Shutting down mine will kill Obuasi township – Former Manager

The decision by the management of Anglogold Ashanti to embark on a major retrenchment exercise at its Obuasi Mine as part of measures to resuscitate the mine has been described as poor.

According to a former General Manager of Human Resource at the mine, Mr Yiadom Boakye Amponsah, the move was a dangerous one which was going to kill the Obuasi mine.

Mr Amponsah who worked at Obuasi for 25years said a large mine like Obuasi when placed under care and maintenance for two years may not survive and rather suggested that, management should think about securing the mine by way of resorting to a gradual lay off of workers whilst it developed the underground operations.

‘Laying everybody off would put the mine at the mercy of scavengers and galamsey operators. We rather need a plan to maintain a lot of people and get them off in a gradual approach whilst the developmental potential was increased.’ 

He called for a second look at the programme, go through a serious rethink and possibly review it.

He said Obuasi uses a lot of peripheral equipment and installations which don’t sit underground but sits on the surface, and these are installations, which keep the mine going.

‘Obuasi now is a huge attraction for illegal mining. I can tell you if we come back in 24months we will critique it and see whether we did the right thing or not. We will come back in 24 months and all the peripheral installations will be gone. Galamseyers and other people will scavenge everything and we cannot resuscitate the mine,’ he said.

The Obuasi mine, he said despite its present challenges has gold reserves of 6.5million ounces which can be mined for 17years.

‘So why do you want to leave it for galamsey operators?’ he asked.

AngloGold Ashanti has planned to close parts of the mine for between 18 and 24 months for upgrading under what it calls ‘care and maintenance’ due to a number of operational challenges that have bedeviled it in recent times.

A Senior Vice President of Anglogold, Mr Mark Morcombe officially broke the news of the retrenchment on Thursday at a special durbar for the workers and community members at Obuasi.

Reacting to the development in an interview with the Graphic Online , Mr Amponsah blamed the current problems of the Obuasi mine on mismanagement by Anglogold, failure to understand the culture of Obuasi, flawed strategy and poor decision making.

He said they could have an alternative plan that can be executed in two years and Obuasi can be fine rather than lay off all workers at a go.

As someone who worked at the mine for 25years, starting at age 21 and having all his tertiary education there before exiting in 2007, Mr Amponsah said when you have employees whose background and outlook is such that all that they know is money, ‘out of the 5000 people I can tell you that about 80 percent if not more will finish whatever money they will take within a year and they will come back to Obuasi and scavenge the mine.’

The over 5000 workers are expected to collectively take home about US$220million as retrenchment package.

He suggested that whatever strategy to be embarked upon as part of refocusing of the mine should make security of the mine in the long term paramount.

‘I think that these guys (Anglogold) are investors and they have to protect their investment but the assets, which is the concession belongs to Ghana, it has been given to them temporarily for 50 years and after 50years we still have the assets in Ghana. We should show interest in it, work with them and ensure that we arrive at some programme and an intervention to develop the underground areas.’

Anglogold Ashanti took over the Obuasi Mine in 2004 and has made profit only in three years but according to Mr Amponsah that was simply as a result mismanagement.

He said before the merger, Obuasi was doing fine till 1999 when it had problems due to the gold price and hedging challenges.

‘Before then Obuasi was doing fine, so the Anglo team comes in, they came with their South African lifestyle and everything and it didn’t suit the Obuasi situation.’

‘I went to work in Obuasi when I was 21years, and I worked there for 25years, I had all my tertiary education from them and ever since these guys (Anglogold) came, if you ask them, they can tell you the number of people who have had high level training from them.’

‘You don’t go to a place and all of a sudden change things over night. You have to study the situation, if you don’t understand the culture, take time to understand it. Obuasi has a very unique working culture and you can’t just change it. You need the chiefs, wives and even the school kids to be able to get to where you want to go.’

‘But they came with a mentality which didn’t help the mine and that is why the mine is where it is now and they shouldn’t blame anybody.’

The former General Manager said in a matter of 10 years that they (Anglogold) have been there, they have employed about eight to nine managers. 

‘Which organisation can survive like that, every year or two you change management, how do you expect to have continuity,’ he asked.

‘So they should not blame it on lack of profitability, they should interrogate why there was no profitability and chart a new course,’ he advised.

‘If we go the way they are going, we will have no Obuasi mine in the near future and then Obuasi will die. That is why I am worried that we are charting this path. As for the workers, they will encourage you, once you tell them you are going to pay monies to them but as a manager of the concession, you must be responsible towards it because it is for a bigger group of people.

He said the reduction of footprints at such a large scale mine like Obuasi should not take only the company to do but a larger stakeholder platform such as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Minerals Commission and all parties should be on board to discuss it.

‘You just don’t walk away and say I am reducing my footprint. You have a hospital sitting a few kilometres, you have 2500 housing units sitting in the mining enclave, what do you do with them,’ he asked.

He said even though the investment money belonged to Anglogold they must ensure the integrity of the concession same as the people who worked there earlier and provide an exit plan.

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