B2Gold Corp. has announced an update on the Menankoto exploration permit, which forms a part of the Anaconda area north of the Fekola Mine license area.
The Company’s Malian subsidiary, Menankoto SARL has formally commenced international arbitration proceedings against the Republic of Mali in accordance with Article 36 of the Convention on the Settlement of Investment Disputes Between States and Nationals of Other States and the Rules of Procedure for the Institution of Conciliation and Arbitration Proceedings.
The arbitration has been commenced pursuant to the arbitration clause set out in Section 31 of the Menankoto mining convention governed by the 2012 Malian Mining Code, on the basis that the Republic of Mali breached its obligations to Menankoto under the Convention and under the 2012 Mining Code. Based on the terms of the Convention, the arbitration will be conducted by the International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes in Paris, France.
Menankoto originally filed an extension application for the Menankoto Permit in October 2020 in accordance with the requirements of the Convention and the 2012 Mining Code, under which the Menankoto Permit was originally issued. Under the Convention and the 2012 Mining Code, Menankoto was entitled to a further one-year extension of the Menankoto Permit.
The application was refused on the basis that, according to the Malian authorities, the 2019 Malian Mining Code allegedly now applied to the Menankoto Permit. Menankoto complied in good faith with the instructions of the Malian authorities, without prejudice to its rights under the Convention and the 2012 Mining Code, and was the first applicant to submit an application for a new exploration permit covering the Menankoto Permit area under the 2019 Mining Code. Under the 2019 Mining Code, Menankoto, being the first applicant for the new permit, was entitled to the new exploration permit in accordance with the “first come, first served” principle of the 2019 Mining Code.
Menankoto was advised in early March 2021 that the new permit would not be granted, and subsequently advised that a third party had been granted a new exploration permit covering the perimeter of the Menankoto Permit. Menankoto formally notified the Malian Government of the dispute on March 15, 2021, as required under the Convention, including the Company’s intention to exercise all available legal rights to correct the improper issuance of a permit covering the Menankoto Permit area to a third party.
On May 21, 2021, the Company was advised that the then current Malian Prime Minister had withdrawn the Menankoto exploration permit decree issued to the third party, resulting in the Menankoto permit once again being available for issuance. B2Gold welcomed this decision which was consistent with the rule of law. On May 31, 2021, based on the guidance from the Mines and Geology National Directory, Menankoto submitted a reiteration of its original Menankoto Permit application, without prejudice to the original application.
However, on June 18, 2021, Menankoto received a letter from the Ministry of Mines, Energy and Water incorrectly rejecting the application due to the fact that the application had been the subject of a court decision against Menankoto.
Menankoto had previously initiated two legal proceedings in the Malian Supreme Court. The first proceeding was an emergency injunction requesting the suspension of the refusal to review the Menankoto application and the suspension of the permit granted to a third party until the court has made a final decision. The second proceeding was a request for the cancellation of the refusal to review the Menankoto application and cancellation of the permit granted to a third party.
The emergency injunction was not granted by the Malian Supreme Court, but no ruling was made on the substantive merits of the action or the second proceeding. Following the Prime Minister’s decision outlined above to withdraw the Menankoto exploration permit decree in favour of a third party, on May 24, 2021, Menankoto withdrew from the second court proceedings as the basis of the claim no longer existed, that being issuance of a permit covering the Menankoto Permit area was no longer granted to a third party.
The Company strongly believes that Menankoto is entitled to a renewal of the Menankoto Permit under applicable law and accordingly is pursuing a legal remedy under the Convention and may pursue, as required, all other available legal remedies, including international arbitration under the Canada-Mali Foreign Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement. Notwithstanding the commencement of this arbitration, the Company is committed to continuing discussions with the Malian Government to resolve this issue.
The operations at the Fekola Mine, which is situated on a separate mining license 20 kilometres from the Menankoto Permit and projected to produce 530,000 to 560,000 ounces of gold in 2021, continue normally and have not been impacted by the dispute relating to the Menankoto Permit. In addition, the Fekola Mine has not included the Mineral Resources from the Anaconda area (comprised of the Menankoto Permit and the Bantako North permit) in the current Fekola life of mine plan.
The Bantako North permit area contains a significant portion of the Mamba deposit saprolite material, and preliminary planning by the Company has demonstrated that a pit situated on the Bantako North permit area could provide for saprolite material for 1.5 to 2 years to feed the Fekola mill commencing in 2022 subject to obtaining all necessary permits and completion of a final mine plan. This additional feed to the Fekola mill would benefit all stakeholders, including the State of Mali, B2Gold’s 20% partner at the Fekola Mine.
The Company has conducted extensive exploration on the Menankoto deposit part of the Anaconda Area) for the past seven years, with a considerable investment to date of approximately US$27 million, detail of which were reported on a quarterly basis to the DNGM. The Company had planned a 2021 exploration budget for the Menankoto deposit of $8.3 million, out of a total Mali exploration budget of $26.4 million.
B2Gold is one of the largest Canadian investors in Mali and the Fekola Mine is a flagship investment in the country’s mining sector. In 2020, B2Gold produced 622,518 ounces of gold, an estimated 27% of Mali’s industrial gold production, from the Fekola Mine, generating approximately US$300 million in revenues for the State of Mali, comprised of taxes and dividends. Since the Fekola Mine commenced production in 2017, it has generated approximately US$580 million in revenues for the State of Mali.
The Company’s total investment in Mali to date is more than US$1 billion and B2Gold is a significant employer with more than 2,200 employees, of which more than 93% are Malian nationals. The Company paid approximately US$64 million in employee salaries and benefits in 2020. Through its investment, B2Gold has provided major economic benefits including job creation, training, capacity building and community investments, including a recently announced US$10 million Signature Agricultural Business Community Project to benefit local communities and provide sustainable livelihoods going forward.
Since the Company commenced its investment in Mali, B2Gold has always enjoyed a positive and mutually beneficial relationship with the Government of Mali. Most recently, B2Gold partnered with the Government of Mali to assist the people of Mali facing challenges created by the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as its impact on the mining sector. B2Gold continues to explore additional ways in which it might help the Government deal with the impact of the pandemic.