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Business News Tue, 30 Apr 2002

Gov't not responsible sale of Prestea Gold Resources - Minister

THE WESTERN Regional Minister, Hon. Joseph Boahen Aidoo, has vehemently denied that it was the NPP government who sold Prestea Gold Resources (PGR) to Bogoso Gold Limited (BGL).

He explained that 35% shares of the company was sold to BGL by PGR management long before the government took over the reign of the country.

According to the minister, because PGR was running at a loss, its management approached BGL and succeeded in getting various sums of money in hard currencies to pay its workers.

"The agreement was that BGL would take up 35% shares of PGR and also be allowed to do surface mining to offset the amount they (PGR) borrowed from them," he explained.

Surprisingly, he continued, PGR management hid all these arrangements from their workers.

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They instead kept on assuring the workers that they were making profit when as a matter of fact that was not the case.

They rather secretly sold the surface mining rights and 35% shares to BGL in order to get money to pay the vociferous workers.

The regional minister, who was compelled to make these startling revelations in order to calm the stormy situation at Prestea and also absolve his government from any blame over the sale of the company when he met workers and chiefs from the area last Thursday under heavy security, said his government is being unjustifiably accused when they did not initiate the whole process.

Though ex-PGR workers are being paid their five months salary arrears plus two months pay as their severance package, rumours are rife that they are only waiting for each of them to collect the money which they have described as meagre and then go on massive street demonstration to protest against the government take-over of the company and its subsequent sale to BGL.

The workers and the entire Prestea community who appear not to be in favour of the intended surface mining in the town on the grounds that it would create unnecessary dust pollution in the town are also contending that since BGL intends to send the ore they would mine during their surface mining activities to their plant site at Bogoso for processing, they would not employ people from Prestea as they are being made to believe.

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The workers, who prefer the underground mining (which is currently under care and maintenance) to the surface one are also contending that since BGL management has made it clear that it would take them two years to study the commercial viability of the underground mine by which time they may have finished the surface mining, it would be very difficult for any government official to convince them that the underground mine would be revived.

Some of the local inhabitants who were murmuring outside the conference hall also told a host of reporters that they would not vote in any future elections because the previous NDC government did not care about the state of the mine, which is a source of their income, hence their decision to vote for the positive change, but this positive change is not being reflected in the state of their mine.

Hon. Aidoo, however, insisted that the problem would not have surfaced if management of PGR had laid bare the true state of affairs in the company.

Hon. Aidoo further told the meeting which was also attended by the Minister of Mines, Hon. Kwadwo Adjei-Darko, and all his regional security council members that his government decided to intervene because they did not want the investment the workers had made to go waste.

The regional minister also told them that the police station building, the post office, labour office and a host of other places are going to be pulled down to pave way for the surface mining because it was part of the agreement PGR reached with BGL when they went to the latter for the loan.

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He, however, told the people that BGL management has given him assurance that not all the aforementioned buildings would be pulled down.

The Minister of Mines, on his part, confirmed all that his colleague has said earlier on and added that PGR management actually hid a lot of information from the workers.

According to him, when he assumed office, he detected that the registration of PGR and all other papers were in the name of Ghana Mine Workers Union (GMWU).

This, to him, means that every mine worker in Ghana has a stake in the company which should not have been so.

He said PGR was formed out of the severance package the workers took from Barnett, a South African mining company, who were operating the mines.

This means that not every mine worker in Ghana contributed to it and, therefore, it should have been registered strictly in the name of PGR, but their management "wickedly" chose to do otherwise and then decided to hide this hard fact from the workers who actually own the company until the day he was making the disclosure.

The minister further told the bewildered workers that when he question them to know what might have prompted them to register the company in such a way and how and when they are going to pay the workers their money plus interest they have invested in the company, they simply told him that it would not be possible for them to pay the workers any interest looking at the way the cedi has rapidly depreciated.

Hon. Darko expressed regret that after having deceived the PGR workers to such unbelievable level, management is now going round telling people that they are prepared to bring in an investor to invest in the underground mine but the government is refusing to support the idea.

He said the current mess in the company is not the doing of the government and, therefore, called on the workers to exercise patience as his outfit tries to remedy the situation.

Source: Chronicle