption.”

“An environmental incident occurred at North Mara mine during the Spring 2009 high rainfall season, when water containing discharges from containment ponds and run-off from the Mine entered the nearby Tigithe River,” said Acacia Mining in a statement. The company says it took prompt action following the incident.

On top of that, nongovernmental organizations have documented 22 alleged killings by the police or mine security workers since 2014. The victims were for the most part illegal miners, called “intruders” by the company.

“Small-scale miners who had government licences had previously owned most of the land in question,” explained Mary Rutenge, a lecturer at Mzumbe University in Tanzania. “The company’s acquisition of their land destabilized their livelihoods, and this company did not compensate them adequately.”

All of this with disastrous results: groups of jobless young people from neighbouring villages arm themselves with machetes or metal spears and get drunk on beer and Konyagi — a local brand of gin — every night to find the courage to climb the wall in the hope of making no more than the equivalent of $20. Instead, they find the armed policemen on the other side.

Why take so much risk? “We must go so we can get gold to help our families,” explained Monchena Mwita, the leader of the “intruders” from Kewanja, a village at the edge of the mine. “We can’t get gold without getting into the place, and there is nowhere else to get money so that’s our only source of income.”

Barrick’s leadership blames Tanzania’s police for any wrongdoing. “There have been many, many investigations on various allegations, and you can’t hold me accountable for the state authority,” said Barrick CEO Mark Bristow when asked about the killings by Forbidden Stories.

Yet, the barrier separating national police forces from mine security is not so clear. According to the U.K. nongovernmental organization Rights and Accountability in Development, Acacia has signed a memorandum of understanding with the police in which it says it will “provide ‘monetary and in-kind support’ to the police, will pay officers an allowance, provide meals and accommodation, supply fuel” to protect the mine.

Some victims also say it is not the police but mine security workers who attacked them. Forbidden Stories, along with a reporter from the Guardian (United Kingdom), met Lucia Marembela, a 44-year-old woman who says she was raped twice in 2010. She says she recognized her rapists as mine security forces because they were wearing blue uniforms and not the police force’s beige ones.

Marembela was caught by men while she was looking for gold from the mine, a fate she says is common for women in the area. “When we were tired of running, they would end up catching us and bringing us with them,” she says. “They would throw us in their vehicle and take us to an isolated place, near a small airfield, far from the view of passersby.” She says one man would then rape them, while the others were on the lookout. “Once they’ve finished their dirty work, they let you go, get in their vehicle and go back to work,” she said.

We have met two other women who described the same type of attack.

Marembela will have to spend the rest of her life living with the consequences. Her partner left her when he learned she had been raped, leaving her alone to raise her six children. “I have very bad memories of what was done to me,” she says. “Especially since everyone knows that I was raped, starting with my children. Sometimes people tell each other what happened to me on the street, and that hurts me very much.”

Marembela, along with other women, went to complain to mine management. She says the company — then called African Barrick Gold — subsequently reached out and asked her to sign a confidential agreement: in exchange for 13.9 million Tanzanian shillings ($8,600 U.S.), Marembela gave up her right to pursue a civil case against the mine or against Barrick. She says she was not able to fully read and understand the document before signing it.

“You shouldn’t silence people, but there’s always retribution,” said Bristow, the Barrick CEO. “And, in the short time I have been with Barrick, there have been demands for retribution. Not for justice. For retribution. To pay people who are making the demands.”

The situation continues as of today. “These abuses, particularly in North Mara gold mine, they come and go, they come and go,” said Lissu, who previously legally represented villagers in the region. Lissu was the victim of an assassination attempt in 2017, after he accused Magufuli’s government of lying about the mining contract. “There are periods of calm, and then something happens, and the whole thing blows up. But the tensions remain today.”

“Human rights abuses related to excess use of force by private and public mine security started increasing noticeably sometime around 2005 and was very high between 2009 and 2016,” said Catherine Coumans of the Canadian NGO Mining Watch, who has been documenting what is happening at North Mara for many years. “Our local contacts, and even mine personnel I have interviewed have told me that the international focus MiningWatch and RAID have put on the issue have helped bring the cases of shootings down, but severe beatings, especially of the head and joints, leading to sometimes lifelong handicaps, are still very high.”

In a statement, Acacia Mining said it had consistently refuted various allegations from both NGOs regarding unlawful deaths and human rights issues.

Forbidden Stories journalists met the families of two men, shot by the police in separate incidents in 2014 and 2016 as they were inside the mine. The families say they were not compensated. The police say they acted in self-defence.

“It is clear from Acacia’s own account that human rights violations continue at its North Mara mine,” wrote RAID in July 2017.

Yet the mine’s gold bars are today refined at MMTC-PAMP — an Indian refiner part of the Swiss-Dutch MKS PAMP Group — which is certified by the London Bullion Market Association, the most prestigious trade association in the industry.

“During our due diligence performed on North Mara, we took the NGO’s reports very seriously and challenged the mine on the issues raised,” said Hitesh Kalia, a risk and compliance officer at MMTC-PAMP. “We have assessed the measures taken by the mine to remediate the human rights claims, which are largely historical and related to the activities of the State police force operating in the area of the mine.”

Back in 2010, at the peak of the human rights abuses, a document written for investors indicated that the gold was refined by the Swiss company Argor-Heraeus, also certified and a listed supplier of more than 600 companies. Asked by a journalist from Tamedia (Switzerland), Argor-Heraeus did not confirm or deny having refined gold from North Mara.

There is less to labels than it seems, say experts.

“It’s important to know that these schemes in the gold sector are run by industry associations,” explains Gillard. “They check that refiners have systems in place to source gold responsibly, in line with OECD standards. They are not intended to provide a guarantee on the status of every gold product, a guarantee that there is no child labour, a guarantee that there is no conflict financing with each piece of gold that is purchased.”

He said the complexity of the gold supply chain makes such certainty unfeasible, and the quality of audits is often insufficient. The responsibility is thus diluted all along the supply chain.

Jürgen Heraeus, chairman of the Supervisory Board of Argor-Heraeus, describes the situation frankly in an interview in 2016: “[I]n this industry it is impossible to refine clean gold.”

Back in Tanzania, impoverished “intruders” keep looking for gold at the risk of their lives, and reporters are punished and prevented from shedding light on environmental damage and other wrongdoing.

“Once they’ve used the gold, they will go, and they’ll leave and leave the poison behind,” Lissu said of the mining operation.

And, in the case of journalist Jabir Idrissa, a career and a livelihood laid to waste.

In December 2018, Mawio won the case in court against the minister for information. The newspaper will not reopen anytime soon though, as they need a licence from the government to publish again.

“So it is just up to the government. If they give us the licence, we will get back to work,” says Idrissa. “I haven’t lost hope we will get back and work with high status and courage.”

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Intl. Media Expose Human Rights Abuses by Security at Barrick Gold’s North Mara Mine in Tanzania

Villagers search for pieces of gold contained in discarded waste rock from the North Mara mine. Photograph- Trevor Snapp:Bloomberg

MiningWatch Canada  | June 19, 2019

Yesterday news outlets in several countries simultaneously released the results of investigations by a consortium of journalists into human rights and environmental abuses at Barrick Gold’s North Mara gold mine in Tanzania.[1] This exposé by, among others, Canada’s Toronto Star, UK’s Guardian, and Switzerland’s Tagesanzeiger confirm findings of six years of investigations, reported on yearly by MiningWatch Canada, into assaults on men, women and children by the mine’s private security and by police contracted by the mine.

The consortium also highlights attacks on journalists who have tried to report on human rights abuses at the mine, and exposes the way the gold from this mine is refined in India and Switzerland before being sold to, among others, international electronic companies.

Systemic Security Abuses at Barrick Gold Mines

The security related human rights abuses at Barrick’s North Mara mine are not unique, however, as very similar assaults by public and private mine security against local indigenous men, women and children at Barrick’s Porgera gold mine[2] in the remote highlands of Papua New Guinea have been reported on since 2006 by MiningWatch Canada, the Harvard Human Rights Clinic, and the Columbia University Human Rights Clinic.

At both the North Mara mine in Tanzania and the Porgera mine in Papua New Guinea, the mines’ security arrangements include the use of secret agreements between the mines and the countries’ police forces. (MiningWatch was able to obtain the 2010 agreement between the North Mara gold mine and Tanzanian police only because it was disclosed as a result of legal action in the UK. Newer versions have not been made public. The agreement between the Porgera Joint Venture mine and Papua New Guinea police forces has never been disclosed.)

Also, at both mines, victims of assaults by mine security have been processed through grievance mechanisms set up by the mines themselves, which have deepened harm by rejecting many cases, providing inequitable remedy to others, and in many cases requiring the victims to sign waivers preventing them from taking – or even participating in – legal action.

In March of this year, MiningWatch documented the history of security related human rights abuses at both Barrick mines in a 20-page report to the United Nations Working Group on the Use of Mercenaries and provided recommendations including that: companies and governments should not contract police to serve as an ongoing component of mine security; companies need to take all necessary steps to ensure that mine security who are accused of serious human rights abuses are turned over to the police for investigation and possible prosecution; companies and governments should make public any existing agreements that authorize the use of police as a component of mine security.

[1] Barrick owns 63.9% of Acacia Mining, the company that owns 100% of the North Mara gold mine.

[2] Barrick owns 47.5% of the Porgera Joint Venture gold mine in Papua New Guinea, down from 95% prior to 2015, but remains the operator.

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Canada falling behind on corporate accountability

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

Penelope Simons* | The Guardian | 12 June 2019

Earlier this year, Canadians were given a behind-the-scenes view on attempts by the Liberal government to ensure that SNC-Lavalin would escape potential criminal liability under the Corruption of Foreign Public Officials Act. What may be less clear is that the government’s stance in this case is reflective of its broader approach to corporate accountability.

The Liberal government’s tendency to overlook corporate malfeasance threatens to sink an innovative initiative – the Canadian Ombudsperson for Responsible Enterprise (CORE) – with the potential to make real change.

Canadian companies are implicated in credible allegations of wrong-doing worldwide. In addition to charges of corruption, the Canadian private sector is linked to human rights abuses and environmental destruction.

The extractive sector is of particular concern. Canada hosts a majority of the world’s largest exploration and mining companies, and a significant number of medium and large-sized oil and gas companies, many of which operate overseas. These companies raise billions of dollars on Canadian stock exchanges. They have also been implicated in grave human rights abuses perpetrated by their security forces in many countries around the world, including Sudan, Papua New Guinea, Eritrea and Guatemala, among others.

A study by the Justice and Corporate Accountability Project at Osgoode Hall Law School found that between 2000 and 2015, 28 Canadian extractive companies had been associated with 100 incidences of violence in Spanish-speaking Latin America.

In 2017, the UN body charged with promoting respect for human rights by the private sector visited Canada to assess compliance with a set of guiding principles endorsed by the Canadian government. The UN experts expressed concern that Canada lacked a coherent policy framework to fulfil its legal duty to protect against business-related human rights abuses. They raised concern that the victims of human rights abuses struggle to obtain adequate and timely remedies against Canadian businesses.

It appeared that the Trudeau government would begin to address these serious shortcomings with its announcement in January 2018 of CORE, a ground-breaking complaint mechanism charged with investigating allegations of harm caused by Canadian extractive and garment corporations operating abroad. The government committed to equipping the independent office with robust powers – including the power to summon witnesses and compel the production of documents.

What’s happened since then?

The Order in Council (OIC) that formally established CORE, created its mandate, and appointed Sheri Meyerhoffer to the position, was released this past April. It shows that the government has not only backtracked significantly on its original promise, but it appears to have established instead a slightly modified version of the toothless and now defunct Corporate Social Responsibility Counsellor. Notably, the government has so far failed to grant CORE the investigatory powers it needs. At the press conference, Minister Carr stated that he was “seeking external legal advice” on “the appropriateness” of giving the ombudsperson powers to compel witnesses and documents under the Inquiries Act and that the decision on this issue would be announced in June.

The government has also charged the office with investigating parties who allege corporate wrong-doing – in other words, investigating the victims of alleged human rights violations and/or those supporting victims in bringing a complaint.

This surprising inclusion will surely make it more difficult for victims to have legitimate complaints of corporate-related human rights abuses heard. It is also likely to place human rights defenders, whose physical integrity is often at risk, in even greater peril.

In April, two years following his mission to Canada, the chair of the UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights, Surya Deva, returned to this country. He warned that Canada is falling behind other countries, such as France and Switzerland, that are passing laws to hold their companies to account when they cause harm overseas. Dr. Deva cautioned that Canada’s international reputation would be damaged if it failed to provide the ombudsperson with real investigatory powers.

While the Trudeau government may position itself as a champion of human rights and the rule of law, its new complaint mechanism speaks a different narrative. More important than the reputation of the government, however, is the fact that the lives and livelihoods of individuals and communities in other countries are at stake. This will remain the case until the Canadian government takes meaningful steps to incentivize Canadian companies to change the way they do business abroad.

* Penelope Simons is an associate professor in the Faculty of Law at the University of Ottawa.

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Porgera Mine Owners Meet New PNG Government About SML Extension

GlobeNewswire | June 4, 2019

Barrick President and Chief Executive Mark Bristow, along with Zijin Executive Director and Senior Vice President George Fang, met today with Papua New Guinea’s new Prime Minister James Marape and reaffirmed the company’s commitment to working with the PNG government and local communities to ensure that the Porgera gold mine continues to deliver value to its stakeholders past the expiry of the current Special Mining Lease on August 16, 2019.

While in the country, Bristow also held meetings with Enga Governor Sir Peter Ipatas, Porgera landowners, and other stakeholders. 

Since pouring its first gold in 1990, Porgera has paid more than Kina 3.6 billion (US$1.1 billion) in taxes and Kina 1 billion (US$297 million) plus Kina 600 million (US$178 million) in equity cash payments and royalties respectively to the provincial government and customary landowners. This represents a significant contribution to the country’s economy, as well as a substantial amount to the landowners on whose properties the mine is located. An application to extend Porgera’s special mining lease for a further 20 years is currently in progress.

Bristow said Porgera was an important long-term asset for PNG as well as the mine’s owners, Barrick Gold Corporation and Zijin Mining Group.

“The proposed extension to its lease will allow the mine to remain productive for at least another 20 years.  To sustain mine operations, however, it will require a significant capital injection, and it is difficult to justify that kind of investment without the security of an extended mine lease,” he said.

“Barrick believes in true partnership with our host countries, sharing both the responsibilities and the benefits that come with mining. We are engaging with the government to breathe new life into our long-standing partnership, so that Porgera continues to deliver value to all its stakeholders. In our meeting with the Porgera landowners, we invited our stakeholders to join us in continuing to improve the quality of life, security and welfare in the Porgera valley.”

Porgera is a joint venture between Barrick and the Zijin Mining Group, which each owns 47.5% with the remaining 5% interest being held by Mineral Resources Enga (owned equally by Porgera Special Mining Lease Landowners and the Enga Provincial Government). The mine is operated by Barrick (Niugini) Limited.

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Barrick faces pointed questions, protest at AGM

Barrick Gold Corp CEO Mark Bristow listens as Mining Watch Canada’s Catherine Coumans asks a question at the company’s annual general meeting on May 7, 2019. Photo by Alastair Sharp

Alastair Sharp | National Observer | May 8 2019

The concerns of local residents ranging from Papua New Guinea to Tanzania to Dominican Republic near sites where Canadian gold miner Barrick Gold Corp operates were channeled into a single question at the company’s annual general meeting in Toronto on Tuesday.

Some things were different this year; the gathering was helmed by a new president and chief executive, Mark Bristow, and was in a smaller venue (the Tim Horton theatre at the Canadian Hockey Hall of Fame on Front St just off Bay) than in previous years under founder Peter Munk, who died in March last year.

But one thing was familiar, to both Bristow and Catherine Coumans, the research coordinator and Asia Pacific lead for Mining Watch Canada: As in previous years, Coumans got to present the case against Barrick’s operations on behalf of those most negatively affected and Barrick’s representative, usually Munk but now Bristow, got to defend the mining giant as a provider of economic opportunity in troubled places.

The official business of the meeting was over within six minutes, and it was then time for questions, at which point a company representative held a microphone out for Coumans to ask the first and only question.

“You can do what you like, Catherine,” Bristow said when she asked whether she should sit or stand. They were clearly familiar; Bristow had been Randgold Resources’ long-time CEO before Barrick bought it in an all-stock deal valuing the Africa-focused miner at $6.5 billion in September last year, Coumans is one of a five-person team aiming to keep Canadian mining companies accountable abroad. She decided to stand.

“It is shameful that year after year since 2008 either I or people affected by your mines from all over the world, have had to stand here to testify to ongoing environmental and human rights abuses at your mines,” she began, reading from a prepared statement.

She cited several allegations from independent investigations — from retired Supreme Court Justice Ian Binnie and other members of the Independent Commission of Jurists (regarding Tanzania) and Columbia University’s Earth Institute (regarding the Porgara mine Papua New Guinea) — about excessively violent security guards and unsafe tailings discharge and other alleged abuses at Barrick sites around the world, and asked the new CEO when Barrick would “finally provide local communities with clean drinking water?”

She got in a supplemental as well; will you work with locals in Papua New Guinea to create an equitable remedy mechanism for a litany of complaints as called for by sustainability consultants from BSR that Barrick itself hired to fix its problems?

Coumans first heard of problems at Porgara in 2005, a year before Barrick bought it, and started attending the company’s AGM in 2006. The company dismissed reports the security forces were killing men and raping women as lies, until Human Rights Watch published a report in 2011 that documented five alleged incidents of gang rape by mine security personnel in 2009 and 2010, and a sixth in 2008.

“We believe these incidents represent a broader pattern of abuse by some PJV (Porgara joint venture) security personnel,” HRW said at the time.

Catherine Coumans from Mining Watch Canada stands outside of the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto, where Barrick Gold was hosting their annual general meeting on May 7, 2019. Photo by Alastair Sharp

“Thank you for that, Catherine,” Bristow said when Coumans was finished. “We all know that this is like an echo. You come every year and you make the same statements. And we deal with it, and the more we deal with it the more you make, repeat the statements.”

He acknowledged that she had visited Porgera and said he would “try to explain to you in three different boxes” his responses to her various complaints.

Tanzania better than it used to be, Bristow says

Firstly to Africa, the continent where South African Bristow had long roamed as chief of Randgold, a previously London-listed company, and now must deal with another tricky situation he inherits there as Barrick’s chief.

The North Mara mine in Tanzania is owned and operated by Acacia Mining, in which Barrick holds a 63.9 per cent stake.

Coumans said alleged victims of rape, house-burnings, chemical spills, shooting and assaults at the hands of guards either employed directly by Acacia or on police or military pay but housed and fed by the mining giant have little recourse to justice. (Mining Watch Canada issued a report in September 2018 based on video interviews accessible here (PDF))

“Sure, there are issues that you refer to,” he said, adding that the overall situation in Tanzania was better now than it was at the end of last century. “There are specific issues, and we’ve dealt with them in the past, and we will always continue to deal with those allegations.”

“The numbers and the specifics that you refer to, those are allegations, they have never been proven to be factual,” he said.

Barrick is meanwhile seeking to play the mediator solving “a difficult problem” between Acacia and the Tanzanian government, which accuses it of tax evasion, environmental breaches, money laundering and corruption.

Bristow stressed that Acacia was independent of Barrick and the majority shareholder did not have unfettered access to its mines. He said he aims to create value for all stakeholders, not just shareholders, but also “the communities in which we operate, the people in the countries we operate and also the government, in the form of the treasury of that government.”

“Now where I come from in Africa I’ve done that for my whole career,” he said. “And today we’ve been able to change people’s lives.”

He said the enlarged Barrick including Randgold and excluding Acacia employs 17,000 people across Africa, providing them with skills and the ability to participate in economic activity.

Bristow “has been working overtime to deal with disputes with the Tanzanian government over a ban of exports of concentrate” and the related allegations, Coumans said in an emailed statement following the meeting, “but has yet to speak out meaningfully about the appalling human rights abuses suffered by many impoverished villagers living in the shadow of the gold mine.”

Bristow, a trained geologist with a straight-talking, hands-on style who had run Randgold since its inception in 1995, acknowledged that the situation in Tanzania was not ideal but did not address them in detail.

The Independent Commission of Jurists said after a visit to North Mara and Tarime, the town closest to the mining sites, that its delegation was “deeply concerned about the gravity of many of the allegations and the difficulties experiences in accessing adequate remedy and reparations.”

The mine is by far the largest investment and economic engine for the region, the ICJ report said, and a major attraction for people migrating into the immediate area, whose population has grown exponentially since the mine was initiated in 1998.

“The prospect of gold predictably created a strong economic magnet that was bound to attract people in search of economic opportunities.” it said. “As company officials themselves acknowledged, the company was slow in putting in place the necessary physical security and measures to avoid human rights abuses and to redress those which occurred.”

“The delegation was struck by the richness of the mine and the poverty of the surrounding area,” the report says. “The mine pays taxes and royalties to the national government and service charges to the local government, but investment in basic infrastructure in the region shows that these payments are insufficient or that the local communities do not adequately benefit from them.”

Porgera, a ‘very, very complicated situation’

Meanwhile at the Porgera open pit and underground gold and silver mine high in Papua New Guinea’s rainforest, which Barrick split into a joint venture with Zijin Mining Group Co. Ltd in 2015, complaints from locals have been piling up.

Coumans said the BSR consultants Barrick hired to identify fixes to problems at Porgera released a report (PDF) in September with timelines for action by the company. “No progress has been made to date as proposed deadlines have come and gone,” she said.

“What you failed to point out was we are the ones that engaged BSR,” he said. Coumans had in fact made reference to Barrick having hired BSR.

“We have taken in their research and we are currently working, I am personally involved in that, and we will deal with the issues that have been raised,” he said, providing a specific assurance that the grievance procedure was being improved.

Coumans later told National Observer that an elderly couple had since been badly injured when they were swept away by a sudden increase in discharge of mine tailings from a pipe as they were panning the discharge for scraps of gold at Porgera.

The man and a woman were swept onto sharp rocks and are now in failing health, she said.

An exposed pipe that Barrick uses to dump its tailing into the environment at Porgera in Papua New Guinea and people desperate for an income pan for residual gold in the waste, seen in a photograph from 2017. Photo by Catherine Coumans

Aringiyan Longaip is attended to by other locals after Barrick’s Porgera mine in Papua New Guinea blasted a sudden increase in volume out of a tailings pipe in February, 2019, causing her to be swept away onto nearby rocks. Photo supplied by Catherine Coumans

Low Longaip is attended to by other locals after a sudden increase in volume out of a tailings pipe at Barrick’s Porgera mine in Papua New Guinea in February, 2019. Photo supplied by Catherine Coumans

Bristow said Barrick had dealt with 350 grievances at Porgera in the last quarter alone and that “we have no intention to reject anybody’s concerns.”

“Sure, there are always challenges,” Bristow said, before citing actions he had taken since becoming CEO including the promotion of sustainability chief Rod Beringer to full Barrick executive (he had been contracted by Randgold since 2014, according to this management summary) and the revision of human rights and other policies.

He said Barrick has delivered electricity to the roughly 60,000 people who had come to the immediate vicinity of its Porgera mine and also distributes clean drinking water in the region via more than 1114 water tanks holding 550,000 litres.

“To say that the tailings disposal situation is poisoning the drinking water is not a factual statement,” he said, to which she interrupts to say that was not what the Columbia University report said. (He later cited Barrick’s public response to that report, which can be found here (PDF))

“The solids that are being deposited in the rivers…we have a plan to manage those solids. We don’t have any deleterious chemicals going into the rivers,” Bristow added.

“It’s easy to criticize and it’s not very easy to make a difference,” he said to Coumans at one point. “And when I understand you, what you are trying to suggest is that we should leave.”

Coumans did not at any point in her comment and question suggest that Barrick should leave any of its operations.

Meanwhile, minutes earlier outside in the food court-cum-corporate thoroughfare leading to the hockey museum, a small group of protesters raised banners and chanted their opposition to Barrick’s operations in Papua New Guinea, Tanzania and Dominican Republic as they were escorted out of the building by security guards.

A small group of protestors chant outside Barrick Gold Corp’s annual general meeting in Toronto on May 7, 2019. Video by Allan Lissner

Dominican dam ‘a time bomb’, residents say

One of organizers of the flash mob protests also sent National Observer video testimonials and translations from residents near Barrick’s Pueblo Viejo double open pit mine in Dominican Republic, which the company wants to expand to increase production by 50 per cent.

In the videos, the residents express concern about the safety of the mine’s tailings dam, which they say emits substances that irritate their eyes and throats and cause nausea and which they fear could collapse.

“It is a very serious problem to live under this wall,” said Leoncia Ramos in one clip. “Because that is where they dump all the waste of Barrick Gold, all the toxic substances, sulphur, cyanide – all that passes through our communities, causing various diseases, and a number of problems because it destroys the environment.”

Leoncia Ramos speaks about her concerns living close to Barrick’s Pueblo Viejo mine in Dominican Republic. Video supplied by Sukuri Saunders

“For us, it is a time bomb. Why? Because it can collapse at any moment, burying about 600 families who live around here.”

Another resident, identified in the video only as Luvito, said he feared a collapse similar to one in Brazil that killed more than 200 people in January.

“We are terrified. We barely sleep because that’s all we can think about, that it could collapse from one moment to the next,” he said. “The water is coming out from the bottom [of the dam], all the rotten stuff underneath will collapse one day.

Even without a catastrophic incident, residents says the mine is affecting their health.

“We are threatened by the bad smells that come from there when it is raining,” said Sonia Perdomo. “And this… kind of haze that comes up… it really irritates our eyes, makes our throats very sore, gives us headaches, nausea and you feel you get dizzy easily.”

On Wednesday, Barrick issued its first quarter financial results. It said profit in January to March was $111 million, or six cents a share, one-third less than what analysts on average had expected. The figure is also down from a profit of $158 million, or 14 cents per share, in the same quarter last year.

Bristow told investors and analysts later that the company had identified $1.5 billion worth of assets it plans to clean up and sell off in the next year.

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Filed under Environmental impact, Human rights, Papua New Guinea