SRK Ghana brings its geotechnical engineering expertise to the region.
JIK: SRK Consulting registered its office in Accra, Ghana in February 2011, beginning operations in early July 2011. Our first major milestone was our ability to run the first two years of our Accra operations without suffering a loss. Our second major milestone was our track record of working in 12 countries together with 20 clients during the last two years, including in Sudan, Burkina Faso and DRC. A number of these projects took place in conjunction with our South Africa and UK offices.
Prior to the formal establishment of our Accra office, I worked as a part-time associate for SRK Consulting on projects in West Africa, which were being directed from our South Africa office. SRK Consulting had considered entering Ghana for the last 15 years, but finding the right person to head the office proved to be a challenge for many years.
What has been the importance of the West Africa office for the company’s operations globally?
JIK: Our Accra office has allowed SRK Consulting to increase its proximity to clients on-the-ground. Clients no longer need to wait for us to source consultants and/or technicians from the United States or South Africa, and thus have more confidence in our services. If a technician does need to be brought in from abroad, we can still do so, but at least the problems can be dealt with in a timely manner.
The specialty of our Accra office is geotechnical engineering, including tailings dams. We also recently added an exploration and geology branch, although this division is still in its infancy as a result of the slowdown in activity in the exploration sector.
Which key projects in West Africa can you showcase that highlight SRK Consulting’s unique approach?
JIK: SRK Consulting’s core expertise lies in designing open pit slopes, and we have designed open pit slopes for the Kalsaka and Perkoa mines in Burkina Faso, for example. We have also conducted pit slope design for the Sudan and DRC operations of a Moroccan company. The majority of our projects have been in Burkina Faso, and Ghana has been our secondary market; at the moment, we have more projects ongoing outside Ghana than within the country. A large number of the new projects coming online are in countries that have not traditionally had a mining industry, such as Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Liberia or Burkina Faso. Ghana, on the other hand, has been mining for 100 years.
Examining your client base, to what extent do you see opportunities in commodities besides gold?
JIK: We have worked on three projects that were not gold mines: diamond projects in Guinea and Sierra Leone, and a manganese project in Burkina Faso. Other commodities such as bauxite are beginning to rise in importance in West Africa, although gold remains the most important. The drop in gold price is most likely the reason why investors are diversifying their interest away from gold. Fortunately, SRK Consulting’s business has not been significantly impacted by the drop in gold prices, as most of our clients have operational mines, which will not stop operating due to temporary price fluctuations. Exploration geology or environmental services companies have been most affected by the drop in gold prices.
How does the operating climate in Ghana compare to that of frontier countries, where there is a lot of early-stage activity?
JIK: Ghana has many more established facilities and institutions to support geotechnical engineering than the frontier countries that are still in the early stages. For example, laboratory testing needs to be done in Ghana, because other countries in West Africa do not yet have the same kind of facilities. In terms of human resources, Ghana is very strong, producing more geologists than Australia. There is no shortage of skilled people in Ghana, although most of them leave the country in order to be paid higher salaries elsewhere. That said, young graduates do not necessarily have the experience to be hired abroad, so mining companies are in a good position to hire and train them. We have a dedicated mining university in Ghana which produces geologists, mining engineers, etc. At the moment, SRK Consulting primarily hires Ghanaians, which is part of our strategy of fostering local talent.
Where does SRK Consulting see the greatest potential during the next few years, both in terms of commodities and geographies?
JIK: SRK Consulting sees significant potential in mineral exploration in West Africa. Our UK office has a mineral exploration branch which conducts work in West Africa, but eventually our office should be the first point of contact for these opportunities. We are also considering establishing a social and environmental department, as well as a mining engineering branch. Gold will remain the leading commodity in West Africa, although bauxite and manganese opportunities will also become increasingly important. There is still potential for large-scale gold projects in Ghana as well, as long as the entire territory has not yet been explored.
Do you have a final message about SRK Consulting in Ghana?
JIK: The focus of SRK Consulting is on conducting projects efficiently and cost-effectively, using optimal processes and delivering on-time. We consider very highly the interests of our clients, delivering projects on time and at a high quality. We look forward to working alongside the mining companies of West Africa in the future.
This interview was conducted as part of the research conducted on African mining jurisdictions by Global Business Reports (GBR) as part of our partnership with African Mining Indaba LLC. The aim of this partnership is the production of the single most comprehensive intelligence report on the continent’s mineral sector. The Official Mining in Africa Country Investment Guide, will be launched next February 2014, as the only official publication providing country-specific information at Africa’s top mining event, the 2014 Investing in Africa Mining Indaba™ held in Cape Town, South Africa.