By Bampia Bundu
The Minister of Justice and Attorney General, Mr. Frank Bai Kargbo, has blamed the Mining and Allied Service Union (MASU) for the strike and disorder that took place in Bumbuna on the 16th to the 18th of April of 2012.
He made this statement on day 4 of the Human Rights Commission of Sierra Leone public hearing held in Bumbuna town on 19th July 2012.
Mr. Kargbo said the Bumbuna incident could be laid squarely on the Mining and Allied Service Union headed by one Mr. Moses Gbondo. He disclosed that the Union heads had raised the expectations of AML workers knowing full well that they were wrong because they did not have a bargaining certificate to advocate on the workers’ behalf and that the workers have a union that they operated under, and that such conflict might have contributed to the protest. He confirmed that he had held a meeting with that particular group and heard the inciting statements they made during the meeting. He maintained that the government took the Bumbuna issue very seriously, and they were looking forward to the Commission’s report.
Furthermore, the AG disclosed that government will soon kick-start a Coroner’s Inquest on the Bumbuna incident and the report would be published. He recalled that as a sign of commitment to the people of Bumbuna and AML following the strike, government sent a high powered delegation to resolve the issue and a communiqué was signed with the workers and AML. He said government and AML have done their best to address all the issues raised by the aggrieved workers.
Meanwhile, Mr. Kargbo claimed that government has invested a lot to build the capacity of the police force and they would not sit back and see such training go down the drain.
“Government will be engaging the OSD personnel and other sectors of the police force in a capacity building training so that they can be more aufait and equipped with related issues and how to respond to situations,” said Mr. Kargbo.
In response to a question from AML’s Lawyer Kweku Lisk, the AG said if the workers had given enough notice to AML, the company would have responded to the petition letter accordingly and the strike would have been prevented.
Meanwhile, the AG recommended to the panel that the people should understand that the contract they signed with AML was of international standard and must be respected. He maintained that in as much as the company was doing well, it should endeavor to effectively implement its corporate social responsibilities.
He assured the panel that government was at the concluding stages of setting up an Independent Police Complaint Commission to look into matters of police-public misunderstandings.
According to the AG, the government was not opposed to the public hearing as his presence at the hearing was a demonstration of their commitment to resolving the whole issue.
He reiterated government’s commitment in building strong institutions and the Human Rights Commission is one of such institutions that has proven to be strong.
In his testimony, Mr. Moses Gbondo of Mining and Allied Service Union, confirmed to the panel that indeed they had a meeting with the Attorney General in which they expressed their concerns. He also confirmed that he was duly informed by workers of AML on the 15th of April, before they embark on the strike action. When asked by Lawyer Kweku Lisk about what he did when he was informed about the strike, Gbondo confirmed that he did nothing to alert the relevant authorities, but said he did advise the workers not to go on with the action.
Also testifying before the panel, AML’s Community Liaison Officer Mr. Tim Fofana, explained that on the 16th April, 2012 he was at the mines site when he learnt that there was a strike action down at Bumbuna as workers were not allowed to go up to do their work. He revealed that he was at the mines site for the rest of the three days of the strike and did not come down Bumbuna. He said he relied on information from people via phone. When asked by lawyer Kweku Lisk if he knew about the letter and the protest, he responded by stating that on the 15th of April 2012, a day to the strike, they had a soccer match with the workers. He confirmed that he never received any complaint from the Bumbuna community and as a worker he was not aware of any grievances listed on a letter. He further confirmed that he was not aware of any grievances by the community on the 16th to the 18th of April 2012.
However, Mr. Fofanah advised that workers should use the appropriate procedure through their Union to channel their grievances in future. He further appealed to workers to be patient whenever they have an issue that needed to be addressed.
Africa Minerals was ably represented by erudite Lawyer Kweku Lisk and Lawyer Nelson.