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Business News of Saturday, 7 November 2015

Source: B&FT

Illegal miners risk confiscation of assets

Parliament has passed a Mining and Minerals bill to give policymakers backing to confiscate equipment used by illegal miners in their operations.

The bill, passed on Tuesday and awaiting presidential assent, also held the quantum of royalty payment at the current five percent despite a campaign by some stakeholders and legislators to have the royalties from mining and mineral production increased.

Nonetheless, the bill -- an amendment to the Minerals and Mining Act, 2014 -- empowers the sector minister to regulate the royalty regime, which could still see the royalty raised or other measures taken based on what the minister deems appropriate.

“We did not do this law to change the royalty regime. It remains at five percent,” Minister for Lands and Natural Resources Nii Osah Mills told B&FT after passage of the bill.

According to Mr. Osah Mills, the objectives of the bill are two-fold: To enable the minister make regulations to prescribe a rate for royalties; and secondly to provide for the confiscation of equipment used in small-scale mining.

With regard to the payment of royalties, a section of the bill amends section 25 of Act 703 to remove the fixed rate of five percent in respect of royalty payment to be prescribed in regulations.

For many legislators and environmental conservationists, the biggest fallout from passing the bill is that it gives power for government to confiscate mining equipment used in illegal mining operations.

For the past decade illegal mining, otherwise known as galamsey, has become a burden to the state as illegal mining operations destroy many forest reserves and water-bodies.

Mr. Osah Mills says the act will seek to bring about increases in penalties for those who are found to be involved in illegal mining activities. It will also empower the state to seize or confiscate equipment from illegal small-scale mining

“We recognise it is new and is going to bring a change in the system. The fact is that we also want to use the provisions to arrest operations of galamseys and seize their equipment. The police, judiciary, enforcement agencies, courts, district assemblies should understand and know the provisions very well, so we work together and collaborate with them under this new regime.

“The equipment used for mining is very expensive; if we are able to get our hands on those machines and they disappear, it will be a game changer. When we take away those machines with the new law, when we implement it, things will change,” he said.

He said his ministry intends to embark on sensitisation and awareness creation, now that the new mining and minerals bill has been passed by Parliament.

Under the new act, as far as offences and penalties are concerned, a person who sells or buys minerals without a licence granted under section 97 or 104, or without valid authority, commits an offence and is liable on summary conviction to a fine of not more than three thousand penalty units or to a term of imprisonment of not more than five years, or to both.

Some of the clauses in the act also provide that a Ghanaian who employs or engages a foreigner to illegally undertake or participate in small-scale mining commits an offence and is liable on summary conviction to a fine of not more than seventeen thousand penalty units, or to a term of imprisonment.