A Canadian company has already spent millions on the exploration for gold, copper and other minerals in Ratanakkiri Province and has has drilled and tested more than 13,000 metres of core samples.
Angkor Gold CEO Mike Weeks says Cambodia’s excellent mining potential will improve the lives of rural people as well as bringing in much-needed revenue.
Angkor Gold is a publically traded company headquartered in Vancouver, Canada. Angkor Gold started out as a private corporation, Prairie Pacific Mining Corporation (PPMC), which remains a wholly-owned subsidiary of Angkor Gold, and Angkor Gold is currently the only North American junior exploration company with mining licenses in Cambodia.
Weeks arrived in Cambodia last week on one of his regular trips from Canada and is presently in Ratanakkiri Province, where most of Angkor’s licenses are held.
This trip, Weeks is providing and installing toilets for Ban Lung High School, serving more than 1,000 students.
“One of our projects is right on the Vietnamese border. There are currently about ten different active areas over the four licenses, with four camps and over 125 men employed, most are locals,” Weeks said.
“I came to Cambodia to invest in a good project and I believe that operating a strong healthy company means you work with and help local people at the same time.”
A petroleum engineer, Weeks, spent a good part of his career working in oil production and on oil and gas license agreements, in Libya, Germany, Canada and elsewhere for companies like Occidental Petroleum.
Weeks met Richard Stanger of Liberty Mining on a trip to Cambodia in 2009.
Today, Angkor Gold has a joint venture with Liberty Mining that operates in Cambodia, holding 90 per cent of four licenses and three MOUs.
Both Weeks and Stanger, who regularly endure the 7-hour drive to Ban Lung, hope the Cambodian government will develop the general aviation sector so they and others can have regular air services from Phnom Penh to Ratanakkiri.
According to Weeks, the results of the exploration, primarily for gold and copper, look promising with production estimated to start from two to five years from now. Weeks says the revenue generated will be important for Cambodia.
“I think if you look at the Sepon mine in Laos, it contributes a large portion of that country’s GDP, so it would be good for Cambodia to have control over developing its own natural resources,” Weeks said.
“Exploration and subsequent mining development can be done responsibly and we have every intention to continue setting an example in our exploration efforts. Everything from employing local people to operating like we would in North America as far as the environmental laws, methodology, and corporate practices. The biggest thing is giving local people work. If ten people can dig trenches in the midst of a forest and maintain next to no change in the ecology, then that practice is far more desirable for Angkor than trucking big equipment in, knocking down trees to get to the target, and excavating an area four times the size of what you really need.”
Weeks said at a point where the exploration moves to a mining development stage, small scale mining would be done in shafts, but larger scale open pit mining could also be done “as long as you do so responsibly. Reclaiming the land afterwards and ensuring it is useful for agriculture or some other purpose and employing local people are just a couple of factors in that equation.”
Weeks lives in Northern Alberta, Canada near Grand Prairie. So far he’s brought out a container full of medical supplies from Canada, an ambulance, wheelchairs, hospital beds and other items in cooperation with the local health department.
Since some of the remote medical clinics and schools don’t have easy access to water, Weeks and his management team plus some like-minded investors in the company have paid for drilling, sampling, and testing 15 water wells for local schools and villages.
“Clean water improves the health of everyone – and these villagers are our employees; their children need education and health care like anyone else and the water wells are a primary step in strengthening the entire community. Most of the funding comes out of our pockets and the pockets of investors that come to see the exploration projects. Once they see the impact of the community development on our company, those investors want to be part of that development. We do not use corporate funds for these projects – it is based on donations or personal contributions from management and directors,” Weeks said.
“My wife, Delayne, and I have been involved in doing projects like these over the last ten years. We believe it is ‘part of doing good business’. Of course we focus on Cambodia – Angkor Gold is working hard in Cambodia; mineral development is a huge country play and we see a huge need and opportunity to help the people. But it is also an obligation that the management team of Angkor / PPMC undertakes. Our team believes that any operators of a foreign company wanting to do real, honest business in Cambodia should practice social responsibility in everything they do," Weeks says.
When asked about the type of reception that Weeks and his Angkor Gold team receive, Weeks responds, “wonderful, everybody treats us very well.”
Weeks and his wife promote Cambodia in Canada and regularly bring other Canadians to visit. His wife works with Swan City Rotary Club from Grande Prairie on International projects and is planning a trip with “Sustainable Cambodia” in early May to view community development projects in other provinces. She will also tour the Angkor Hospital for Children in Siem Reap.
“I’ve had friends in Canada say, you can’t save the world, and I tell them I am not trying to save the world. However, if I can put a smile on one child’s face once per month I’m happy. That’s my philosophy: give back a little where you can and make someone’s life better, and then enjoy the results. That’s what drives me, putting a smile on children’s faces. When I see those kids up in the tribal villages playing in the water well, where those 9 and 10 year olds used to have to carry water 2 kilometres, it makes my day,” Weeks said.
“If you help people make their lives better, they take ownership. Design the assistance so that it is something simple they can look after, then the rest falls into place. Our philosophy is a hand up not a hand out: putting people to work.”
“I’ve worked with local people in Africa and in other countries, and without a doubt, people up in Ratanakkiri are some of the hardest-working I’ve ever met. These are kind, friendly people who want the same thing we want for our families – education, decent health care, and economic opportunities … so, we start with the basics.”