Th. Kefalas: All those who want to profit at the expense of the environment should no longer be around

It was only a few days before the Eldorado Hellenic Gold case erupted when the Greek Mining Enterprises Association organised a presentation on the mining industry’s potential as a sector of the economy today. Mining activity is an important sector and currently provides 115,000 jobs in Greece, plans to invest 1.3 billion in infrastructure and assets by 2018 but has also restored 35% of the area used for mining (from 1979 to today), ie 65,000 acres of land. Nonetheless, the industry as a whole seemed to adopt a policy of hiding from publicity or, at least, a communication policy of complaining. It already seems to be coming more to the forefront. And promoting itself, as environmental impact is the main issue and with the Eldorado case it has recently taken initiatives that have been promoted in Greece (Vagoneto in Parnassos, walking trails and the Milos Mining Museum, the circuit for motorcycle racing at the Dionysos Marbles, plans for Lavrio), with the idea of upgrading tourism. And it has also undertaken large-scale landscape restorations after finishing varies quarrying or mining operations. So, because the Eldorado debacle will fade from the public eye at some point, but we will still have mining activity, we contacted Thanassis Kefalas, President of the Greek Mining Enterprises Association, for a broader picture.

If today, in September 2017, you start a discussion about mining activity in Greece and its environmental footprint, you cannot overlook the fact that we are talking about this after the Eldorado Hellenic Gold case erupted. Do you believe that Greek public opinion will be able to approach the issue seriously in the near future?

The issue of Hellenic Gold is indeed the most important current subject for the mining industry. However, the ball is in the court of the two competent authorities, ie the company itself and the Greek State. For us it is worrying if an investment which, and I stress, has so far been environmentally licensed, is not implemented.  

By “for us”, you mean the Greek Mining Enterprises Association which, I assume, has Hellenic Gold as one of its members.

Yes, indeed, it is a member. We believe that no stone should be left unturned so that the investment can complete the licencing process and start.  

So we should consider that that is why the GMEA offered its services to restore contact between the two sides…

That is exactly the reason we offered our services. And that’s why we think that someone with accumulated knowledge – and our members have this technical experience – can help to bridge the gap, and can also contribute to a more active dialogue.

And you think this dialogue has broken down?

I would like to note that the company have asked for and accepted the need for this, and the relevant minister has announced that he is open to a dialogue and received representatives from the company a few weeks ago. I will stick to the external signs as I am not aware of the details. I hope that a final solution will be found as it is not in anyone’s interests for there to be no solution. There are workers, benefits for the national economy and we must also take into account the signs sent to foreign investors.

You mean that this case reflects on us as a country, and will continue to reflect on us?

I mean that the issue is by now significant both inside and outside Greece and is an investment that is being watched by everyone.

Does this episode drag you, as a sector, down?

In the sense that it creates an environment for discussion that is not positive, yes. But as a sector, we remain committed to what we think we can bring to the Greek economy.

And that is?

To stay with our current footprint, which is 3.4% of GDP. To be able to make the investments we have planned.

For example, I would mention that, on the basis of statistics gathered by the Foundation for Economic and Industrial Research (up to 2013 unfortunately, we know that statistics in Greece are usually very late…), mining companies invest around 200 million Euros a year. Consistently. Even during the crisis.

So you are saying that this investment plays a stabilising role?

The number I gave you relates, consistently, to the period 2009-2013. I would say it is indeed stabilising. We are here, as a sector, and we continue to be so. You know, Mr. Papayannidis, by its nature the mining industry takes a long-term view. By its nature it makes conservative choices.

What do you mean by “conservative choices”?

That if we have not made a very good business plan and if we have not researched the technology and the extraction method we will use, and so on, thoroughly, we will not have an easy start. There is a saying “two measurements, and one cut!”. You measure the cloth twice, and only then do you take out your scissors. Because if you start to cut the cloth, it is not easy to go back.

And the infamous 5th Chamber of the Council of State? Do you feel any progress is taking place? Any “Learning curve”…?

Can I tell you something? I would not call it “infamous”. The 5th Chamber, if we look at it calmly, brought about something good too. It shook Greek society and the business community, and made it clear that the environment is not for free, it’s not without a cost. I am not ecstatic about the role it played, but looking forwards a bit, I would say that we have been seeing something like a pendulum: from an approach that considered the environment as free, we went to the most difficult approach. It’s time to find a balance!

Slowly: is the pendulum swinging back?

Yes, definitely! There have been decisions like that – and I don’t just mean the Hellenic Gold decisions. I have seen others as well – other decisions that set things out correctly, that sort the wheat from the chaff.

Which means?

It means that all those who want to profit at the expense of the environment or at the expense of the law, should no longer be around.

Could you be clearer here?

They should cease to exist. Either because they comply or because they stop operating.

And local societies’ views of things, how is that going?

Can I say that we see progress in some areas, and areas where there is a core of resistance which is not always based on the actual facts. It will sound strange to you, but bauxite works were never the subject of any resistance from the local society.  

Local societies and coexistence? Never?

Criticism, yes. Choices, of course, but not resistance.

Red mud in Itea?

That was from Aluminium of Greece’s operations, in the past. But now the company has developed new methods, backfilling materials, with appropriate technology. But there were no reactions like those we have been experiencing in other regions recently. The local societies of Boeotia and Fokida see bauxite and its derivatives (alumina, aluminium) as being part of their historical tradition over the last 60 years and they look at the continuing mining activity in the area in the same way. Milos, again, went through a period of intense controversy (with gold then), but today you will hear the mayor of Milos (in international and Greek conferences) presenting the island’s economy as a model of balanced development. I heard him say “We did not go through a crisis”.

Do you want another 2 or 3 examples? There is now a climate of confrontation in Chalkidiki.

Hmm, more than just confrontation!

But for decades tourism developed and coexisted with mines. Ormylia, Gerakini, in Cassandra, where Hellenic Gold is now. These coexisted!

And, for you, when did the equilibrium break down?

When, for a variety of reasons, the old Cassandra mines looked like they might not survive. There have been, if you remember, years that they basically ceased working. And instead of going smoothly, from the time of Madem Lakkos and the new Olympias, to mining the deeper layers, there was a break. If this mining tradition had not been interrupted, things would have gone on smoothly. I am not being critical of the management, but this is a macro observation. When the industrial tradition stops in an area and people build houses next to the factories, these factories will find it difficult to start up again.

Nowadays, the coexistence of mining and tourism is a given. And the possibility of exploiting mining land as a window in its evolution, this has also been proven. Allow me some pictures: a hotel in a mine in China, land restored by PPC from the lignite mines, or the Imerys’ vine yards on Milos.

 

[SOURCE:: ΟΙΚΟΝΟΜΙΚI ΕPΙTHEORISI, by Adonis Papayiannidis, 1/10/2017]

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Athanasios Kefalas: “Mining companies were one of the few companies that did not cut down on wages”

The chairman of the Greek Mining Enterprises Association (SME) Athanasios Kefalas talked about the problems faced by the mining industry, as well as its great contribution to the Greek economy in his interview at Capital.gr. He stressed the fact that this sector, which employs more than 16,000 employees, is one of the few in Greece that did not proceed with wage reductions, but instead kept on seeking new “talents”.

It should be noted that the Greek Mining Enterprises Association (SME) represents the largest Greek mining companies, accounting for 90% of related activity. Some of its members are Delphi-Distomon, ELMIN, European Bauxites, Grecian Magnesite, Larco, AoG, Imerys, Pavlidis in the marble industry, large cement groups such as Titan and Lafarge and the mining section of the PPC.

Interview to Dimitris Delevegos

– Those who do not follow the activity of Greek mining companies, may consider that this sector has suffered a blow.

Mining plays an important part in the economy. According to the Foundation for Economic and Industrial Research (IOBE), it represents 3.4% of the GDP with its contribution amounting to 6.2 billion Euros, of which two billion concernsthe Prefecture of Attica. Its contribution, which is 1 billionEuros, is of great significance for the exports of Greece, the size of which, if we do not include oil, amounts to approximately 15 billion Euros. The industry continues to invest and attract major investors in Greece, such as the French groups Imerys, Keneosand Lafarge, receiving a vote of confidence by foreign investors in an unfavorable situation.

– Does the industry have an investment program?

According to a study conducted by SEV, there is a100 billion Euros investment gap. This figure derives from the difference between the value of the investments and the depreciation which amounts to approximately15 billion Euros and concerns the last seven years of the crisis. Aiming to contribute in covering this gap, we have planned, within the next five years, investments totaling 1.7 billion Euros for the development of new mines, the modernization of production lines, the use of by-products of processes, the maintenance of existing facilities and, of course, the restoration of the natural landscape.

– However, despite its great contribution to the economy, most representatives of the political world do not appear to be strong supporters of the mining industry.

In our country, there is a defamation of the business sector, discouraging public support events especially in regards to private investments. On the other hand, government officials have graced the openings of our own projects with their presence. There is no doubt that there is a reluctance to support specific investments which stems from the fact that, despite its importance, the mining industry is not attractive and is connected with the doctrine “notinmybackyard”. In this context, the main mission of the SME is to demonstrate the great contribution of an industry that creates job opportunities in the Prefecture, has been technologically modernized, with vertically integrated contemporary groups prioritizing issues concerning the restoration of the natural landscape and environmental protection.

– To which extent has the imposition of capital controls been a constraint?

The implementation of investments in our industry is not suffering due tothe capital controls, but due to the endless bureaucracy. The implementation of any investment takes up a minimum of five yearsand even when it is completed it still faces the insecurity of the legal system. The mining industry has a very long history, thus it has learned to wait, persist and endure. However, markets cannot wait and if the product does not come on time, someone else will be on it.

– How much time is required for an investment?

The approval of an environmental impact study requires, on average, approximately two to three years, and in some cases it can take up to six years. Take into account that this is despite the fact that it is mandated by law to complete the writing of an environmental impact study within 90 days and that in neighboring countries the process of obtaining a mining permit takes upa maximum of three to six months. As a result, we havea competitive disadvantage. It should also be noted that despite the widespread view that private initiative is against the best interest of the State, we have observed that public services have been stripped of executives with skills and experience. We are therefore in favor of an effective public administration, to ensure the integrated nature of the control of our activities.

– What is the mining industry suffering from?

Greece was the fourth country to establish a National Policy for the Exploitation of Mineral Resourcesin 2012, following the direction of the EU for the independence of the country in regards to imported resources. However, this national policy has not been implemented yet. In addition to this, there are also problems associated with land planning, licensing duration, legal insecurity, the unstable tax regime and the absence of incentives for investments. There are also issues in relation to the certification of mobile equipment operators for which a minimum of three years is required or it may never be completed when it comes to heavy vehicles, while in Bulgaria this process does not take up more than three months.

– Can mining be environmentally sound?

Historically, the evolution of human culture has been associated with cultivation and mining. It is no coincidence that the discrete changes of mankind are connected to extraction, which is an integral part of human activity. However, the impact on the landscape due to the progress of technology and landscape restoration methods is temporary.

Besides, studies of the University of Athens have showed that where restoration is done correctly, societies have developed rapidly. For us the challenge is not to restore the physical characteristics, but to gear towards exploitation after the mining activity. There is an impression that when a mining company completes its work, it leaves a hole in the society and the earth, which is not the case, given the state of the technological landscape restoration methods.

For example, in Milos we created a vineyard in the place of a mine. A museum with 10,000 visits a year has replaced an old bauxite mininggallery and in Milosa conference center has replaced a kaolin processing plant site. Therefore, the protection of the environment and mining activity can coexist, when the latter is inextricably linked to the adoption of measures to minimize its impact on the natural landscape.

– Are mining companies hiring?

We are one of the few sectors of the Greek economy that has not lowered wages or gone through with horizontal salary cuts. Simultaneously, the extrovert nature of our operations allows us to avoid wage reductions. Therefore, we are hiring and seekingpeople with new skills and wish to give opportunities to young workers. In this context, we implemented the program “Engineers in Action” by Aluminium, as well as a corresponding initiative byImerys. And we maintain, train and give opportunities. The Greek mining industry directly employsjust over 16,000 people, while the downstream employment amounts to approximately 180,000 jobs.

– Is there high demand for work in mining companies by young people?

We have gradually recorded a shift of interest for work in mining industry companies by young people. And in a situation where at least 50% of young people are plagued by unemployment, we are the only source of light in the darkness of unemployment, with the mining sector enabling young scientists to build an international career, by gaining valuable experience in Greece. The automation of our plants, the modern equipment, the training of our personnel in modern management models and our openness are characteristics that attract young prospective employees.

[SOURCE: http://www.capital.gr/, 27/10/2016]

 

 

 

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