He was speaking as a guest on CRTV’s fortnight magazine programme, Inside The Presidency, aired Monday September 18.
Prof Fuh Calistus, who is also a seasoned expert in mining, disclosed that equipment for the start of the Kribi mining project will begin arriving the country in October.
He also noted that firm technical and administrative decisions have been taken to put order in the artisanal mining sector.
Meanwhile, he also announced that a project has been initiated to restore previously abandoned mining sites into farmlands.
Talking on the quarry sector, he justified a recent extraction tax levied on quarry operators. He also stated that government is working hard to fulfil all the conditions needed for validation by the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative, EITI, in October and also reiterated measures that have been taken to stamp out the proliferation of sachet whiskies.
It is about nine months since you were appointed as Acting Minister of Mines, Industries and Technological Development. How has it been in the last nine months, Mr Minister?
I have been trying to continue the roadmap of the ministry and also follow the prescriptions of the Head of State about the major projects that we envisage to start this year.
What is the balance sheet or the signboard of Cameroon’s solid hydrocarbons, what they call the solid minerals which can be used to boost the economy?
We basically have identified twelve major projects which, in terms of reserves, we can classify as future mines. They are divided again into short-term, medium-term and long-term.
In the short-term domain, we have the three projects which the Head of State mentioned. To this, we add the gold project, which is in the East Region, then we have brought in the Geovic project. After some readjustments, it has become a short term project.
These projects, technically speaking, are to start within a year from now with three of them set to start this year. These medium-term projects are estimated to start within two years. We also have two Iron Ore projects, the Rutile project in Akonolinga, another iron ore project in Eseka and then we have another gold project.
Long-term projects are projects that will start in three years or more from now. For these, we have the Bauxite project in Minim Martap and the gold project in the North, where reserves are already defined.
May I emphasise that we have more than one hundred and fifty exploration licenses, which means people are searching at different levels. Therefore, amongst these, we have several indices. We have metals, lithium, transition elements, and also indices of copper and zinc. It is a very huge potential. The World Bank did us a lot of good. These indices are available for further investigation.
In other countries, we hear of uranium. What minerals do we have? Do we have manganese, the others you have talked about and what are they used for?
Yes, talking of uranium, we have indices of uranium in the North, but they have not been developed to full reserve levels. Like you rightly said, we need it to develop power plants which can be used for diverse use, for electricity, for nuclear reactors etc.
Bauxite is used to produce aluminium. Iron ore is the backbone of every industrialised nation. Iron ore is refined into steels of different types. Now the transition elements like manganese, which you cited, are many other elements in the transition group and used to refine different types of steels. That means the steel that is used for construction is not the very steel that is used in making cars. So, each strength of steel is defined by different elements in the transition group of elements on the periodic table.
Those elements are very important to define the type of steel that we produce. As for Titanium, it is very light metal. It is used for making Aeroplanes because it is light. The rare elements are very important because they are used a lot in electronics and they are very well sought after today. Lithium is in the same group, which is used for making electronics. Copper and nickel are very essential.
I will like to let you know that presently, most of the copper nickel in the world comes from the Democratic Republic of Congo. But it comes out as a by-product of copper. Taking into consideration the instability in DR Congo, we have an alternative where the copper in Cameroon is a direct product; it is not a derivative of copper and it is found on surface. This is the key element in the energy transition in the world, which is used in making car batteries. So, it is a huge potential that we’ve got. The kind of deposit we have is very unique. The list goes on and on. Of course, I don’t need to tell you what gold is used for.
From what you are saying, Cameroon has enormous potentials. But when are we going to move from a country of potentials to a country that produces?
The target is this year. The President of the Republic announced that they are three projects; three iron ore projects that we are going to start. We deliberated at the beginning of February and to this three, we added two others, making five projects that we listed as short-term. I can tell you without any contradiction that three of these projects are set to take off.
The Head of State on December 31, 2022, mentioned three projects; two of them I just cited. I would like us to begin with the first two which are in the South Region. Mr Minister, where are we today nine months since President Paul Biya mentioned these projects?
A lot has been done I can assure you. We were in Kribi and put to rest all the challenges. There were seven challenges. The last challenge was about the land titles which was a hindrance to the beginning of the operation of the project. To our delight, the Minister State Property, Surveys and Land Tenure, cancelled all the land titles which were about 129.
We have the open pit mine, we have the infrastructure component, we have the treatment plant, we have actions to the community, we had issues with the port of Kribi. All these issues have been addressed. If you were opportune, I would have showed you the map which shows the design of the open pit, which shows the mining form; two dimensional which has been elaborated into three dimensional forms.
As we speak, by the end of this month, or early October, equipment will start arriving for the construction properly and for the treatment plant to start. As we speak, this month will see the deforestation of the area where mining will take place. We have written already to the Minister of Forestry and Wildlife, asking for the right to allow the wood to be taken out, which will be given to the Ministry of Forestry.
Over in China, a company is already working to produce other components of the treatment plant and then the equipment that will actually do the surface activities to remove the forest and the rest. As I said, they will be arriving by the end of this month. Technically speaking, I want to assure you that in October, I will be making a full communiqué as to the fact that technically, these projects have started.
All the roads have been elaborated and are leading to the open pit mine. The design has already been contracted to SVN, which is a South African company.
Again, the crushers are being built in China. When I will be making a press statement, all of these pictures will be shown and people will see the different technical aspects of the project. If I take the other project, which is going to start this year, which is for Copper nickel, next week you will be seeing that we have cleared with the Ministry of Forestry and Wildlife and deforestation of the mining area of an initial area of 125 hectares.
I will be making a press statement with proofs, pictures, and diagrams. When these equipment will arrive, I will invite the press because the Director of Mines and my staff will go and receive all the equipment either in Kribi or Douala for people to see.
As for us, we will define the technical starting of the project so that actions are carried out on the field.
To this effect, a team from the Ministry of Mines, Industries and Technological Development, accompanied by economic operators, will be going to China, Canada and Brazil, to examine and see the progress of the construction of these equipment. We are talking of the technical start of the project. As to the rest, when we are effectively started, it is up to the hierarchy to determine if they want a ceremonial event to cap the event.
But for us, in October we will consider that these projects have technically started. We are giving full evidence to Cameroonians to see the state of advancement in the different sites.
Mr. Minister, there is a problem with artisanal mining, especially in the East Region in terms of the security in the area. Mines are abandoned. It’s a big issue. From the reports we have, between 2012 and 2022, about 202 persons died because of the haphazard nature of the terrain and the anarchical manner in which the mines were left by artisanal miners. What has your ministry been able to do to bring sanity in that area?
We took very, very firm technical and administrative decisions to put an end to this practice and to bring order into the sector. We started with a circular which was signed, giving people about two months to comply.
Henceforth, every company operating mechanised equipment must have a plan to restore the environment while working. It is not about finishing. While you are working, you restore and pull back in a way that even farming can take place.
Secondly, you must choose a social project; either in the electricity sector, education sector…
But they have not been doing so…
That is what we have implemented. I will come back to that. When you choose among these five sectors, you present your project in alignment with the mayor of the area who accepts and then sends the document to us, which we compile and those documents are sent to the Presidency.
Any company that does not comply with regulations will be closed.
In order to follow up with that, we did invite all the companies involved in this sector. I think it was on September 6, here in Yaounde, with all the mayors and their representatives. We brought out the statistical formula where every mayor, together with our services, will make an inventory of every mining activity in his or her area of jurisdiction.
These mayors are the ones to choose the projects and every activity will be subject to collaboration with our services in control.
That meeting has started yielding fruits. Again, there would be a team led by the Secretary General of my ministry to the East Region, who will make sure that all areas that are not abiding by this, they will reinforce the closure.
After their mission, the Inspector General of this ministry will further go to the field to see that all the norms have been respected. We would have an exact number of companies complying, those that have been shut down and we factor them. If we shut down a company, we would be able, after three months, to withdraw its license and hand it over to the national mining company to carry out the activity.
We are firm and I think there is a very firm revolution going on on the ground. Very soon, we would see hundreds of projects that are at the benefit of the population concerned in these areas.
There is also another problem. I know you are not the Minister of Education but we have realised that in some areas like in Batouri, there are children of school-going age who abandon classes and go to the gold mines. What can you do to stop this phenomenon, which is distracting children from going to school?
The first thing is that one of the key areas where we have asked companies to implement is offering school infrastructure and offering didactic materials. We have also asked them to offer scholarships, making going back-to-school an obligation.
Our long-term objective is to phase out this type of mining. That is why the mission that is going to the zone would be looking at modern methods, which would not allow people to be digging and washing gold on the surface, but will work in a closed system. That is the system practiced already in Brazil and other countries.
When this is done, these children would find jobs in mini-industrialised consigns when they have the right qualifications. There would be no space for people to go around digging most of the mine site, which do not give them any concrete results.
We have also taken a very good stance-reconsulting companies. This means we are going back to those areas that are abandoned and also seeking international finance to restore all those areas.
In fact, we are working with the Ministry of State Property, Surveys and Land Tenure, MINDCAF, where those areas will be given and restored, so that they host a new project in agro-industry to render the mine site to farmlands. The produce will be industrialised so that what was looking like a curse, is turned into investment.
Our aim is that every piece of land in the East, Adamawa and the concerned areas would be restored to their fullness and will be in a better state. This is because we even envisage making the soil better for farming. Such is the project we have done.
In the immediate term, actions are being taken. In the medium-term, there is going to be a transition to mining in the closed systems. Most of what they get, they don’t ever recover up to 40% of the gold. So, it’s a loss for both the State and the operators. When we would move to these modern systems, we are going to realise almost 60 or 70% of the gold recovered from the material that has been abandoned.
I think we have a short-term prospect, which are the actions we are taking. A medium-term prospect is to migrate to a more systematic and modern way of implementation and a long-term prospect is about the fact that mini-industrial mines and many of these projects will develop a full-scale industrial-mine, which is going to lay to rest the problem of haphazard mining.
There is a properdiagnosis, but when it comes to taking appropriate actions to stem the problems inherent in that sector, that is where the difficulty is…
Since our meeting of September 6, the situation has probably changed on the field. Many companies have diagnosed themselves, presented their papers and we are shutting down all operations that are not authorised. We are also shutting down all operations that are not conforming to giving social projects to the population through corporate social responsibilities or repairing the environment. This must be done not after they finished but as they go along with the project. We speak with evidence.
A couple of years ago, the government created the National Mining Corporation, SONAMINES. What has changed in the mining sector since the coming of SONAMINES?
Two major things have changed. SONAMINES, the national mining company, is under our control. The main reason for creating SONAMINES was to pre-empt the advent of the mining industry. For every of these projects, I have been listing to you as we start this year, government has a 10% carried free interest and the company that would hold government interest in all these mining projects is SONAMINES.
Right now, in the administrative and corporate arena, we have already started linking SONAMINES to shareholders, taking the official third shares in these companies like in Sinosteel, Grand Zambi. SONAMINES will hold the stakes of the state. In the case of Sinosteel, besides the 10%, the state is going to have 1% of all the interest of the mining before shares are declared. This again is handled by SONAMINES on behalf of the State.
On a lesser note, SONAMINES has been able to take over what the Artisan Mining Support and Promotion Framework, CAPAM, used to do, which is the State takes 25% of the direct gold that is mined.
The State reserves in gold has been increased and this 25% is managed entirely by CAPAM. So, they collect it on behalf of the State. They collect taxes on behalf of the State in collaboration with the Directorate of Taxation, because they have the technical knowhow to collect gold in kind and not as a tax paid.
With these two roles, SONAMINES has also gone ahead to incorporate side companies. It has a lot of projects in mind. SONAMINES intends to start a gold refinery with foreign partners.
SONAMINES is also buying extra gold besides the 25% it is developing its own project. This means SONAMINES can take a license as a company and be able to explore and develop the projects with or without foreign partners. I think it’s coming at the right time. We needed a corporate body to be a morale person that would have a judicial standing.
In other countries, bi-products of mining are used in the production of tar, for instance. But it doesn’t seem to be the case in Cameroon. Why are we still far away?
If you take the petroleum sector, for instance, it’s a fractionating system. It’s a fractionating column where you have the lighter elements used, then right down in the lower spectrum of the fractionating column, you have the bitumen which you are talking about. It depends on the way the system was built. It also depends on the type of crude you are using. That is why initially, before we had a disaster at SONARA, there was a project to build a system that was going to fractionate right to the very dense columns which is where the tar will come from.
While SONARA is being restructured, there are other companies which files we are studying. They are also trying to build refineries concerned more with the heavier parts of the fractionating column. In our industrial pursuit, one of the four major projects is seeing where the companies’ emphasis would be on lower fractionating systems, and not the fuel, kerosene or petrol. That is a technical disposition which initially when we started, SONARA did not encompass that. But there was a project to upgrade the refinery to that. There are also projects in line with that.
Talking about tar, we have a very big project which is going to develop tar of different categories from the quarry dust and other things.
Right now, it is granite which is cut and developed in Cameroon. It’s not imported. I think you can’t have that kind of quality elsewhere in the world.
I want to let you know that there is good quality granite, which is supplied, even here on the outskirts of Yaounde and in many other places. We are upgrading in terms of the bi-products that come out from all our activities.
In the same vein, we don’t seem to be producing enough or at all, clinker, which is an important raw material in the production of cement. That could help reduce the price of cement from 5500 FCFA to about 2800 FCFA. Why are we unable to produce clinker, which is used in cement production?
Yes, clinker is a tricky one because you need the initial raw material to produce clinker that is limestone. The limestone has to be of a particular quality. We have identified some and presently clinker is being produced in the North, thanks to the license we have given to CIMENCAM. It meets their needs. It is not able to reach out to the needs of all the other cement companies in Cameroon.
However, in Mintom, in the South Region, we have good deposits of limestone, which are being studied. It is under license and we are studying to make sure that the elements in that limestone, which do not conform in the making of clinker, are addressed. When we finalised and decided the results, there were also infrastructural problems in terms of the fact that the river had to be diverted in order to accommodate the exploitation of the deposit.
This project is presently under license and we are reviewing it. Many other partners have expressed their interests. As I speak to you, we have organised a meeting this month with the current holders of the license to review.
By the way, there are many other elements that come into play as far as cement production is concerned. There are modern methods which can use clays. In fact, where the Japoma Stadium was built in Douala, there was a good material there, but it was wasted because we didn’t have full knowledge.
We are also working with companies to study new methods of cement fabrication, which are less dependent on clinker. All of these efforts are being made and I bet you, we are going to get the right results. The price of a bag of cement will be cut by half.
Recently, you have been on a campaign to bring some order in the quarry sector. How much success have you had in this campaign?
I am so happy you brought this up. I think this is one of our major success stories. I want to say that our country is a very liberal country, opening the sector to everybody but people try to abuse this liberty. That is a sector where people do not pay the corporate tax. All we are asking is an extraction tax of about 300 FCFA per cubic metre.
Should they pay this tax to the government or the councils?
To the government. But when it is paid, part goes to the council and the state redistributes as tax ad valorem. That is the tax that goes back to the place where the product is produced. To our greatest surprise, despite these, many people have tried to avoid this tax. Take for instance Pozzolans, which is the main component that is used in cement production, which we are blessed with, but many countries do not have it; they just have to pay an amount of even less than 300 FCFA per cubic metre. But we are shocked that many companies have been evasive.
I took a very stern approach; I went to Sanaga-Maritime and Moungo, Divisions to launch what we call the weigh bills, which means we can only control what we have. A country must have statistics. I am able to give you the amount of gold that we produce, I am able to give you the iron ore that we are going to produce or that have been produced. I should be able to tell you how much sand or gravel that we are producing. That was why we introduced the weigh bills, so that we are able to judge by the number of cars that move or leave a quarry or sand pit. The volume of what we are producing is statistics for the country.
When we launched that, there was initial resistance, but I can assure you that this has been accepted and now we are able to give quotas of the quarries. We have made investigations to know what they have to pay. We started implementing this in the second semester of this year and we have multiplied our revenues as against last year. We are paying in five times more into the public treasury, compared to what obtained in the previous years. We are sitting on pulp, but we have to use the right measure to pursue it. People don’t want to pay tax and this is a tax that is tricky. We are best placed to follow up. The Taxation Department will not be able to judge the geological quantities of what is produced. In that way, I think we would have achieved a resounding success. In the Centre Region, for example, all the ten Divisions have already adhered to the notion of weigh bills, which is a way that allows us to assess and know what these companies have been producing. Therefore, we are doing extremely well. Those quarries that did not conform, we shut them down and the reaction was immediate. Everybody toed the line.
Even those owned by councils?
Very few are presently owned by councils, but there are two types of quarries. If you own a quarry because you have to use what comes out of the quarry to build a road, you are not subject to these taxes because it’s a project. But if you are running a commercial quarry where you sell gravel to people to do projects, then you come under this regime of tax. I think we have achieved much so far. I want to be very sure that by the end of this year as against last year, our collection will be sevenfold in terms of what will go into the state coffers as quarry taxes. Everybody and every company is toeing the line and I want to thank my collaborators for the efforts we have made.
In the past, Cameroon was not a very good student of the Extractive Industry Transparency Initiative, EITI. Have things since changed?
Yeah, as of Friday September 15, we held preparatory meetings because we will be having validation of Cameroon’s position in October. For the past six months, we have been working to make sure that we fulfil all the conditions that will allow us to have a very clean and unperturbed validation. We have taken a lot of giant steps and as a matter of fact, we have prepared a new decree that will put this initiative under the direct supervision of the President of the Republic. In the Ministry of Mines, we have adhered to all that is required of us to make available conventions on our website, to make sure that all the laws are exposed and again to make sure that the revenue collection from quarries is transparent. This is just a process to show that what is happening in the semi-mechanised sector, we have a full grip and control of. We are able to justify revenues and to account that gold exported from Cameroon ties with our production figures. We have sat and ignited the extractive initiative group to attend meetings in this ministry, which is now monthly. That is for what concerns the ministry of mines and our satellite companies. I think that we are on a good footing and that the public statement which we made on Friday, are evidence of the fact that most of the elements are assembled for us to have a very wonderful validation come October.
When we look around we see the high phenomenon of fake and adulterated alcoholic beverages that are produced in different neighbourhoods of our major cities of Douala, Yaounde and Bafoussam. That should be under the competence of your ministry; what are you doing about that?
I led a campaign on this very subject to Douala and took very decisive actions. I shut down a number of noncomplying companies.
They are shut down and soon afterward they come back; is that not so?
People walk into the business of putting whiskies into plastics without taking into consideration the health hazards it can cause. That is not the right way to package whisky. The right way is to bottle them. But because people have bought a lot of equipment, which we also look at the economic side of it, the first thing is that the product in itself is not banned. The product is available at such prices that our youth have access to it almost at no cost.
In order to make a compromise, we have given a period of about two years when all of these will phase out, so that people do not have economic disasters.
Everybody knows that when that period expires, there will be no whisky in Cameroon that will be packaged in a sachet. Taking transitional measures, we said, and you can prove me wrong, that there is no place where whisky is still packaged in sachets of 30ml. We ordered that the quantity should be increased so that the availability should also decrease. That is the transitional method we have put in place and there is no whisky in Cameroon that is packaged in 30ml sachets. When the expiry date will reach, an enforcement order will be issued to ensure there is no whisky in sachets anymore.
The whisky, which can be consumed is certified by the Standard and Quality Control Agency, ANOR. No quality of the whisky is assessed by consumers. There are whiskies that last 50 years, there are others that cost millions. There are a whole range in the whisky industry, be it in Cameroon, Great Britain or France. It is the consumers’ choice to determine what they want. Our duty is to make sure that what is produced is accepted and good for consumption. Whiskies will always remain in different qualities, no one can change that.
All whiskies should go back to their right places and whiskies should be in bottles and not in sachets. Whiskies are matured over years in bottles. That maturity does not take place in sachets, it takes place in bottles.
Can we trust all these structures?
We trust them by the fact that when you go to the village, people produce local ‘shar’ and drink it. People drink things that they have produced. They have different degrees of toxicity, but people buy wines that cost 2,000 FCFA, and others buy wines that cost 300,000 FCFA a bottle. Everybody has to take his or her responsibility about what is consumed. But our duty, with ANOR, is to see that what is consumed has passed a preliminary test and it’s not toxic and not harmful to humans.
Every day we see young Cameroonians producing prototypes of aeroplanes, caterpillars and other things, which is technological development. How involved is your ministry in tapping and harnessing such talents?
As a matter of fact, it is not neglected. I think we have to communicate better. Recently, I presided over the African Day of Technology and Intellectual Properties. These two go together. If you develop something, then you have to protect it, otherwise you would not benefit from it. Normally, our programme is to take these prototypes and develop them. We already produce a machine with an efficiency rate of 40%. We developed a programme where we work with polytechnics to increase the efficiency rate of that machine to 80%, before it can become the object of an industrial production. That is why you saw China recently resumed a project being advertised in the world and people started buying them. It has to be something that can be efficient both in energy and performance and in many aspects.
We used to do a lot where we gather people around the country, chose the best and award them prizes. These were prototypes from all the ten Regions of the country. Then we moved to the next steps where we worked with polytechnics and then made these machines better. We wanted to make these machines such that somebody coming from the industry to say ‘look, I want to develop this project’ but already the person who invented that project is protected by an intellectual property right. That is what we are doing. By the way, any technology that comes to this country, like SINOSTEEL, the mining companies and other industries, we have a very silent and excellent way of making sure that it is not just the physical industry that comes, but we train our engineers, and they are on permanent refresher courses all over the world.
It is a very important part of this ministry where technology is acquired and many Cameroonians are developing talents. Most of the time we receive them here in audience. But our key project is a technopool. Technopool is a place where you gather all from education, higher education, research, agriculture and different other facets and they all operate as one.
We have a multi-billion dollar project for which I recently signed the last papers for the manifestation of interests. The State has put in so much and this project is going to be a landmark for technological transfer. It is an agro-industrial project where we will have a university campus, research centres, marketing operators and we will bring all in a single place. Even though it may be a pilot project to give orientation to the rest of the country, by itself, it’s an industrial concern that is able to produce and take care of itself. So, we might be silent, but we are doing a lot as far a technological development is concerned.
Prof Fuh Calistus, Acting Minister of Mines, Industries and Technological Development, as always, it was a relish speaking with you.
Thank you and we want to encourage you more because as we enter the mining sector, Cameroonians, lawyers, professors, bankers, insurance companies and journalists need to understand where we are heading to. In countries like Ghana, Botswana, South Africa, it’s in their tradition even for hundred years, but as we enter into this sector, we like this permanent communication to stay because it is the rights of Cameroonians to know, otherwise they will not have the maximum benefit from this sector.
The pleasure is mine.