By Bernard Chiketo
Prime Royal African Investments (PRAI) has allayed fears and said hundreds of artisanal miners teeming in shafts dotted in the hills around Redwing Mine in Penhalonga give the illusion of chaotic frenzied illegal gold extraction.
This is because of the model that Prime Royal African Investments (PRAI), which is now on a seven-year lease of the claim from Redwing, settled for after it suffered huge losses when it first moved into the mining concession.
“We had only realised a paltry 300 grams from over 87 tonnes of gold ore in our first three months with regular employees. There was rampant pilferage with others only showing up to clocking and clock out,” PRAI chairperson Stanley Motto said in an interview.
The huge losses prompted them to change their operating model inviting willing small scale and artisanal miners to work and be paid on commission depending on how much gold they would have produced during their initial one-year trial period.
This offered rich pickings for hundreds of artisanal miners who were willing to put in work, Motto said.
“All the lazy ones left and those that remained knew they would earn as much as they worked and that is exactly what has been happening.”
He said 90 percent of their employees who include Redwing mine former employees were locals.
Motto said his company had a safety, health, and environmental team that has been monitoring the mining operations to ensure that all activities were being conducted in a safe environment.
“We are fully focused on ensuring a fatality-free environment guided by occupational health and safety precautions, and only work in areas that can be safely exploited,” he said.
PRAI production manager Godknows Boman allayed concerns that the approach was causing irreversible environmental damage as the company has already began rehabilitating the area even as they begin to scale up their mining operations by shifting to mechanised mining.
“Mining by its very nature is disruptive of the natural environment but what is important is that we rehabilitate the area to ensure that the area is reclaimed for other productive use and there is no permanent upsetting of the ecological balance,” Boman said.
He said although some pits were being dug by illegal miners who have infiltrated their operations they were conducting audits of all mining activities flashing out the illegals and closing their pits.
“We will rehabilitate the entire area that is in our lease regardless of who dug up the pits. In fact, we have since started the process of closing off all unaccounted shafts, those that are no longer productive and those that are no longer safe to work even if they are productive,” Boman said.
Having artisanal miners spread across the claim also allowed PRAI to also quantify their resources.
“The model also allowed them to also explore the quantum of the resources in the claim and whether it could sustain mechanised mining and offer a good return over the lease period,” Redwing mine acting mine manager Alex Guyo said.
Motto said PRAI has since begun working on its environmental impact assessment (EIA) to ensure that they comply fully with all the statutes as they shift to large scale mining in some sections of their claim.
“We are complying with regulations as per the Mines and Mineral Act and the Environmental Management Act Chapter which obliges us to follow due process. This follows successful exploration activities in the past year, which indicate viable economic exploitation of gold deposits on our leased claim,” he said.
Motto said they were confident of getting a social license to operate from communities and stakeholders through the EIA.
“While not yet conclusive, we are confident that Prime Royal is in a position to get the necessary social license from the community through this engagement.
“It should be noted that from the commencement of operations we have placed the community at the centre of our activities, extending an opportunity to all who were will to partner us,” Motto said.