Ghana losing out on gold revenue despite new 5% royalty rate, rising gold price

The Centre for Environmental Impact Analysis (CEIA), based in Cape Coast, Ghana, has lamented that Ghana as a country is losing out in revenue that should otherwise have accrued to the country in terms of royalties, in view of soaring gold prices in recent times.

At the time this report was began in August 2011, the price of gold had risen to $1,800 for an ounce on the world market and was pegged at $1,765.10 at the end of last week according to the Washington Post.

In an exclusive interview with, Mr. Samuel Obiri, Executive Director of CEIA, said Ghana had lost so much revenue and is still losing out in royalties from mining companies operating in Ghana, because despite the 3% to 6% range indicated for payment of royalties in the Minerals and Mining Act, mining companies were still paying 3% as their ceiling.

Before its amendment last year, Ghana’s Minerals and Mining Law, Act 703, stated that mining companies are expected to pay royalties ranging from 3% to 6% on the revenue realised from the ounces of gold ore mined from the bowels of the country’s earth.

“A holder of a mining lease, restricted mining lease or small scale mining licence shall pay royalty that may be prescribed in respect of minerals obtained from its mining operations to the Republic, except that the rate of royalty shall not be more than 6% or less than 3% of the total revenue of minerals obtained by the holder,” the Minerals and Mining Act, 2006 (Act703) explicitly spelt out before its amendment to a flat 5% March 2010, which was assented by President John Atta Mills on March 17, 2010, and gazetted on March 19, 2010 (a fact which is still not known by many).

The amended section now reads: “25. A holder of a mining lease, restricted mining lease, or small scale mining license shall pay royalty in respect of minerals obtained from its mining operations to the Republic at the rate of 5% of the total revenue earned from minerals obtained by the holder.”

However, this provision in Ghana’s statute books seems to have been exploited by companies mining the country’s gold, to their advantage.

Proffering a reason for this trend, Mr. Obiri said “Now if you also go back to our investment code…if any investor comes in with more than about $500,000, it moves in there to negotiate its own royalty payment.”

“So for instance in 2003 when Newmont came into Ghana, as part of its investment agreement with government it pegged its payment at 3% based on the prevailing market price at that time of $300 per ounce,” he stated.

Quoting the Stability Agreement in section 48 of Ghana’s mining code, Mr. Obiri explained: “What the Stability Agreement seeks to do is that, as entered into agreement with you, you don’t have the power to change the content of the agreement to the investor’s detriment.”

“So even though as a nation the price has gone up, we cannot change it because of our own Mining Act,” he said.

Trying to quantify the amount lost to the state of Ghana by way of unclaimed royalties, he said, “Let us assume roughly that in a month Newmont is producing 100 ounces of gold…so it means that when Newmont gets the 100, out of the hundred ounces of gold, they are going to multiply it by $1,800, so if you multiply we are getting to almost about $180,000”

“But Newmont then, in paying the royalties to us, uses $300 to multiply the hundred ounces, then out of it pays 3% to government,” Obiri said, admitting that all mining companies in Ghana were guilty on that score.

He listed some of the mining companies as AngloGold Ashanti, Bogoso Goldfields Limited, Damang Mining Company, Goldfields Ghana Limited and Golden Star Resources.

“Again our law says in section 25 that by permission from the Bank of Ghana, they retain not less than 75% of this profit in offshore accounts,” Mr. Obiri said while explaining what the excess profits of the companies are used for.

Touching on a way forward for Ghana to redeem herself from the shot in her own foot, the CEIA researcher mentioned the Botswana experience. He said late in the 1970s when that country discovered its diamonds, it entered into an agreement with a company when the infrastructural system had not been developed, which stated that no royalties were going to be paid to the state but such percentage of profits must be used to develop the country.

The company said that it would take them approximately ten years to recoup their investment cost but when in four years it was realised the company had recouped its cost and developed the country they called for renegotiation, he said.

“So one of the things we have to do as a nation is to critically review or maybe expunge the stability agreement,” Obiri suggested.

He also bemoaned the non-payment of annual ground rent by the mining companies, which is pegged at 50Gp per sq km, saying with the exception of the Ghana Manganese Company, Ghana Bauxite Company and Chirano Gold Mines which paid in 2003, all the big companies such as AngloGold Ashanti among others, have defaulted payment.

That assertion was however refuted by Mr. Kofi Afenu, Manager, Sectoral Policy Planning, Minerals Commission of Ghana recently in October 2011 during the launch of a research report by CEIA in Accra.

In the interview however, Mr. Obiri stated that this non-payment could be addressed if civil society groups took up the matter, quoting section 26 of the mining law, which states that “A fee, royalty or other payment which falls due in respect of a mineral right or otherwise under this Act is a debt owed to the Republic and recoverable in the Court.”

He further pointed out a contradiction in section 109 of the Act which states; “Except otherwise provided in this Act, where a fine is imposed on a person under this Act or Regulations made under this Act and there is failure to pay the fine, the amount shall be recoverable as a civil debt owed to the State.”

One of the world’s biggest mining firms operating in Ghana, Newmont Ghana Gold Limited (NGGL), affirms the level of royalties paid by mining companies in the country. A report written on the company’s operations in Ghana titled “Socio Economic Impact of Newmont Ghana Gold”, states; “In Ghana, royalties are levied every quarter on the market value of the mining company’s gross output. In the new mining code of 2006, the maximum royalty that can be levied was reduced from 12% to 6% while the minimum remained 3%.

However, companies do not pay more than 3% and Ghana’s parliament only recently voted to increase the minimum level to 5% for those companies without stability agreements with effect from March 2011.”

The then Ghana Chamber of Mines CEO, Joyce Rosalind Aryee, confirmed that royalties payable by mining firms had indeed been fixed at 5% as of March 19, 2010, although the new rate would not immediately affect AngloGold Ashanti and Newmont Gold Ghana Limited.

An article edited by Reuters, published on on May 26, 2010 and titled “Ghana says mining royalty hike has been applied” quoted  Ms. Aryee as saying; “Ghana does not have all the infrastructure in place … so the government signed such stability agreements with the mines to promote their investment and also to ensure that too many goal posts will not be changed too quickly.”

Also speaking to the same issue in his article headlined “Gov’t reduces mining royalty rate” published on on April 30, 2010, Steve Manteaw said the amendment in the royalty rate “does not take care of the challenges stability agreements impose on tax revenue mobilization in Ghana” as “Section 48 of the Minerals and Mining Act advances a right to stability agreement for companies that invest $500 million or more in the mining sector.”

He added that experts contend stability agreements have an undermining effect on government’s law making powers in respect of taxation.

The Bloomberg news service in a report published May 27, 2010 and titled “Ghana Changes Mining Royalty Rate to Fixed 5%, Chamber Says”, indicated that Ghana, Africa’s second-biggest gold producer, began charging a fixed 5% royalty rate to mining companies in a bid to boost government earnings from the industry.

The report states that the new rate, which took effect in March 2010, was disclosed by Dan Owiredu, then president of the Ghana Chamber of Mines, who added that AngloGold Ashanti Ltd., which operates the Obuasi gold mine, and Greenwood Village, Colorado-based Newmont Mining Corporation, have so-called stability agreements that make them exempt from the changes, at the group’s annual meeting in Accra on May 27, 2010.

“Mining companies which do not have stability agreements with the government have started paying the new rate,” Mr. Daniel Owiredu was quoted as saying.

Also attributed to Newman Kusi, an adviser to Ghana’s Finance Ministry, by phone, was a statement that AngloGold and Newmont’s agreements are capped at 3% over 15 years and that government was “negotiating” with those companies about paying the new rate.

An article published in the Economist magazine on March 31 headlined “A resource-rich government takes on foreign mining firms” reported the new royalty rate thus: “The immediate cause of the increase in royalties is a budget deficit of almost 10% of GDP. But underlying it and the increasingly strict enforcement of environmental rules is a sense that Ghana is not getting much benefit from its mineral wealth.”

According to the article, gold accounted for 40% of exports in 2008, with a value of $2.2 billion, whereas the government received only $116m in taxes and royalties from mining firms, which is less than 4% of the country’s total tax take.

Chiding the mining companies in the same article, Ghana’s Minister of Environment, Science and Technology, Sherry Ayittey was quoted as saying, “When you come here as an investor, don’t come to mine and pollute the water bodies, repatriate your profits and leave our people suffering.”

According to The Economist, mining firms, predictably, are unenthusiastic and say a new royalty regime could deter future investment and, in some cases, violate existing agreements, while the government, in turn, is trying to renegotiate those agreements.

Billy Mawasha, Managing Director of AngloGold Ashanti’s Iduapriem mine, is also on record as saying his firm is not dogmatic, but had hoped that “the investment agreement would stay in place as it is.”

Examples of several other African countries that have revised royalties in recent years to reflect changing world prices include Tanzania and Zambia.

Newmont’s argument against increase in royalties:

In the 64-page socio economic impact report, Newmont opposes any increase in royalties paid by mining companies and notes that “The life of a mining project is a function of the price of the commodity on the one hand and the cost of production on the other.”

The company argues that as the commodity rises in price, the life of the project increases as, for example, it becomes profitable to mine lower grades of ore or higher cost ore, cautioning; “But in this context it is important to recall that commodity prices are volatile: they go up, but they also come down. When they fall below the cost of production the project is, of course, no longer viable.”

The miner specifically states “If we suppose that the operating cost (which does not include capital expenditure, exploration and other non-operating costs) of the Ahafo mine is in the neighbourhood of $500 – $600 per ounce then the mine would not have been profitable before 2006. However, production costs prior to 2006 were much lower too,” adding, “In any event, it took 16 years from the first gold discovery at Ahafo to the first gold production in 2006.”

“When seen from this perspective, an increase in royalty payments, for example, effectively acts to decrease the life of the mine (and therefore its benefits). In setting royalties, governments must, therefore, consider the influence of their policies on the life-span of the mine,” Newmont Ghana Gold chides.

The cumulative expenditures on the Ahafo project made by Normandy prior to it being acquired by Newmont have been estimated at $135 million and by extrapolating the 2009 results, the estimated break-even point of Newmont’s investment in the Ahafo project is 13 years.

Further increases of the (already record-high) gold price would shorten the time to break-even whereas a decrease would obviously increase it, the report states, adding that by the time it breaks even, Newmont’s extrapolated cumulative capital investment in Ahafo will stand at approximately $1,500 million.

On the whole though, Newmont’s overall mining license covers 774 square kilometres.

Revenue from Gold mining:

Gold mining is a significant activity for Ghana, stresses the report, which is the product of over six months of research by a study team composed of Professor Ethan B. Kapstein of INSEAD and Dr. Rene Kim, Willem Ruster and Hedda Eggeling of Steward Redqueen, a strategic consulting firm based in the Netherlands, from January 2010 – May 2011 and published by Stratcomm Africa based in Ghana.

It states that in 2009 alone, Ghana’s Internal Revenue Service (IRS) collected $243 million in taxes from the mining sector, equivalent to almost 20% of total tax collections.

Aside employing more than 17,000 workers while averaging job growth to over 4% per year since 2002, overall, the mining sector contributed 6.3% to Ghana’s 2009 Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and 43% of its exports.

The contribution of the mining sector to Ghana’s GDP, according to the report, has tripled from slightly less than 2% in 1991 to 6.3% in 2009 (5.9% in 2008). With a value of $2,551 million in 2009, gold represented 97.4% of Ghana’s mineral exports and 43.4% of Ghana’s total exports.

Meanwhile, in 2009, Newmont alone produced 531,470 ounces of gold (about 15 tonnes), equivalent to 17.0% of Ghana’s total production, while corresponding revenues were $528 million or 20.7% of Ghana’s gold exports. Ahafo’s proven and probable gold reserves, as of 31 December, 2009, were estimated at 9.1 million ounces.

Newmont’s $528 million of gold exports represented 9% of Ghana’s total exports in 2009. Of this, $196 million remained in the Ghanaian economy and was spent on local procurement, payments to government, and salaries.

The payments to the government (i.e. taxes and royalties) amounted to nearly $40 million, which is equal to nearly 1% of the government’s domestic revenues. The $75 million of capital investments made by Newmont are equal to about 4.5% of the $1.67 billion in direct investments in Ghana recorded in 2009 by the Bank of Ghana.

This report examines Newmont’s gold mining activities in the Brong-Ahafo Region of Ghana and attempts to answer questions relating to the benefits of those activities to Ghana’s socio-economic development, whether Ghana is making good use of its gold wealth to aid in the process of development and if Newmont is a good partner in that endeavour among many others.

Newmont is fully owned by Newmont Mining Corporation (NMC), a publicly traded company with headquarters in Denver, Colorado and one of the largest gold producers in the world with assets in the United States, Australia, Peru, Indonesia, Ghana, Canada, New Zealand, and Mexico.

Newmont’s Ghana operations are very significant to NMC, because its gold reserves are estimated to comprise almost 20% of the corporation’s assets worldwide.

By Edmund Smith-Asante

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