Marilyn Scales is a field editor for the Canadian Mining Journal, Canada’s first mining publication. She is one of Canada’s most senior mining commentators.
The story broke in the June 18 issue of the Wall Street Journal that African Barrick has been accused of paying bribes to officials of the Tanzanian government to facilitate the company’s purchase of land near the North Mara gold mine.
The problem is that the accusation was made anonymously. Why does this person or persons want to hide their identity?
Several explanations come to mind. The accusers may fear reprisals for blowing the whistle. They may not have supporting evidence. They may want to defame African Barrick for a personal reason. They may be hoping to stir up trouble with local communities. Sending the accusations to the US Justice Department and US Securities and Exchange commission, as the accusers did, is a clear attempt to stir up legal trouble.
Making anonymous accusations is cowardly. If the accusations are true, the accuser should stand behind his opinion and offer proof. Not doing might weaken the case, except there are far too many people willing to think the worst of a foreign company in a poor country.
The very idea of an anonymous accusation goes against this writer’s sense of fair play.
An speaking of fair play, let’s get back to the WSJ article. After the attention-grabbing use of the word bribery in the headline, the writers provide a balanced analysis of the story. They point out the difficulty of running a business in the backwoods of an undeveloped country. Infrastructure is woefully lacking. There is no commercial centre within 1,000 km of the mine site. Lack of banking services means cash is often the only means of payment.
The authors give what evidence they could glean from Barrick sources about the legitimacy of the payments. And they include the opinion of an international law firm that the payments do not contravene laws in Tanzania, the United States or the United Kingdom.
In it’s usual thorough style, the WSJ outlines various documents that were reviewed and interviews done in researching this article. The result is balanced, and that is all that can be asked.
It is not this writer’s intention to suggest readers believe the accusations against African Barrick or not. I merely want to point out the unfairness of anonymous accusations.