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Opinions of Wednesday, 26 April 2017


Are we tackling the deadly galamsey pestilence with kid gloves?

One thing that has become clear since the Government began to take the galamsey problem seriously is that the actual scale of the woeful pestilence has been under-estimated by most people in Ghana.

Some people think it’s “a few” water-bodies that have been “tampered with” by galamseyers. But that’s not true.

The Atewa Forest Range in the Eastern Region, for instance, is the source of three major Rivers: Densu, Birem and Ayensu. Now, Densu is the source of the water that flows into the Weija Reservoir, which supplies most of Accra with its water.

Destroying that source of water is not just “tampering with” Accra’s water supply system. It is declaring a “water siege” on the people of our capital.

This is what the Water Resources Commission has to say about the importance of Densu: “The River takes its source from the Atewa Range near Kibi and flows for 116 km into the Weija Reservoir….The Densu River is of special importance since it includes the Weija Reservoir, which supplies water for approximately half of the Accra Metropolitan Area.[Or at least, 600,000 people].

In February 2016, I published an article entitled“YIEEE! RIVER DENSU TOO IS DEAD?” in which I drew attention to the implications of the galamsey going on in the Atewa Forest Range and its effect on the Densu basin.

I described in vivid detail, the daily travails of the people of Nsawam and Adoagyiri. But articles like that did not cut any ice with the authorities of the time.

Indeed, the ongoing visits to galamsey sites by the new Minister of Lands and Natural Resources, Mr Peter Amewu, continually expose the confusion and negligence that plague the institutions that we expect to be at the forefront of the battle against galamsey.

Here is one very troubling account of what occurred during the Minister’s visit: QUOTE: “Amewu ‘grills’ Minerals Commission boss over mining licenses “[The] Lands and Natural Resources Minister, John Peter Amewu could not come to terms with the explanation provided by the Chief Executive Officer of the Minerals Commission, Tony Aubyn, over a prospecting licence given to Okobeng Mining, a small scale mining company operating in the Nzema East Municipality of the Western Region.

“Okobeng Mining, despite the Lands and Natural Resources Ministry directive to halt all small scale mining activities across the country, was seen mining for gold [a] few meters away from the Ankobra River, with a prospecting license at Dwira Dominase in Nzema East Municipal.

Visibly worried, Mr Amewu, who was leading a high-powered government delegation on a two-day visit to some mining sites in the Western Region, questioned the Minerals Commission’s boss [Tony] Aubyn about the company’s permit.

Mr. Amewu was shocked [when he] realized that the company was mining for gold …. with a [mere] prospecting licence.

“He bemoaned [the fact] that “this company has finished mining already and is doing an alleged reclamation, with a licence that does not [even] allow it mine”. He asked Aubyn “Who gave these people their prospecting licence to operate [in the] last two months without my notice? I have been the Minister for the past five months ]and] this licence was issued [in the] last two months.

How did it happen without my knowledge?” “Aubyn suggested that the matter be addressed when the team returns to Accra “because, whichever way it is, it must have been signed by a Minister.

It could have been signed by the former sector Minister! But Mr. Amewu insisted [on getting]… to the bottom of the issue, by inquiring from the representatives of Okobeng Mining, who were present at the site:….

“When did you start working?” After the [mine manager] answered saying, they started mining at the area three months ago, Mr. Amewu asked Aubyn again: “Who gave the company the prospecting licence to the company?” “….He was dissatisfied with [Aubyn’s] submissions, [and Mr Amewu] directed that “every operation ongoing on the site” [should cease].

He also directed that executives of the company be summoned to Accra to answer questions. “The violations Mr. Amewu expected the Minerals Commission boss to have prevented [included] the fact that the company had already finished mining at an area where [its] working permits allowed [it] to only prospect for gold.

[Mr Amewu] also questioned the [Minerals Commission boss] on why mining had taken place at the company’s site less than 30 meters to the main Ankobra River.”

UNQUOTE One question that was not raised by the Minister, probably because it has been hidden from him, was whether the mining licence in question, whether signed by a Minister or not, was legal, inasmuch as it had not been ratified by Parliament, as required under the 1992 Constitution.

The clear indications are that the Minerals Commission facilitated the issue of many “small-scale mining licences”, without making the applicants aware that they could not begin operations with the licences until Parliament had ratified them. What motivated the Commission to do this, since it must be assumed that its top officials were conversant with the laws under which their Commission operates, remains a mystery.

But the way state institutions have been infected with corruption may help answebthe question. The utter confusion surrounding the legality of licences issued by the Commission appears to have spread aalso to the ranks of the law enforcement agencies. For if one Googles “illegal+miners+arrest+Ghana”, one comes up with no less than 622,000 entries.

Yet seldom does one read that an illegal miner had been imprisoned in accordance with the mining laws. Maybe the designation of some courts by the Chief Justice as “galamsey courts” indicates a new commitment on the part of the judiciary to do its part in making galamsey a more patently risky undertaking to its operators than hitherto.

Of course, the courts – however determined to end galamsey they might be – can do nothing unless illegal miners are vigorously prosecuted before them.

I must say the police and the national prosecution service have let the country down badly by neglecting to prosecute galamsey cases with any amount of serousness.

Both foreign and Ghanaian illegal miners who are caught in the act by the police are often allowed to be bailed by persons whose names are not disclosed to the public. Yet without these hidden “patrons” of galamsey, the evil could not continue. They should be named and shamed.

The Minister of the Interior should demonstrate that he fully supports the President’s call to end galamsey by instructing the police to oppose bail whenever lawyers ask the courts to offer bail to those charged with engaging in galamsey. We don’t grant bail to violent armed robbers and murderers, do we?

Well, galamsey, by destroying or poisoning our drinking water with cyanide and mercury, is just as murderous as cutting someone with a knife, or shooting him dead with a gun.

Not only that – the police could swiftly end applications for bail on behalf of galamseyers if they used their professional information-gathering methods to obtain from prospective bail applications, information about the “capos”[masterminds] in the galamsey business and passed the information on to the CID or the ministerial task force set up by the Government to end galamsey.

The Ghana Immigration Service and the Ghana consular service of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs should also do their bit in subtle detective work and thereby make it impossible for foreigners intent on doing galamsey business in Ghana, to obtain admission into the country.

No country allows criminals into its territory and there are protocols for international co-operation (through INTERPOL) used to catch criminals and would-be criminals in existence, which Ghana can use to good advantage.

Finally, I’d like to recommend the following to the Minister of Lands and Natural Resources: please, wherever possible, use the local inhabitants to gather information and obtain intelligence on how best to smoke out galamsey operators from their particular localities.

Of course, there will be bad eggs among the ncommuituies, but the great majority of them are aware of the danger posed by galamsey to themselves and their families, especially those unborn. I was very pleased to read that the Minister destroyed some water-sachets he had discovered hidden near a galamsey site.

Didn’t that cast the Minister in the light of a ”Daniel come to judgement”?

The galamsey operators come to make other people’s water undrinkable. But they protect themselves by drinking sachet water! What cheats they are.

A marvellous crowd indeed who deserve our sympathy because they are only trying to earn a living!!

The next time the Minister catches some galamsey operators red-handed, he should force them to drink the muddy water they leave behind after they have dredged rivers and washed gold in them with mercury and cyanide.

Mind you, I don’t blame them – the past tolerance of their activities by our stupor-infected government, and the eloquent excuses constantly offered on behalf of the would-be murderers by some opinion leaders who should know better, have combined to convince them that the generality of Ghanaians are a bunch of utter incompetent fools, who deserve to be sent to anearly grave by merely drinking the water endowed to them by Nature thousands of years ago.