By Amin Kef-Ranger
In a letter written by the Governing Officer of the Institute for Legal Research and Advocacy for Justice (ILRAJ), Basita Michael, dated June 1, 2022 and addressed to the Minister of Mines and Mineral Resources and the Executive Chairman of Environment Protection Agency (EPA) with the caption, “Re: SAND MINING AT HAMILTON BEACH”, she stated that she is writing in respect of the issue of sand mining on many of the country beaches and rivers.
She informed that as they are fully aware, sand mining is having a devastating effect on the coastline, destroying property, and damaging the area’s hopes of a tourism revival.
Referencing an article which was published in the “Los Angeles Times” earlier this year in which it was stated that ‘John Obey Beach is slowly disappearing as the dump trucks haul sand away and the tides push farther inland, toppling trees, destroying beach huts and carving out a yawning cliff of soil where there was once dry, flat land and removal of sand changes the wave patterns that transport sand along the coast, so the operation at John Obey Beach is also causing damage a couple of miles south in the surf town of Bureh,’ Basita Michael maintained that Section 23 (1) of the Environment Protection Agency Act 2008 prohibits certain activities.
According to her, the Section states that, “Except as otherwise provided in this Act and notwithstanding the provisions of any enactment, no person shall undertake or cause to be undertaken any of the projects set out in the First Schedule unless he holds a valid licence in respect of such project.”
She continued how the first schedule of the Act provides that, “A licence is required for the projects whose activities involve or include the following: (f) Extractive industries (e.g., mining, quarrying, extraction of sand, gravel, salt, peat, oil and gas.
The rights activist furthered by quoting Section 23(2) which provides that, “(A)ny person who contravenes subsection (1) commits an offence and is liable on conviction to a fine not exceeding twenty-five million Leones in the case of a citizen of Sierra Leone and ten thousand United States dollars in the case of a non-citizen or to a term of imprisonment not exceeding two years or to both the fine and imprisonment.”
She informed that similarly, the Mines and Minerals Act 2009 defines ‘mineral’ as any substance, whether in solid, liquid or gaseous form, occurring naturally in or on the earth, in or under the water or in mine residue deposits and having been formed by or subjected to a geological process including sand, stone, rock, gravel and clay, as well as soil but excludes water, natural oil, petroleum, topsoil and peat adding how under that Act, the Minister has to grant a mineral right before sand can be mined.
“Section 131 of the Act provides that ‘(I)n deciding whether or not to grant a mineral right, the Minister shall take into account the need to conserve the natural resources in or on the land over which the mineral right is sought, or in or on neighbouring land,” she referenced disclosing how the Minister shall require an environmental impact assessment licence as prescribed under the Environment Protection Act as a condition for granting a small-scale mining licence or a large-scale mining licence.’
Having laid that basis, Basita Michael said as an organization they are calling on the respective Ministry and Agency to work together in a coordinated manner with the Honourable Attorney-General and Minister of Justice and the Sierra Leone Police and other relevant Government bodies to ensure that all persons acting in violation of those provisions of the law are immediately arrested and prosecuted.
She said they acknowledge the importance of sand to development, especially the construction industry but underscored that sand mining is being done at a huge ecological and environmental price to the country.
Basita argued that the construction industry will not survive if the current rate of sand mining continues, as coastal erosion will leave many communities vulnerable to the consequences of rising sea levels due to climate change.
“We also acknowledge the limitation of the criminal law,” she maintained urging that the relevant bodies of Architects and Engineers in Sierra Leone seek other substitutes for sand.
According to her, in a BBC article titled, “Why the World is Running Out of Sand,” Vince Beiser noted that, “(A) number of scientists are working on ways to replace sand in concrete with other materials, including fly ash, the material left over by coal-fired power stations; shredded plastic; and even crushed oil palm shells and rice husks. Others are developing concrete that requires less sand, while researchers are also looking at more effective ways to grind down and recycle concrete.’
She continued how they are also urging the Environment Protection Agency to come out with and popularize clear guidelines that will allow sand mining to be done sustainably.
“Section 3 (2) (a) of the Environmental Protection (Mines and Minerals) Regulations 2013 provide for, ‘Every mining operation shall be carried out in a sustainable manner that is reasonably practicable in order to minimize, mitigate or eliminate negative environmental and social adverse impacts including but not limited to pollution….” she stated arguing that if extraction is to be done at all, there must be a balance right between the rate of extraction and restoration, and there must be vigilant monitoring and enforcing of regulations passed by the Environment Protection Agency.
The ILRAJ Governing Officer stated that Local Governments and communities must play a crucial role in the process and that should not only be limited to beaches and rivers in Freetown but across the entire country.
She said as a think tank and Civil Society group, they will be happy to partner with them to ensure that immediate and urgent action is taken to address the scourge and protect the environment for future generations.
Enclosed in the letters for the attention of the Mines Minister and EPA Executive Chairman were USB drives that contains pictures and videos of sand mining at Hamilton beach in May 2022.
Copies of the letter were sent to the Attorney-General and Minister of Justice, the Minister of Lands, the Honourable Minister of the Environment, the Minister of Tourism, the Secretary to the President, the Secretary to the Vice President, the Inspector General of Police, President, Sierra Leone Institute of Engineers, President, Sierra Leone Women Engineers and the President, Sierra Leone Institute of Architects.