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Opinions of Friday, 24 January 2014

Columnist: Ennin, Baffour

Is there any hope for Obuasi after the Mine closure?

The Chronicle in the January 17, 2014 issue, reported of the decision of Anglo Gold Ashanti (AGA) to close down the Obuasi Mine within two months. The decision has alarmed the citizens who are understandably fearful and panicky. When did AGA know that it was going to close down the mine? Was the government given advance notice? Is two months a short notice to close down an institution that has been there since 1890? I am a native son of Obuasi so I’ve a vested interest in the eventual outcome of the negotiations going on between the TUC, the government and AGA.

Regardless of the outcome of the negotiations, we all know that commercial gold mining in Obuasi is on its death throes. Before AGA packs its baggage and bolts out of town, there is a lot that needs to be done. According to the Chronicle article, the Ghana Mine Workers Union is keenly interested in the severance award for its current members who toiled in the mines for years and are about to lose their jobs.

As a son of Adansi, my vested interest transcends the TUC’s pocket book urgency of now. I’m interested in what happens to the town when the last miner leaves town. AGA has a lot of unfinished business to attend to in the Adansi area and the people of Adansi and the government of Ghana should not allow AGA to close shop and abscond. Here are some of the pressing issues that need to be resolved before AGA leaves town.

The fate of Retirees/Pensioners The government should confirm the number of AGA retirees still alive who are on pension or social security receiving benefits. The government should ascertain if there are any survivor benefits for the spouses of deceased retirees? The government should subject the AGA pension or retirement plan to close scrutiny and ascertain if the plan is adequately resourced and not dangerously underfunded and if plan assets will be able to meet future liabilities. When my father died in 1991, he was oldest living retiree at the then AGC. I want those aging retirees who are vested in the AGA pension plan to enjoy their golden years in peace.

Clean up of Adansiman Toxic Waste I also speak for my beloved Adansiman that bore the brunt of the pollution caused by the mining company. The Gold valley of Adansi became the dumping ground of highly toxic mining waste. Billions of toxic waste was dumped into creeks that drain the valley's heavily forested hillsides with no concern for environmental consequences. Toxic sludge from the mines has also been discharged into the valley floors creating 'mountains of cyanide' that shamefully adorn Obuasi's landscape. Runoff and flooding during torrential downpours continue to wreck environmental havoc. Aquatic life is non-existent from points south of the Kwabrafo River to the Jimi River in Akrofuom. Heavy metal pollution has poisoned what was once a biologically rich fishery. A comprehensive restoration program in the Jimi River basin would be one of the most ambitious pollution abatement efforts ever undertaken in Ghana and would undoubtedly pose daunting technical challenges. Among them, how to dispose of tons heavy metal sludge entombed on the floors of the picturesque valleys of Obuasi. Decades of mining activity has reduced once pristine land to veritable monstrosity of barren vegetation.

With AGA on the verge of closure of the Obuasi mine, a concerted effort should be made now to start the cleanup. The mining company, AGA should bear the full cost of this clean up. It should be held accountable for the callous and wanton disregard for the environmental safety and well-being of the people of the area. A natural resource damage assessment commission should be set up to ascertain the full cost of the cleanup. A super fund for the clean-up should be set up now. It should have as its goal the eventual restoration of aquatic life in the Jimi River and its tributaries. The problems created by years of reckless dumping of toxic materials still remain. The chiefs and people of Adansi should reject any severance agreement that does not contain a pollution abatement program for the area. The natural resources of Adansi are a precious legacy that we must restore, manage and bequeath to future generations of Adansi citizens yet unborn. The perpetrators of this monstrous contamination should be held accountable. It is critical that those who damaged our environment with years of mining activity-not the Ghanaian taxpayer-pay the clean-up costs.

Obuasi Infrastructure-Water Supply, Electricity, Airport and Housing Obuasi has a vast turn-key infrastructure already in place that can easily accommodate new businesses that will replace AGA. Unlike many business entities in Ghana, AGA has its own electricity substation, a reliable water supply, airport and a network of affordable housing. This infrastructure should be the draw for businesses willing to relocate to Obuasi. What I’m proposing is what needs to be done to save Obuasi. The government should look into the following:

1) National Children Hospital Center, Center for Disease Control or National Institute of Health Obuasi will be a great place to build a new National Children’s Hospital Center or a new Center for Disease Control, or a National Institute of Health once AGA leaves town. Doctors will have ready accommodation, a reliable source of water and electricity. The new airport in Obuasi could be used as a hub for a nascent medical air transport business. These could generate over one thousand new jobs in the community. The Children’s Hospital alone could generate about $100 in revenue every year for the community.

2) Gold Museum The government announced last year that it was going to build a gold museum in Accra. Such a museum should be built in Obuasi. It is only fitting that a town that pioneered gold mining in Ghana should be the venue of its only gold museum. Why locate the gold museum in Accra? How much gold has Accra produced? It does not make sense to locate a gold museum in Accra that has no gold history. The Adansi Caucus in parliament should fight tooth and nail and resist any attempt to locate the proposed museum in Accra. Obuasi is the perfect location for any such museum.

3) Amusement Park AGA should build an Amusement Park with water slides and rides as a gift to the people of Adansi. Hershey Chocolate built Hershey Park for the town of Hershey in Pennsylvania. AGA should be able to afford this. AGA should look at other Amusement Parks like Busch Gardens, Six Flags and Kings Dominion as a model for the Obuasi Park. The ideal location will be near the current water dam close to Akrofuom. Amusement Parks require a lot of water and also reliable source of electricity which will be readily available once AGA leaves town. This is a year round business and will offer employment to the youth at the park and concession stands. Obuasi will become a destination of choice for students going on excursion and vacation destination for families. The amusement park alone could generate over $100 million in revenue every year. The cornucopia of job opportunities that will be engendered by these initiatives will far exceed that of mining.

The government of Ghana should be responsible for building the National Children’s Medical Center, the Center for Disease Control and the Gold Museum. This is an opportunity that we should not let slide. This is doable and we should not let Obuasi become a ghost town. To the Adansi MPs, this is a direct challenge to you to work across party lines to save Obuasi. To Adansi citizens in the Diaspora, let’s all do what we can to save Obuasi. If you have any ideas or proposals that could generate jobs in Obuasi, please contact me.

Baffour Ennin Washington, DC