The ECOWAS Court will, on Monday 13 March 2023, deliver judgment in case filed by a mining company in Sierra Leone in which it accused officials of the government of the Republic of Sierra Leone of engaging in malpractice that cost the company its gold mining licence and significant amount in investment

In suit no ECW/CCJ/APP/55/21, the first Applicant, Algom Resources Limited, a limited liability company incorporated under the laws of Sierra Leone on 7 June 2016 said that it was granted a four year gold exploration licence from 9th January 2017 over the Baomahun exploration area. The company claimed it spent  4.8 million US dollars on exploration activities during which it discovered gold in commercial quantities.

In order to obtain a large-scale mining license from the government of Sierra Leone, the company said it needed an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) License which it expected to obtain from the Environment Protection Agency, Sierra Leone (EPA-SL).

It however claimed that the Agency gave a negative recommendation on the grounds that the project was located within a protected forest reserve and needed clearance from another agency, the National Protected Area Authority (NPAA). Since then, the Applicant added, it has been unable to secure the EIA due to numerous administrative hindrances, which it labelled “fraudulent”.

The first Applicant said it applied for a new license on 25 February 2021, the first one having expired on 9 January 2021 but was surprised that a notification was published in a Gazette informing the public that a company named FG Gold Limited had obtained an Environment Social and Health Impact Assessment Report over the same Baomahun Concession.

Algom Resources argued that by virtue of Section 108(4) of the Mines and Minerals Act, the Respondent State ought to give it the opportunity to make proposals that will resolve the grounds for the refusal.

The Applicant contended that the purpose of the Section is to give applicants of large-scale mining licenses the opportunity to remedy defective or incomplete applications before a final decision is made on the application. It is only when the applicant has failed to remedy or complete the application after being notified that there will be an absolute rejection.

Algom Resources said it made several enquiries without response about FG Gold, more particularly, to ascertain the reasons why FG Gold’s application took precedence over its own application and described the government’s decision as arbitrary and a “…willful disregard of due process of law, an act which shocks, or at least, surprises, a sense of judicial property”.

The 2nd Applicant in the suit, Angela D. List, who is the sole shareholder of the first Applicant held that, by arbitrarily depriving the first Applicant of a mining license, the Respondent rendered her property useless, and her investments worthless.

She described the decision as a violation of her right as well as those of the company’s employees as it not only subjected them to embarrassment and financial difficulties, but also the possibility of many of the workers not being able to fend for their families and dependents, therefore infringing on their right to health, both physical and mental.

The Applicants urged the Court for USD 50,000,000 in exemplary damages, another  USD 20,000,000 as damages for anxiety and embarrassment and USD 500,000 as costs.

In response, the Respondent denied all the allegations, pointing to the fact that the Exploration License of Algom Resources expired in 2021, therefore extinguishing all their mining rights in Sierra Leone. It also contended that the company’s  application for a large-scale mining license made in February 2021 was treated fairly and denied that the government favoured FG Gold and challenged Algom Resources to provide evidence to the contrary.

On the claims of destruction of property, the Respondent State said the first Applicant did not cite any provision that prevented the removal of its equipment and said that by the government’s letter dated 25 March 2021 which was acknowledged by the company, the Director of Geological Survey reminded the first Applicant of their statutory obligations to vacate the licensed area.

On the claims by the 2nd Applicant, the Defendant said it had no direct dealing with her, arguing that the damage suffered by the company and its shareholder did not mean that both are entitled to compensation as “although two separate entities may have suffered from the same wrong, it is only one entity whose rights have been infringed”.

The Respondent contended that the applicants decided to bring in the shareholder as a party in order to satisfy the threshold for human rights violation

The Respondent therefore urged the Court to dismiss the case as there were no violations of a recognized right established by law. It also prayed the Court for an order to dismiss the 2nd Applicant locus standi as a party to the action. The Defendant also asked for 100,000 US dollars as cost.