Top: One of several pits Gbarwor has dug in Sand Beach, River Cess. The DayLight/Varney Kamara

By Varney Kamara

SAND BEACH – Illicit miners are threatening the existence of a famous town in River Cess County with the help of an official of the Ministry of Mines, an investigation by The DayLight has revealed.

Gbarwor Corporative Society Inc. does not have a license for its operations in the Morweh mining district, where Sand Beach is located, according to records of the Ministry of Mines and Energy. The company’s only active license is for a semi-industrial goldmine in Grand Kru County, the records show as of June 16. It held a gold dealer’s license for Montserrado County, which expired last January, and two gold prospecting licenses in the same Grand Kru and Grand Bassa, respectively, both of which expired in 2019. It had another semi-industrial gold mining license also in Grand Bassa canceled in 2020.

But the company has a memorandum of understanding with chiefs and elders of the Central River Cess District, approved by Amos Wiahtoe, the representative of the ministry in that region, known in the industry as a mining agent. The region is part of the Cestos River gold belt and has a huge likelihood for gold, attracting many miners, including illicit ones.

Gbarwor promised to pay US$250 for teachers every quarter and US$1,000 scholarships for students each year, and erect handpumps to mine in their community, according to the document seen by The DayLight. The chiefs also pledged to the company protection of its properties and operations. It is an artisanal mining deal but the company operates a semi-industrial, using heavy-duty equipment, showing it is cheating the chiefs in the process.   

Liberia’s Minerals and Mining Law prohibits mining without a license, and Wiahtoe’s responsibility is to enforce the law in that area. Wiahtoe declined an interview over his involvement with the illegal deal.

The Ministry of Mines and Energy, which regulates the sector, said it would investigate the matter. Locals’ interference is one of the challenges the ministry has faced for decades but evidence of collusion of its agents is rare.  

“We will recall those that are involved and take the necessary action,” said Obediah Arku, the inspector general for mines, in an interview with The DayLight.

The company and Wiahtoe face a fine of up to US$2,000, a two-year prison term, or both, if convicted by a court, as per the mining law.

The company mines right within the town, threatening the homes of its 3,000 inhabitants. There were large pits everywhere.

“We are not safe here. The guys are digging all behind our houses. This place will soon finish,” said Joseph Flomo, one resident.

“We have children, women, and elderly people here. Any one of us could fall into these big holes, and that will be a problem for the community. We are in serious trouble,” Prince Sawyeh, another resident, who worked with the ministry before, said.

It was unclear who is the owner of Gbarwor, as there are no records of the company at the Liberian Business Registry. James Clarke, who is named on the ministry’s records, declined to comment.

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