To arrive at Barrick’s Pueblo Viejo project in the Dominican Republic, you must first pass through Piedra Blanca, a small town of about 8,500 people that many locals refer to as the “gateway to the mine.”
If you have time to linger, you will come across a lovely spot called Alberto Caamaño Park, named after a famous Dominican soldier and politician considered a hero for his attempts to restore rightful government to his country. The park has a new stone-patio square covered by a wooden canopy with tinted windows which shades patrons from the blazing Dominican sun.
Last spring, there was no patio, canopy or tinted windows here. Instead, Alberto Caamaño Park was a barren patchwork of grass and dirt that people had stopped frequenting years earlier.
The $62,000 refurbishment of the park was the first public work inaugurated under the Piedra Blanca Municipal Development Plan (MDP), a unique and promising new model for corporate social responsibility (CSR) spearheaded by Barrick, 60-percent owner of the Pueblo Viejo Dominicana Corporation (PVDC), which manages operations at Pueblo Viejo.
The park is one of dozens of community infrastructure projects included in a five-year development plan for Piedra Blanca, one of six MDPs facilitated by PVDC in conjunction with municipal governments surrounding the mine. The creation of the MDPs represents a rare partnership between government, business and civil society. PVDC’s partners in the program include the Dominican Federation of Municipalities, the Regional Association of Municipalities of the Southern Cibao Region and the Canadian Embassy.
The MDPs are a massive undertaking designed to help communities set priorities for how to use mining revenue, as well as develop the capacity to manage and allocate that revenue in a transparent and democratic way. The program stems from a 2007 Dominican law that requires municipalities to come up with their own community development plans. PVDC helped move the program forward in 2008 when it began working proactively with three municipalities in the mine area: Cotuí, Fantino and Maimón. In 2009, each municipality approved its respective MDP in local referendums.
Last year, the municipalities of Piedra Blanca, Cevicos and Villa La Mata also approved MDPs developed with the support of a technical team created by PVDC. These communities are already implementing infrastructure projects, while at the same time engaging in an information campaign to promote future development plans identified during numerous public workshops and roundtables held in recent months.
Local municipalities are responsible for development and management of the projects going forward, which both communities and PVDC believe is crucial to the success of the MDP program. This demonstrates “true partnerships with the local governments and the communities they represent,” noted authors Aaron Ausland and Gerhard Tonn in a case study on the project. “This level of engagement has resulted in full buy-in by the communities, in that the plans are developed and therefore ‘owned’ by the communities and not the company,” the study says.
To maintain transparency and accountability, the MDPs call for the creation of Municipal Economic and Social Councils, which allow citizens to participate in the development of projects proposed and implemented under the program. Local residents representing various sectors of the community, including business, the environment, health, education, and public works and safety, serve on the councils. In addition, numerous social audit committees have been formed in each municipality to monitor projects being implemented by local governments with PVDC funding.
Citizens have been keen to participate in the MDPs to date, inspired by the program’s goal to build infrastructure and foster agricultural development that will help reduce poverty and unemployment while also improving the health and education of their people, says Faby Manzano, CSR Manager at PVDC.
While the MDPs have been in place for only a few years, the framework is already being eyed by others looking to become better corporate citizens in the country. “The experience with the implementation of the MDPs has already become a point of reference for a large private group with interests in another region,” says Méjico Angeles-Lithgow, Director, Government Affairs at PVDC.
Key funding for the MDPs is provided by PVDC and the Canadian Embassy in the Dominican Republic through its Canadian Fund for Local Initiatives. In 2011, $4.7 million was set aside for MDP projects, $3.6-million of which came from PVDC.
Barrick, as well as other large and small companies across the MDP communities, also contributes by providing supplies and, in some cases labor, towards the projects. For instance, Barrick provided $100,000 and 400 bags of cement to help build four municipal projects in the town of Cevicos in Sánchez Ramírez province. Other local entrepreneurs and community institutions contributed with labor and other supplies.
Once Pueblo Viejo begins commercial production, additional funding will flow to the communities, as the national government will provide five percent of the tax revenue paid by the mine to communities in Pueblo Viejo’s area of influence.
Overall, there are hundreds of infrastructure projects in various stages of development in dozens of communities around the Pueblo Viejo project.
Some of the biggest projects by dollar value were constructed in the municipality of Maimón in the central part of the country. PVDC contributed a total of $673,000 to help build muchneeded sidewalks and curbs in three neighborhoods: Angelita, Los Coquitos and Los Martinez. PVDC also contributed $195,000 to help build a municipal vendor market in the municipality of Fantino, and another $210,000 towards the paving of roads in the neighborhood of San Rafael in the municipality of Piedra Blanca.
These projects were adopted as part of the MDP program because they represent long-standing needs of the local communities that have been considered a priority, in some cases for more than 20 years, according to Angeles-Lithgow.
While the MDPs are the centerpiece of PVDC’s CSR program, the company’s community responsibility initiatives are not confined to the six municipalities that have adopted MDPs. PVDC also contributes to infrastructure projects in other municipalities near Pueblo Viejo and works closely with them to help foster local development.
For instance, one recently completed project was the construction of the Mabi Bridge over the Banilejo River in the municipality of Rancho Arriba. The 24-meter long, 6.5-meter wide structure helped ease the passage between the town of San Jose de Ocoa and Piedra Blanca, a long-standing bottleneck in the area. The work, which includes two pedestrian walkways, cost $190,000.
“Our goal is to help empower the authorities and communities to implement and manage sustainable development initiatives that continue long after our mine stops operating,” Manzano says. “We’re going to be here for 25 years, perhaps longer, but this is their home.”