Atlantic Lithium Lease: Ghanaian professor vows to trigger termination of controversial deal amid secret payment allegations

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professor at Ghana’s University of Education Winneba, Ephraim Nsoh Avea, has said he will see to it that the lithium mining lease granted by the Government of Ghana to Barari DV Ghana Ltd, a subsidiary of Atlantic Lithium, is reviewed under the next National Democratic Congress (NDC) government and terminated if found to be a dubious deal.

The professor, who served as a regional minister for Upper East and Upper West regions under the John Dramani Mahama Administration, is among a multitude of Ghanaians who believe due process was not fully followed before the lease was granted to the Australian company to mine lithium in the Central region.

Prof. Ephraim Nsoh Avea.

“Look, I will fight for that thing (the lease) to be changed if it’s not done properly come NDC 2025. It has to be changed. And it’s not going to be like this Ameri thing where some Gabby is roaming somewhere and working outside the committee set up by cabinet or the president. This will be transparent, and you know how NDC works. Let us be frank, NDC is so listening— unlike these NPP (New Patriotic Party) people who are so recalcitrant and have closed their ears.

“I cannot trust the kind of parliament that we have now. We saw things in 2023 during the ministerial appointments. One of the biggest worries I have is that the lease will last fifteen years. It means by the time Atlantic Lithium leaves that mine, they would have taken all the lithium. I’m also worried that there have been previous agreements that did not favour us and also the fact that the minority were saying that the lease document had not been brought to parliament,” he told Media Without Borders.

The Chairman of Atlantic Lithium, Neil Herbert (right), showing a piece of lithium to Ghana’s Minister for Lands and Natural Resources, Samuel Abu Jinapor (middle), after signing the agreement in Accra.

Prof. Avea’s remarks echo the concerns jointly raised by the Minority in Parliament and some civil society groups about the mining lease granted to the company. The minority and the groups requested that the agreement document be tabled before parliament for thorough scrutiny.

“These multinationals can influence the parliamentarians. There are a lot of fishy deals around minerals when we are dealing with international organisations.

“I’m not convinced that due process has been done. When processes of this nature are not transparent, being suspicious and demanding accountability at the same time becomes a duty,” added the professor, who is one of the few politicians widely praised for high integrity in Ghana.

Allegations of secret payments

In January, 2018, state media outlets announced that Ghana’s Minerals Commission had discovered lithium in commercial quantities in the country’s Volta region.

Following that notice, international mining companies turned attention to the West African country.

For a reported six years, Atlantic Lithium Limited prospected for a commercial-scale lithium deposit at Mfantseman, a municipality in the Central region.

The company is said to have planned that, once it discovered lithium in commercial quantities, it would set up a lithium mine in Ghana. Its subsidiary, Barari DV Ltd, would run the mine and supply lithium, under an Ewoyaa Lithium Project, to America-based Piedmont Lithium Incorporated.

Atlantic Lithium has assets in Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire.

Piedmont reportedly owns a conversion facility in Tennessee where it hopes to produce battery-grade lithium from 2025 onward.

Sources strongly alleged that Atlantic, in a bid to secure a mining licence in Ghana, made some secret payments and “promised tens of millions of dollars in potential royalties to a company privately run by the son of a leading politician” in Ghana.

There were speculations also that Ghana’s parliament, for some unknown reasons, would not “approve and ratify” mining licence for Atlantic.

Response from Atlantic Lithium Limited

The reasons parliament reportedly did not want to endorse a mining licence for the company remain unknown as some Members of Parliament (MPs) on the Energy and Mines Committee, who were contacted by the author of this report, did not respond to his requests for interviews.

The MPs who were contacted include: the chairperson of the committee, Samuel Atta Akyea; the ranking member of the committee, John Abdulai Jinapor; Abdul-Rashid Hassan Pelpuo, a member; Lydia Seyram Alhassan, a member; Mohammed Mubarak Muntaka, a member and John Peter Amewu, a member.

Ghana’s Parliament House.

On Thursday, 28 September 2023, the author of this report wrote to Atlantic Lithium Limited through its email address for some information not available on its website.

The company has not replied to the message to this day.

But while waiting for a reply, Media Without Borders contacted one of the company’s officials for comment on the secret payments alleged to have been made to facilitate mining licence acquisition.

“Everybody is having the right to say something. But it doesn’t mean whatever the person is saying is right. So, with this allegation, I don’t have anything so say about it,” she said. 

Only those involved in the controversial deal are smiling

The said agreement gives the Australian company a 15-year licence to mine first-grade lithium in Ghana’s Central Region and export same to the United States of America.

Ghana, per the agreement, will earn a 10 percent royalty rate of the company’s revenue and hold 13 percent shares in the company.

After signing the agreement, the Minister for Lands and Natural Resources, Samuel Abu Jinapor, claimed the Atlantic mining lease terms were best for Ghana.

Scores of enthused Ghanaian s are rather very livid about the deal.

Some say the lifespan of the licence is too long. Others are of the view that Ghana’s bargained share in the lithium proceeds is of no consequence in comparison with the company’s stake in the returns.

And for some, the deal lacked transparency— a hint that it would not serve the optimum interest of Ghanaian.

In December, 2023, a former Chief Justice of Ghana, Justice Sophia Akuffo, urged Parliament not to ratify the Atlantic lithium agreement, warning that it would deprive Ghanaians of full benefits.

Former Chief Justice of Ghana, Justice Sophia Akuffo.

It appears the only people who are smiling in Ghana, as far as the agreement is concerned, are the government appointees who signed it on behalf of the citizenry and officials of the state’s regulatory bodies who midwifed the deal possibly behind the scenes.

The state functionaries are not only smiling but, led by the Minister for Lands and Natural Resources, Samuel Abu Jinapor, also touting the lease terms in public as the best thing that has ever happened in the history of mining lease agreements in Ghana.

How lithium became ‘The Mineral of the Century’ for the world

When horse-drawn vehicles were the main means of transportation in cities around the world centuries ago, stench from the ever-present tonnes of manure regularly dropped by horses on the streets gradually became a major source of environmental pollution and worry to governments everywhere.

Horse-drawn carts were means of transportation by road for centuries.

The problem led to the introduction of fuel-based vehicles as a solution to the pollution.

But many years later, vehicles driven by fossil fuel were identified as a major source of respiratory diseases, global warming and resource depletion.

Fumes emanating from fossil fuel contributed to the creation of the unwanted hole in Earth’s roof (the ozone hole) as discovered by atmospheric scientists.

Subsequently, governments around the globe began to push for use of electric vehicles as an answer to smog and greenhouse gas emissions.

Then, demand for lithium, which is used in producing batteries for some electronic devices including mobile phones, hit an all-time high.

Battery or accumulator for phone made from lithium.

In lithium, now among the world’s top ten most expensive minerals, are found the chemical components crucial for the manufacture of the rechargeable batteries needed to power the electric automobiles.

And, because of its soft, silvery-white form, lithium is also called ‘white gold’. The high global demand for the ‘white gold’ explains why Atlantic Lithium is in Ghana today. It remains to be seen if the controversial deal will be reviewed and terminated in the near future.

Source: Media Without Borders

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