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Opinions of Saturday, 29 May 2021

Columnist: Cameron Duodu

'Had the gourd not possessed such a neck, no one would tie a string around it!'

Galamsey in Ghana Galamsey in Ghana

The most notable thing I absorbed from watching the traditional court at Asiakwa, where I grew up, was that the elders never said, “I think this should be this or that.”

They always resorted to a proverb hundreds, maybe thousands, of years old, to buttress their decisions on cases brought before them.

So, for instance, if someone was brought before them for damaging the property of the entire town, they would dwell on the fact that the damage would also affect the person who caused it.

Because, as the ancient proverb says, “Although the sheep might think that it's dirtying the street by defecating on it, it would also be fouling its own tail in the process!”

A favourite of the chief's, which I can hear in my ears even now, was this: “It's the shape of the gourd's neck that invites people to attach a string to it!”

This last proverb applied to people brought before the court as second-time or three-time offenders. They were told that had the court not been lenient to them before in the past, but had dealt with them severely the first time they appeared before the court, they would not have had the chance to go and reoffend again!”

These proverbs came to my mind when I read the numerous comments our “educated” classes have been making about the unintentionally sarcastic invitation, extended by our President, Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo, to galamseyers who claim that their excavators and other equipment had been burnt – “illegally” – to “go to court”.

To begin with, isn't it an oxymoron to claim that being asked to “go to court” is itself an “illegality”? Can some court processes be “legal” and others not? If the government seizes the excavators and then goes to court to have them confiscated, that's “legal”. But if the government asks those whose excavators have been burnt to go to court to ask the court to get the government to compensate them, that's “illegal”? Isn't that like eating one's cake and having it?

Quite honestly, some lawyers and other “educated” people in this country appear not to recognise any nexus between the letter of the law and the social circumstances that led to laws being promulgated in the first place.

Why is it so difficult for the “educated” to grasp the simple fact that if a person uses equipment to cause damage to other people, or the environment, the state is entitled to seize the equipment to ensure that it's prevented from being used again to cause further damage?

In an earlier article, I mildly poked fun at Occupy Ghana by asking it to advise galamseyers whose equipment had been burnt, to institute proceedings against the government, and thereby voluntarily admit that they had offended against the Mines and Minerals Act 2019, which prescribes terms of imprisonment of between 15 and 20 years, for those who carry out galamsey.

But Occupy Ghana did not take the hint and has now.

written an “Open Letter” to the President, challenging the propriety of his “endorsing” the “illegality” being perpetrated by armed forces personnel, in burning equipment found at galamsey sites.

I wonder whether the members of the organisation who are lawyers have seriously pondered the issues which could be contested in court, if the galamseyers were to go to court to seek “reliefs”?

First of all, what were the excavators, bulldozers and chanfans doing at the sites where they were seized and burnt?

The excavators were being used to “build roads”, maybe? Oh – when did the government of Ghana delegate the building of roads to the galamseyers? Or they were being used to build houses, schools and clinics? Do me a favour!

And the chanfans? They were carrying out research into the prevalence of harmful molluscs in the riverbeds, were they? I don't think even those among our judges who are most “insulated” from our realities would buy that? Or would they? Ah, maybe “Occupy Ghana” knows something!

The whole concept of challenging the armed forces is ridiculous beyond measure. If it had any validity, it would mean that when the police seize a murder weapon (say a live grenade!) from a murder scene, the police must wait until a court had authorised them to do so before they could disarm and destroy the grenade, wouldn't it?

Has it occurred to the learned fellows of “Occupy Ghana” that most of the excavators and bulldozers left at galamsey sites, are immobilised by their owners each night before the workers retire from their dirty work for the rime being?

Even if the armed forces wanted to seize them and present them in court as “exhibits”(!) in presenting evidence, how would they convey the immobilised machines to the courts? Are the “Occupy Ghana” brigade not taking the rule of law for granted, as far as practicality is concerned??

But having said that, I have to quote for the the government, the proverb which proclaims that “it's the shape of its neck that invites people to attach a string to the neck of the gourd!”

Yes, the government has enacted a severe law on galamsey, and promulgated detailed regulations about what can happen to equipment used for illegal mining. Yet the government has, inexplicably, locked these laws up in a drawer, and lost the key!

Why do I say that? It's because not a single person appears to have been successfully prosecuted under the anti-galamsey laws, despite their tough provisions. So why should anyone take the Government seriously?

That's not all. Many people – including several Chinese nationals – have been arrested for carrying out galamsey. Yet no “bigwig” Ghanaian has ever been named by the prosecuting authorities as the sponsor or employer of these galamseyers. And no so-called gold-mining “entrepreneur” has been charged to court for “facilitating galamsey” behind the scenes. Yet we have the CID and other investigative agencies which are so skilled they can intercept political agitators before they can do any harm!

No, we don't know who brings the Chinese in; under what conditions they are recruited; or how they got their visas to come here, in the first place. All we know is that they are helping to destroy our rivers, streams and water-bodies, and rendering our farmlands permanently unusable.

I am quite sure the Chinese government, for one, is sitting in Beijing laughing at us and our “bourgeois” susceptibilities, as regards law enforcement.

Why doesn't the Ghana government ask its embassy in Beijing to send it a list of the criminal cases taken to court in China in the past three months alone, and the punishments meted to the individuals? Who were the individuals and what positions did they hold in the Chinese political arena, especially those charged with corruption? In other words, if Jack Ma were a Ghanaian, would he be facing the type of scrutiny that the Chinese Government appears to be putting him under?

Sorry to be saying these things, but we are jokers dangerously toying with the capability of our unfortunate future generations to survive in the land of their birth.