By Elkass Sannoh
Sierra Leone has moved from a decade civil war through peace and laying the foundation for democratic goo governance and economic growth for sustainable development. To many, Sierra Leone is a “virgin land” rich in mineral resources such as-Diamond, Gold, Bauxite, Rutile, Copper, Iron Ore and now Coltan.
Before the war, the most prominent mineral was Diamond-discovered in 1930 in Kono District-Eastern Sierra Leone. It is argued that well-organized but unregulated mining started with Bauxite in the 1920s. By the mid-1920s, the Sierra Leone Selection Trust (SLST) held a monopoly for mining, prospecting and marketing Diamond in the country. The commercial mining sector was and is still believed to be one of the highest employers in the country.
With the emergence of democratic good governance-in 1996 following the first post war democratic elections, the government has provided a competitive but a friendly environment for genuine investors to come and invest. This enabling business environment has attracted many companies. Among these companies-bettering the lives of Sierra Leoneans by way of providing job opportunities and expanding its corporate social responsibility within and outside its operational areas is AMR Gold.
AMR GOLD AS AN EXPLORATION COMPANY
AMR Gold is an exploration, evaluation and mine development company with three (3) Exploration Licenses. The company was incorporated in Sierra Leone in 2011. Since its inception, the company has undertaken extensive exploration work primarily focusing on bedrock gold targets. It later diversified its search for other commodities such as columbite/tantalum, tin, diamond and rare earths.
To ensure the company continues to succeed, the Board focused on installing a strong and result oriented Management team of Sierra Leonean geologists and administrators. This energetic and resourceful team has now defined a pipeline of very attractive multi-commodity targets within the company’s Exploration Licenses. Today, the company is on track to start its first alluvial/eluvial Small Scale Mining operation for Coltan, Gold and Tin in the Loko Hills area.
Despite the challenges faced by the industry, Sierra Leone is largely enjoying political stability and providing an investor friendly environment.
In laying a positive foundation for economic growth-President Ernest Bai Koroma in 2011, during the launch of the Sierra Leone Extractive Industry Transparency Initiative (SLEITI) said, “My government is committed to avoiding the negative consequences by ensuring that the natural resource wealth of this country is harnessed and for the benefit of all Sierra Leoneans”. The President’s strong worded statement was not only to admit the fact that the mining industry was not well regulated/supervised, but to send a far reaching message that the mining sector is expanding and contributing immensely to the country’s economy.
It is important to note that unlocking the potential of mining in African countries means investing in local capacity so that a flourishing mining industry is being led by local professionals. Unfortunately, this is a challenge in Sierra Leone despite the introduction of Local Content Policy.
According to the President of the Sierra Leone Chamber of Mines-John Bono Sisay, “there is an undersupply of the skilled employees needed by the mining industry. Again we need to critically look at the skills available.”
As one of the compliant companies in Sierra Leone, this has not adversely affected the work of AMR Gold. In fact the company’s Director-Gary Vallerius is convinced that the company is on record to be the first to employ 99.9% Sierra Leoneans from Senior Management to unskilled staff.
Gary explained that the company will seek to maintain this high percentage to demonstrate strict adherence to the country’s Local Content Policy. He is certain that when recruitment starts for full scale commercial mining, the first point of contact will be Sierra Leone before trying elsewhere for Mining Engineers and other technical expatriates.
Prominent among the Sierra Leonean staff are Salim Sillah-Chief Geologist who graduated with MSc from the Camborne School of Mines and Mohamed Sultan Daffae who is an expert in Accounting, Finance and Administration with an MBA from the University of Cumbria.
AMR Gold has also hired the services of consultants to assist with implementation of their exploration, evaluation and mining development programmes and with the discovery of economic deposits of coltan-Dr. Jan P.J. Ketelaar, a Mining Engineer with a lot of experience in Sierra Leone, has been retained by the company to initiate the development of commercial mining operations later this year. Dr. Ketelaar is also the Country Manager.
JOB AND SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT
Today, AMR Gold has not only provided Sierra Leoneans with sustainable employment; they have also made inroads in the development of the mining industry making the company a strong contributor to the country’s economy.
To many people, Coltan is a strange terminology. Columbite-tantalite is the other name for Coltan-a mineral that is prominent in Australia, Brazil, Canada and Eastern areas of Democratic Republic of Congo. When refined, Coltan becomes a heat resistant metal tantalum, or a salt tantalum pentoxide that can hold high electrical charge. Tantalum capacitors are used in almost all cell phones, laptops and many other electronics.
Knowing that unemployment is posing a huge socio-economic challenge to Government, AMR Gold’s subsidiary company-Wilkinson Hill Company has supervised and funded the establishment of Artisanal Mining Cooperatives in the Chiefdoms of Sella Limba and Sanda Loko, Bombali District. The cooperative mining is within AMR Gold’s licenses area. The essence of initiating these cooperatives is not only to legalise and properly regulate illicit mining activities, but to help provide sustainable employment that will benefit community stakeholders, landowners and the country.
The Wilkinson Hill Mining Company which was recently granted a Small Scale Mining License by the Ministry of Mines and Mineral Resources is currently working with the Environmental Protection Agency, NMA and local authorities to make sure that the artisanal mining cooperative ventures are viable with regards to rehabilitation of mined areas to provide agricultural farm, fishing ponds and improve water quality to support food security.
In joining the Government to lay the foundations of economic growth, AMR Gold has provided scholarships to primary, secondary and tertiary students in order to help achieve goal 3 of the MDG’s (Education). Added to it is the provision of over three hundred jobs to Sierra Leoneans; AMR Gold has built concrete schools in remote villages; constructed roads linking villages in Bombali District; rehabilitated the Kamakwie Court Barry and Police station and supported the fight to end the Ebola Virus Disease which claimed the lives of many Sierra Leoneans.
Among the company’s numerous interventions, this is AMR Gold in helping to revive the Sierra Leonean mining sector that was decimated by a combination of the EVD and the demise of global commodity prices, especially iron ore.