The Executive Chairman of the Environment Protection Agency of Sierra Leone has undertaken a familiarization tour with the aim of identifying key environmental challenges in the Northern Region. Dr. Bondi Gevao undertook the assessment of key environmental challenges and visit to key stakeholders in the region together with his second in command, Director Momodu Alrashid Bah, the Head of Field Operations and Extension, Lamin Tarawalie and other Senior Staff of the Agency.
Dr. Bondi is not an armchair Boss who sits at his Office to only direct the affairs of the Agency. As new EC of the Agency, he decided to make a visit to the field to get firsthand information on the environment himself instead of relying on information relayed to him.
During the visit, he met with Senior Management of the Sierra Leone Police in Bombali and Tonkolili Districts. He wholeheartedly informed them about the challenges the environment is facing especially with the actions of illicit miners searching for gold in the Northern Region along the Pampana River estuaries. Dr. Gevao urged Officers of the Police to work with the Environment Protection Agency to nab out illegal mining activities to enforce compliance in the region.
The Police Officers were also informed about their roles in protecting the Sierra Leone environment and were also exposed by the EPA-SL’s Executive Chairman about the recently signed Memorandum of Understanding between the heads of the Sierra Leone Police and the EPASL towards issues that are central to the protection of the environment in the country. All the Law Officers in the two districts expressed their wiliness, need and their interest in helping the Agency in protecting the Sierra Leonean environment through enforcement of environmental compliance. As the environment is key towards the survival of human beings, the Senior Police Officers called on the Agency to always work with them at all times as they are always ready when it comes to issues of operations and environmental enforcement towards protecting the environment.
During the site seeing mission in the Pampana tributaries and other swampy areas in the Tonkolili District, it was discovered that many Chinese and other foreign citizens are heavily involved in artisanal gold mining activities. Some of the foreign citizens were met on sight carrying illegal activities they are not licensed for while some Indians are renting their excavators to carryout artisanal mining activities. Artisanal Miners are not licensed by the Environment Protection Agency with an Environment Impact Assessment License and are only authorized to use shovels and pickaxes instead of using heavy machineries like excavators.
Section 23 (2) of the Environment Protection Agency Act of 2008 prohibits any person from undertaking projects such as gold mining unless he holds a valid Environment Impact Assessment license in respect of such project from the EPA-SL. The use of excavators by either a Sierra Leonean or a foreign citizen attract a fine and a penalty of Twenty-Five Million Leones for the Sierra Leonean and One Hundred Million Leones for any foreigner caught doing artisanal mining or aiding the practice such as with the renting of excavators. During the visit, some Indians were caught renting these excavators and were impounded and handed over to the Sierra Leone Police for possible action.
The Executive Chairman and Team also visited the sites of some registered small scale mining companies which were all operated by the Chinese in the Tonkolili and Koinadugu districts. Even though some of these companies are on the readiness to relocate their operations in other areas, it was discovered by the Team that the sites were not well kept as lubricants and other oily substances were not safely kept within the sites. Even the fuel stations were not properly kept and this caused the Executive Chairman to promise tougher actions like refusal of renewal licenses. He informed them that such actions would be taken as foreigners should not come into the land and destroy it and at the end leave Sierra Leoneans to suffer with the dire consequences at the end.
The Executive Chairman also took the opportunity to talk to the Sierra Leone Migrants Union in the country. He informed them with all seriousness that “anyone who engages himself in artisanal or illegal mining activities in Sierra Leone would receive a free ticket or will be deported back where he came from”. Even though Dr. Gevao welcomed the migrants in Sierra Leone, he also urged them to desist from any bad practice and discontinue with any illegal mining activities they may involve themselves with in the country and strictly follow the laid down laws and regulations of the land.
Dr. Gevao insisted that the Pampana River which many have turned into as a new mining site is his top most priority and he expressed his plans to clean it up from any irresponsible mining activities during the coming years. He called on the corporation of all Sierra Leoneans to help him achieve such aim.
Dr. Gevao visited the site of the Used Oil Factory along the Makeni-Magburaka Highway. He informed the management of the Company to properly handle their used oil and by all means try to rehabilitate portions where used oil had already been degraded in the site.
The EC and his team also used the familiarization tour to raise the awareness of the Community people in Koinadugu District about the importance of having a good environment and admonished them from illicit mining practices. The Team hour ever placed a cessation order at the offices of the Sierramin Bauxite Company along the Rogbaray Junction until the Company regularizes its status. Its EIA license had long expired since March.
After the visit and seeing many environmental challenges caused by Mining Companies, the Executive Chairman of the Agency promised to be working on a plan whereby mining companies should be put on a bond system with certain amount of money deposited to the government. In a situation where such Companies do not accomplish their adaptation or mine closure plans at the end of their operations or if they destroy the environment at an irreparable level, such bond fees would be used to accomplish that for them.