Dr. Toni Aubynn was appointed Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the Minerals Commission in 2014.
Prior to his appointment he was the CEO of the Ghana Chamber of Mines after serving as the Director of Corporate Affairs for Tullow Ghana Limited, the lead operator of the Jubilee Oil Field in Ghana.
Toni Aubynn has also worked for Ranger Minerals’ Damang Mine and Gold Fields Ghana Limited, in various senior management roles.
For almost a decade, he was the Head of Corporate Affairs and Sustainable Development for Gold Fields Ghana.
He was the first Ghanaian PhD Fellow at the United Nations University’s Institute of Advanced Studies in Tokyo, Japan, and is a Fellow of the University of Tokyo.
In this interview with Citi Business News he talks about the challenges in the mining sector, what is outfit is doing about the rise in the smuggling of gold, how the industry is dealing with the drop in the prices of gold on the world market and gives an update on the Anglogold Obuasi Mine troubles.
Citi Business News: What are some of the biggest challenges you have faced in regulating the mining sector?
Dr. Toni Aubynn: The biggest challenge is trying to shift the mind set of Ghanaians and operators particularly the small scale gold mining sector.
There is also the challenge of ensuring that Ghana moves from just depending on just four minerals.
We have a lot of salt, solar salt for that matter, we have clay that remained untapped, we have a lot of limestone we haven’t developed, well enough, but our focus has remained on gold which is not a bad idea.
Having experienced the downtrend in gold prices we wish we had diversified well enough into other minerals or neglected development minerals and I think these are the major challenges.
The price of gold keeps falling and the revenue of most mining companies have been seriously affected by this, do you see the commodity recovering soon ?
Dr. Toni Aubynn: In the minerals sector those who are in it and those who have been in it are very aware that, it is a boom and bust industry.
We are in a cycle that we see a bearish impact of these commodities prices and sometimes it is very difficult to continue because we are unable to do anything about it.
But as a major dependant on the price of gold the fall did impact negatively on projected revenues forcing the Minister of Finance especially in 2015 to go back to parliament to review the country’s projected revenues in gold.
So I think we don’t want to see the fall in prices as it to our disadvantage.
The fall in price for most of the producers for me is not the biggest issue but the price above 1000 and now it about 1200 dollars an ounce is high, but the cost of producing an ounce is the problem, because we have seen prices below 1000 before, we have even seen prices below 300 an ounce and companies made profits.
But now the cost of producing is very high and I think it is the accelerated price increase that is hitting mining companies hard.
This means companies have had to reorganize themselves and restructure and that unfortunately has negatively impacted on employment.
But it all comes back to efficiency, which means mining companies must do things efficiently.
I think government is also helping them to withstand the challenge that is ongoing now, I know some of the companies have come to government for development agreement, for some assurances and I believe that will be done for them.
What is the status of the Obuase Mine, AngloGold Ashanti recently ceded 60 percent of the concession to government.
Dr. Toni Aubynn: Yes it is true that AngloGold Ashanti has surrendered 60 percent of their concession to us, this means that the land which was not previously used can now be brought into productive used. Out of this land we will cede some to small scale farmers and in fact we have begun demarcating the land to the miners. The reason for which people (galamsey and small scale miners) have gone underground is not tenable and the fact that you don’t have any place to work does not give you the right to do so. Because of that we are asking that our brothers and sisters (galamsey and small scale miners)must come and take advantage of what we have now so they can live in harmony with the company. So it is an appeal to our friends and brothers who are said to be down there to take advantage of this.
We understand security has still not been restored to the mine after some small scale miners took over leading to the mining firm to only offer essential services
Dr. Toni Aubynn:: Minerals Commission’s role is not security; I am sure as a country we all enjoy security that is provided by the state.
The Minerals Commission’s responsibility is to manage the mineral resources, propose regulation, advice the minister on mining issues and all that so we don’t have the responsibility of the state so I am unable to talk about matters of security.
I must say that when these things happen you are torn between protecting the citizens and also ensuring that investments, lives and properties are also protected and so government is treading the balance very carefully.
We are hoping that our brothers and sisters (small scale miners) will come out from the ground we are actually going to support them register some form of co-operatives, in a way that AngloGold Ashanti can also work in peace and compliment the work of these small scale miners.
I believe that if they come out, AngloGold Ashanti can also go beyond their current offer to probably help them in terms of training and the proper procedures in mining as they live together in peace.
How is the Commission ensuring that the artisanal small scale miners use the proper procedures so as not to pollute our water bodies, any sanctions?
Dr. Toni Aubynn: Let me start by saying that there should always be a regulator and the cracker of the whip or the enforcer of the whip.
For those who operate in the regulated or the registered environment we don’t need to crack the whip on them because they are registered with us, under our domain and we coordinate with them so we can always monitor them and bring them to book if they violate the rules of the game.
Ghana has good laws when it comes to small scale mining; there is no doubt about that.
Ghana was one of the first countries to have recognized the importance of small scale mining for which reason in 1989 we passed a law to allow small scale mining in the country.
There are those who have chosen not to follow the law as some of them decide not to follow the law just to be defiant, others don’t, because they don’t know, even though ignorance of the law is no excuse.
Let me say that some chiefs give lands for mining as if they are giving away lands for farming. But that is against the law, because the law says, that it is only the government that can give land for mining, as all minerals in its natural state belongs to all of us, but it is held in trust for us by the President.
Historically we have had to use the security agencies to flash out illegal miners, who destroy our environment, we are trying to make sure that the laws work, recently, Parliament amended the minerals and mining act 703 of 2006.
This now provides an opportunity for those who bridge or break the law especially small scale miners to be prosecuted.
In the past the law did not allow for that, those who broke the law were fined like 40 cedis which was not enough.
But now if you are found to have broken the law on mining you will be imprisoned and also fined to the tune of about 60,000 cedis and consification of the equipment used.
Smuggling of gold, we are told has become a huge business in Ghana. What is the Commission doing about this
Dr. Toni Aubynn: Let me say that it will be surprising to realize that our security system will be so so porous to allow huge quantities of gold to go through our ports and the airport in particular to go onto a plane and be sent out.
I would like to serve notice that, the Minerals Commission, will deal with any person or companies found culpable in smuggling gold out of Ghana as the country stands to lose huge revenue.
The matter is under investigations, but it is really terrible to phantom that our gold will be smuggled as it passes through our pots.
It would be a major scar on us if we allow gold of that magnitude to pass through the airport and to get on the plane without any checks.
I would wait for the outcome of the investigations currently ongoing and if the investigations turns out that any person or companies were involved in that, then obviously the law must go heavy on them.