The problem of managing development minerals in Cameroon: the case of sand quarries in Ebebda-Central Cameroon Region

In its quest to boost economic growth, Cameroon has targeted a number of sectors considered as potential vectors of growth, including the mining sector. The term “mining” refers to subsoil and soil substances, which come under the legal regime of mines and quarries respectively, to which development minerals belong. In articles 64 to 91, the Mining Code  of December 14, 2016 provides information on Cameroon’s wealth of development minerals. These include, in article 64 (1), sand, silica sand, gravel, peat bogs, pozzolan, clay, laterites, calcite, dolomite, talc, mica, graphite, kaolin, pyrophillite and onyx, among others, scattered throughout the national territory.

Development minerals, or neglected minerals, are clearly regulated by the Mining Code. According to articles 68, 69 and 70, their exploitation is subject to prior authorization, which may not exceed two years, issued by the Administration in charge of mines, and to payment of the various royalties (fixed fees, surface royalty, extraction tax) due for the activity. To start operating a sand quarry, an individual or legal entity governed by Cameroonian law must first obtain an authorization, the application for which must be accompanied by payment of a fixed fee of 1.5 million FCFA, in accordance with article 171. Once the authorization has been obtained by the potential sand quarry operator, the latter is henceforth subject to payment of the surface royalty, which is set at 10 FCFA/m2/year, as stipulated in article 173 (1) of the Mining Code. Once quarrying has begun, the licensee is required to pay a monthly quarry product extraction tax of 200 CFA francs/m3, in accordance with article 175 of the Mining Code. In addition, this activity is subject to the supervision and control of the Ministry of Mines, other competent administrations or any duly mandated body, as stated in article 196 of the Mining Code.

Unfortunately, in practice, and in the particular case of the Ebebda locality, the sand quarry operators visited do not have any operating authorizations. Landowners, whether by written or customary law, are the ones who set the terms of access to a sand quarry located on their estate. This is because popular imagery considers sand to be a resource belonging to the landowner, whose management is at his sole discretion, and therefore not subject to taxation. As a result, none of the royalties taxable on the activity are collected. Administrative supervision is also non-existent.

In fact, when a sand quarry is opened, the landowner appoints a foreman who is responsible for collecting from the hauliers, and on his behalf, an amount varying between 3,000 and 7,000 FCFA per trip. Loading a truckload of sand in a quarry is carried out by a group of ten to twelve loaders, who receive a payment of between 22,000 and 25,000 FCFA at the end of the job, i.e. 2,000 to 2,500 per loader. As far as marketing is concerned, it has to be said that the selling price differs according to whether the sand is fine or Sanaga sand. For example, while truckers pay a maximum of 25,000 FCFA, a truckload of fine sand or Sanaga sand from a quarry sells for between 150,000 and 180,000 FCFA. Clearly, the transporters who buy the sand from the quarries are the main beneficiaries of this activity. Even if quarry employees seem satisfied with what they receive at the end of each load, they could earn more with a minimum of organization in the sector.

Furthermore, Article 3 of Law N° 2004/018 of July 22, 2004 laying down the rules applicable to Communes has given the Commune a general mission of local development and improvement of the living environment and conditions of its inhabitants. This transfer of powers is accompanied by the necessary financial resources. This is what justified the adoption of Law N° 2009/019 of December 15, 2009 on local taxation in Cameroon. As a result, the Municipal Council now has the authority to define its tax base, through duties and taxes called “communal taxes” according to article 61. These include the tax on the transport of quarry products, which applies to vehicles transporting the products of the operation concerned, according to article 108. According to article 110 of the Law of December 15, 2009, this tax is collected by the municipal revenue office against issuance of a receipt drawn from a secure counterfoil booklet and bearing a face value indicating the tariff voted by the Municipal Council. In accordance with article 109 of the 2009 law, each sand truck leaving Ebebda pays the Commune the sum of 3,000 FCFA/tour, applicable to vehicles weighing more than ten tonnes. The tax on the transport of quarry products is therefore the only tax collected from sand quarry operations in Ebebda.

Ultimately, the quasi-informal nature of sand quarrying in Ebebda and other localities deprives local Communes and Communities of important financial resources that could contribute to the well-being of the local population. For, in addition to the Public Treasury, the Ministry of Mines, Estates and Finance, and the Fund provided for by the Mining Code, the Communes and the local population are among the beneficiaries of surface royalties and the extraction tax. That’s why we’re calling on government departments to take a closer look at the exploitation of development minerals, as is done with mines. For these minerals, which are neglected, could constitute important financial niches that would enable the State, at global level, and the CTDs, at local level, to respond effectively to the socio-economic development needs of the population.

By Guy Lebrun AMBOMO, Program Assistant and Christian ANANGUE, IE Program Assistant

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