Investigations are underway at the regional office of the Commission on Human Rights and Administrative Justice (CHRAJ) in the Upper East Region into some allegations levelled against the Upper East Regional Minister, Stephen Yakubu, and the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the Minerals Commission, Martin Ayisi.
While there have been allegations of “defrauding, abetment of crime, abuse of office and false representation” against the regional minister, the Minerals Commission’s CEO stands accused of “abuse of office” and “abetment of crime”.
CHRAJ launched the investigations following a petition filed by the Development Research and Advocacy Centre (DRAC), an anti-corruption civil society organisation, in January, 2023.
DRAC’s petition was triggered by complaints it had received from some small-scale miners who said they were victims of the aforementioned offences.
CHRAJ is inviting a number of individuals from a long list provided by DRAC and meeting them one at a time.
Media Without Borders learns that, so far, the regional minister, representatives of DRAC and some of the victims have appeared before the commission.
The regional minister is said to have been invited twice since the investigations began in April, 2023. The CHRAJ’s invitation list still has more people to be called to give their evidence.
In 2017, Earl International Group Ghana Gold Limited, a Chinese state-backed mining firm once called Shaanxi Mining Company Limited, secured a swathe of land in Talensi, a district in the Upper East Region, to run a large-scale mining business.
The land is about 16.02 square kilometres in size— almost equal to 4,000 standard soccer fields put together.
Some small-scale miners were working legally on some portions of that land way before the Chinese company acquired it. They were compelled to give up their concessions to the foreign firm because the land had been given out to the company— with the Minerals Commission’s blessing.
After surrendering their concessions, the company gave 1 million United States dollars to the Upper East Regional Coordinating Council (UERCC) in 2021. The money was meant to be shared among the small-scale miners.
The company labelled the dollar package as a “goodwill” fund. But the regional minister told Media Without Borders, and emphasised it in a subsequent press statement, that the money the Chinese company gave was “compensation”.
Matter of Abuse of Office
But before the small-scale miners received from the UERCC the money the Chinese company gave, the regional minister and the Minerals Commission’s CEO had held a meeting with them and reportedly asked them to buy chairs for the government during that meeting.
The small-scale miners were told that buying furniture for the government was expected of them as part of their corporate social responsibility. The meeting took place inside the UERCC’s conference hall in Bolgatanga, the region’s capital.
Some of the small-scale miners, after receiving their share of the “compensation” package, contributed money to purchase the furniture. But a number of the miners declined to contribute. Some of those who contributed told Media Without Borders they were made to do so against their will.
When Media Without Borders contacted the regional minister, he corroborated the small-scale miners’ claims. He said the small-scale miners were asked to buy the chairs for the UERCC’s conference hall as part of their corporate social responsibility. The demand for the chairs, he said, was spearheaded by the Minerals Commission’s CEO during the meeting.
“That day, it was even the Minerals Commission saying, ‘You companies, social responsibility, if you can offer chairs to the RCC, it would be nice’. They have brought about thirty chairs,” he stated.
When Media Without Borders contacted the Minerals Commission’s CEO for his comments on the regional minister’s claims, he denied his alleged involvement in making the demand.
“Does anybody buy this kind of thing for the government? I don’t know anything about this. I’ve not spoken to anybody about this,” he said.
But the small-scale miners insist that the regional minister and the CEO both asked them to buy the furniture.
One Robert Boazor Tampoare, a small-scale miner who speaks in support of the CEO, confirmed at a news conference that the CEO asked the small-scale miners to purchase furniture for the UERCC.
Government’s bank account used for disbursing “compensation” money
It was widely expected that the small-scale miners would negotiate a fair compensation package on their own, or engage a consultant to do so on their behalf, after the Chinese company took over their concessions.
But the dispossessed small-scale miners say they were not involved in the discussion that led to the Chinese company offering them what the regional minister described as compensation.
The regional minister is said to have negotiated with the company to pay the “compensation” money into the UERCC’s bank account.
In 2021, the company paid the money— one million United States dollars— into the UERCC’s bank account: GCB 9011130014513.
Subsequently, the regional minister instructed the UERCC’s Chief Director, Alhaji Inusah Abubakari, and the UERCC’s Chief Accountant, Alhaji Saibu Mutawachilu, to sign cheques and pay off the miners.
The monies were disbursed according to three categories― miners who had applied for licence, those with inactive licences and the ones with active licences.
Those who fall within the first category― the licence applicants― received Gh¢40,000 each. The miners in the second category (those with inactive licences) were given Gh¢80,000 apiece. And Gh¢150,000 was paid to each of the concessionaires in the third category (those with active licences).
In addition to the “compensation”, the regional minister also told the small-scale miners that the company would pay a monthly 2% of its proceeds in royalty to them to share among themselves.
Some of the miners described the regional minister’s alleged negotiations as interference in their private business affairs, and said they were compelled to receive the “compensation” cheques at his office after he reportedly threatened to unleash soldiers on them.
“We were never part of the negotiation. The regional minister never even considered giving a notice to that effect. It was all about himself and one Robert. They did this with the Chinese and put us in this trouble. At one point he threatened that soldiers would come after us if we didn’t take the money. I was given Gh¢40,000 as compensation for my life investment. How can I be satisfied with that amount?
“This minister has come to rob me in favour of the Chinese company. Even a Minerals Commission official told me that a consultant should have handled the negotiation and compensation processes. He is doing this because he wants money. If the president is not paying attention, this regional minister is going to make his government unpopular,” the Chief Executive Officer of the Mpeligiba Enterprise, Zumah Baba, told Media Without Borders.
A legal practitioner and Executive Director of Centre for Public Interest Law (CEPIL), Augustine Niber, told Media Without Borders that the regional minister erred in using the government’s bank account to run private transactions for small-scale miners.
He also described as “absurd” and “illegal” the demand for furniture from the small-scale miners as a corporate social responsibility contribution for the government.
But the regional minister, when contacted on the matter, denied involvement in any wrongdoing.
Matter of Abetment of Crime
While investigating the matter, Media Without Borders also discovered that the names of some mining companies suspected to be non-existent were on a list being used by the regional minister in disbursing the “compensation” money to the dislodged concessionaires.
Names of 38 concessionaires are listed on a minerals cadastre map said to have been generated by the Minerals Commission and given to the regional minister to pay the miners. The map has no name and signature of the Minerals Commission official who generated it. But the same unapproved map was used to pay the miners.
It was uncovered during a Media Without Borders investigation that there were about 17 fake companies among the 38 concessionaires listed on the map being used by the regional minister to share the “compensation” money.
The fake concessions include AAA Triangle Mining C, Bankay Enterprise, BBG Small-Scale Mining Group, Dansneton Enterprise, Duisi Mining Limited, Gold Twins Farms Limited, Gold Spare Mining Company Limited and Goodwill Manage Service.
The rest are Jayom Enterprise, Judrukis Enterprise, Little Elephant Enterprise, Safeway Limited, Solitare Ventures, Tommi Company, Vyeenoa Enterprise, Wiseman Leonel Enterprise and Zoom Ray Enterprise.
When Media Without Borders contacted the Minerals Commission’s CEO to ascertain the authenticity of the cadastre map generated from his office, he failed to provide any answers despite multiple reminders.
On 7th October 2022, the actual small-scale miners held a meeting with the District Chief Executive (DCE) of Talensi, Thomas Duanab Wuni Pearson, on the list the UERCC used in disbursing the “compensation” money.
As the DCE took a roll call of the miners in the meeting, the actual concessionaires present confirmed in unison that the 17 names did not exist.
A number of the existent small-scale miners are angry, saying the “Akufo-Addo Government” has defrauded them “through the regional minister” by using a government bank account to pay “a huge amount of our money to 17 mining companies that do not exist”.
Matter of Alleged Fraud
In 2011, Shaanxi Mining Company Limited, now called Earl International Group Ghana Gold Limited, trespassed on the concession of the Unique Mining Group in Talensi.
Following a complaint lodged by the Unique Mining Group, the Minerals Commission instituted a committee to look into the claim. In 2013, the investigative committee confirmed that the Chinese company trespassed.
After acquiring the 16.02 square kilometres of land in the district for large-scale mining operations, the Chinese company decided to settle the trespass impasse with the Unique Mining Group. It did so by offering 150,000 United States dollars to the group.
The Chinese company handed over the money to the regional minister for onward delivery to the group. The regional minister deposited the money into the bank account of the UERCC and later gave it out to a member of the Unique Mining Group, Robert Boazor Tampoare. The other members of the group did not know what transpired between the regional minister and Tampoare until they found out eight months later.
The regional minister came under pressure when those members approached him for answers and Robert failed to deliver the money. Highly incensed, they lodged complaints with police and the Economic and Organised Crime Office (EOCO) against Tampoare and the regional minister.
When contacted, the Regional Minister admitted in a Media Without Borders interview that he gave the money to Tampoare. He explained that he did so because the other members of the group had introduced Tampoare to him as their leader.
But the other members of the group insist that they did not introduce Tampoare to him as their leader and that they never asked him to hand over the group’s money to Tampoare on their behalf.
Tampoare declined to speak to the issue when Media Without Borders contacted him.
Matter of False Representation
The Upper East Regional Organiser of the governing New Patriotic Party (NPP), Charles Taleog Ndanbon, is angry with the regional minister for reportedly negotiating with Earl International Group Ghana Gold Limited to take over his small-scale mining business, Yenyeya Mining Enterprise.
The Chinese mining company wants to take over Ndanbon’s small-scale concession, but Ndanbon strongly disagrees to the bid for some reasons.
Ndanbon says he has never asked the regional minister to be an intermediary between him and the Chinese mining company.
When contacted, the regional minister claimed Ndanbon had requested that he (the regional minister) should negotiate with the Chinese mining company on his behalf.
But Ndanbon, an NPP financier, strongly insists he did not make such a request and he keeps asking the regional minister to back his claim with proof.
While the CHRAJ investigations are advancing, the regional minister is also being investigated by police and the EOCO in connection with the same allegations.
Source: Edward Adeti/Media Without Borders/mwbonline.org