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Opinions of Sunday, 19 August 2018

Columnist: Cameron Duodu

A 'hi-tech' approach to galamsey is a 'hi-risk' solution

The trouble with galamsey is that it's like the multi-headed snake in Greek mythology, Hydra of Lerna.

Hercules was obliged to slay this monster as one of his Twelve Tasks.

But the trouble with the Hydra was that even if you were very good with the sword and managed to cut off one of its heads, it grew two in their place! How Hercules was able to defeat Hydra is too good a story to be spoilt for you. So please Google 'Hydra' if you don't know the answer already.

The new approach to the galamsey problem announced by the Chairman of the Inter-Ministerial Committee on Illegal Mining, Prof Frimpong-Boateng (Minister for the Environment) at a Meet The Press event on 16 August 2018, was so sophisticated that it created not one Hydra-headed conundrum but several.

In fairness to him, Prof Frimpong-Boateng has never pretended that solving the galamsey problem was going to be simple or easy. In fact, he thinks that the anti-galamsey struggle will be more difficult than the struggle for independence. What? Yes – because the struggle for independence (he points out) was against a foreign entity – colonialism. So it was relatively easy to mobilise the populace against it. But galamsey is an internally-grown monster, fighting which means fighting against our very own selves.

Despite knowing this, Prof Frimpong-Boateng and his Committee have developed an ultra-modern and very sophisticated “roadmap” to try and contain galamsey. Whilst presenting it, the Prof again managed to come out with a profound truth which makes the problem a challenge to all Ghanaians, not only that of the Government of the day.

In answer to a question about the chances of success of the roadmap, he said: “I can give you facts about the situation. But I cannot change your attitude to it.”

That change must come from each and every one of us, he suggested – in the clinical manner in which only a person trained to deliver diagnostic statements at critical times can summon.

It reminds me of another statement I once heard, again uttered as a comment on our situation: “We cannot rise above ourselves!”

Well, “the facts” of the treatment prescribed by Prof's committee are these:

#A training programme for “small-scale miners” has been initiated, at the University of Mines and Technology (UMAT), Tarkwa. About 3,000 individuals have passed through the scheme so far, at the expense of the Government. The objective is to win small-scale miners away from harmful practices that destroy water-bodies and farmlands and educate them on how to dig for gold without despoiling the environment. The Prof reminded all Ghanaians that our country used to be called “The Gold Coast” because our ancestors dug so much gold out of its soil. But they did it in such a proficient manner that they left our water-bodies and farmlands intact.

#As a means of using the best, latest technology to assist in combating galamsey, a new integrated software application called “GALAMSTOP” has been developed to coordinate the efforts of the various stakeholders in the small-scale mining sector. “GALAMSTOP” will enable the Minerals Commission, the Environmental Protection Agency, (EPA), the Water Resources Commission, the Forestry Commission, the Municipal and District Authorities to integrate their acquisition and dissemination of information on small-scale mining activities throughout the country.

#“GALAMSTOP” will utilise drones of differing capabilities; some will even posses night-vision. The photographs they take can be transmitted in real time to both the Accra headquarters of the Ministerial Committee and the municipal and district committees. Regular visits will also be made by monitoring personnel to mining concessions.

#Care has been taken to equip all monitoring personnel properly. Motor vehicles and motorcycles, as well as laptops and tablets, are being made available to the relevant personnel so that they can be in constant touch with the two-way information network.

#All excavators, bulldozers and other machinery throughout the country which can be used for galamsey, will be asked to report at the district or regional centres to be fitted with electronic tracking systems that will enable the authorities to know where they are at any particular time. Drones can observe their activities if the tracking systems place them at localities of a suspect nature.

#Small-scale miners will be licensed and issued with identity cards that will provide information on who they are and where they are supposed to be operating. This will enable Operation Vanguard and other monitors to ascertain whether they are legitimate miners or not.

That's all very well thought out. Nevertheless, we need to be sceptical about the effectiveness of the programme because Ghanaian officials are extremely good at mystifying both the authorities and the populace when it comes to enforcing well-formulated regulations.

Why is it – for instance – that despite the great hullabaloo (almost amounting to xenophobia) that has been made about the participation of Chinese nationals in galamsey, the Ghana Immigration Service has never sanctioned any of its officials for allowing Chinese nationals to enter and reside in Ghana without proper documentation?

And also, has anyone ever heard of a case in which the police have been able to detect the exact trail along which an excavator or bulldozer or changfang machine travelled, to reach the river or other galamsey location on which the machines were seized? What were the police who man so many roadblocks along our roadways doing when these machines passed by to go to the Ankobra River, the Pra, Densu, Birem, Offin, Afram or Oti to carry out their acts of dastardly water-body desecration?

Similarly, has any prosecuting official ever been sanctioned by police headquarters and/or the Ministry of Justice for allowing galamsey cases to drag on in the courts; or for not appealing against relatively mild sentences imposed on galamseyers by judges? Why hasn't the Government – in the face of the huge amount it is spending on stopping galamsey – drawn up a Bill to be presented to Parliament, asking Parliament to amend the law to beef up – to mandatory status if necessary – the sentences imposed on galamseyers, both of local and foreign origin?

Indeed, why haven't the concerned Ministries taken “judicial notice” or a cue on this from the extraordinarily strong views expressed on the punishment of galamseyers by both the Honourable First Deputy Speaker of the National Assembly and the Honourable Majority Leader, both of whom are politicians and could be deterred from doing this because – it might annoy some voters and thereby hurt their electoral chances?

Shouldn't the example set by these courageous politicians serve to put some muscle into our other politicians and get them to play a far more active role in helping the Government to save our water-bodies and farmlands? Should the fear of loss of office be enough to induce our politicians to leave the field to the conscienceless galamseyers who don't want our children and our children's children to find a habitable Ghana to grow up in?

They came to find Ghana as a near-paradise where rivers with crystal-clear water and forests with luxuriant growth supported human life. But their greed for gold has turned them into ns?m?nedifo? [spoilers] who act as if they were ab?damfo? [lunatics].

Well, our compassionate Government is spending huge amounts of money to train them and thereby give them a chance to redeem themselves. If they don't change and grab the chance with both hands, then, as the Twi saying goes, “?nny? obi na okum Antwi!” [It wasn't anyone else who put an end to Antwi's life but – himself!]