"We must introduce advancements where needed to ensure a viable, safe and productive mine. However, we also need to recognize the importance of training individuals so that they are equipped with the skills necessary to succeed in our technological future."
What is the current timeline for getting the Obuasi mine into production?
We made an investment development decision last year, and we aim to pour first gold by the end of 2019 and ramp up to steady state production by the end of 2020. At steady state we will hire between 2,000-2,500 workers in total – including our direct employees and those hired via our contractors for production.
To what level do you plan to apply the sophistication of automation of the Kibali mine to the Obuasi mine in Ghana
We have definitely progressed in terms of technological advancement compared to the period before we suspended production. In the past, underground mining was fairly manual in nature. We shifted to more mechanized development as we invested greatly in new and modern equipment. However, once we get to steady state we can always re-assess our position and invest accordingly in terms of more automated means of production.
What do you think is the best approach to automation to ensure the satisfaction of all the stakeholders at play?
Technological advancements are inevitable. You cannot ignore it and expect to survive the competition. It does, to some extent, replace certain professions, but on the other hand it creates new skills and new jobs. We should not be short-sighted and ignore its benefits purely based on some outside pressure from some organizations or individuals. Without technology, you will not be productive, and you will not be able to attract the necessary skills – in addition to not surviving in the competitive sphere. Technology is not just crucial to efficient production processes but to safety – especially in mining. We must introduce advancements where needed to ensure a viable, safe and productive mine. However, we also need to recognize the importance of training individuals so that they are equipped with the skills necessary to succeed in our technological future.
In Ghana, there is a shortage of skills in certain areas, which forces companies to hire expatriates instead of Ghanaians. We should be proactive in training local talent and adopt technology where it is beneficial. Ghana’s mining university specializes in producing mining graduates in a country that is, to a large extent, stable politically and economically. Ghana has the potential to become the future mining hub in Africa if it positions itself as open to adopting new technologies.
What is the most efficient approach when it comes to the transfer of skills?
The most efficient approach is one where the company is genuine in its desire to train locals. In the industry now, there is a real and genuine effort by companies to bring nationals up through the ranks. At AngloGold Ashanti (Obuasi Mine) we follow a strict localization plan based on the skills we lack. When we employ an expatriate with a certain skill that we cannot find locally, we employ a local to shadow the expat and train them accordingly. We hold ourselves accountable in a manner that is as firm as that of the Minerals Commission. Companies need to go beyond their CSR when it comes to local training because it makes business sense too. The business commitment to the transfer of skills to locals is proof that the presence of mining in the country is creating value. It is the secret to a long-lasting, efficient business model that also meets the expectations of all stakeholders.
How can Ghana increase investments into its exploration sector?
Exploration costs in Ghana have been identified as very high, as compared to other jurisdictions in the West Africa sub-region. Contributing to this is the VAT on exploration inputs. We have been encouraging the government to reduce the taxes on exploration inputs, especially the VAT. If the exploration projects result in production, then the taxes should be implemented of course. However, if not, then the input costs of explorations are higher, thus discouraging investors and pushing them to other countries in West Africa in the long run.
How has the government’s approach to artisanal mining changed, and what is the best long-term approach from your perspective?
Before the end of last year, the government instigated a major crackdown on illegal mining activities due to the negative consequences on society, such as severe water pollution. The ban on small-scale mining was the correct initial approach but not a long-term solution. That is why the government followed up with the training of about 4,500 illegal miners at the specialized mining university in Ghana while also launching a community mining program. Nonetheless, the key to the success of any policy is its implementation. If a person is illegally mining in a remote area, claiming to have the right to a permit for community mining, the locals would not be able to stop him. Therefore, a monitoring mechanism by the government is crucial to stop this from happening.
Can you elaborate on the long-term plans for the Obuasi mine?
The current life of the mine is about 21 years, and we sit with reserves of 5.8 oz. For the 21 years of the mine life, the total ounces we estimate to produce is approximately 8.6 oz. Therefore, our reserves account for about two thirds of the life of mine ounces projected. That is significant, since the reserves usually only constitute a fraction of the expected total output. We will be conducting drilling activities to convert the resources into further reserves. The future of the Obuasi mine is both bright and long.