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Opinions of Wednesday, 25 October 2017

Columnist: Danso-Dakwa Desmond

Galamsey:The good, the bad and the ugly

Rt. Hon. Speaker, I am Danso-Dakwa Desmond, a minority caucus Member of this Hon. House and I am very enthused this evening to stand before this august house to make a presentation on one of the social menaces which is eating into the moral fiber of the Ghanaian educational and socio-economic growth and development. Mr. Speaker, I present to this August House “THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY SIDE OF ILLEGAL MINING POPULARLY KNOWN AS GALAMSEY”

Globally, Mr. Speaker, it has been estimated that over 20 million people engage in artisanal mining, with nearly one-quarter of the world’s gold output originating from small-scale mines. In Ghana, artisanal mining is often referred to as “galamsey” which is derived from the English phrase “gather them and sell” but through the Ghanaians pronunciation, it became galamsey instead of gather them and sell. In Ghana and West Africa, workers who perform galamsey activities by digging small working pits, tunnels and penstocks manually are known as galamseyers and in neighboring francophone nations they are called orpailleurs.

Roughly, about one million of these independent artisanal miners operate illegally along the outskirts of mining company lands where gold deposits are known. In Ghana, Mr. Speaker, mining activities in the gold-rich regions can be traced back to the days of colonialism when the nation was called the Gold Coast. And today the country’s huge mineral wealth is well known as Ghana is ranked ninth in the world and second in Africa for her recognized gold deposits.

Small-scale mining was once a respected traditional vocation but when the government officially legalized the practice in the late 1980s, it brought to the fore some challenges, including the mechanism by which the government granted mining concessions to peasants. The process was cumbersome and slow and therefore forced many people to mine illegitimately. Despite the backbreaking work and dangerous conditions in mining, the average miner can earn more than the national average income, and so mining is often viewed as an attractive employment opportunity. Overall, mining contributes about forty percent (40%) to country’s export revenue.

Mr. Speaker, in spite of the above positive contributions from gold mining, the term “galamsey” has in recent times become one phenomenon that has received a lot of attention and discussion on media and other platforms. Today, the government, individuals and the law do not support what is referred to as illegal mining in Ghana due to the several consequences it has on the environment. The subject matter has widely been discussed in view of the immediate and long-term implications it will have on health, education, agriculture, habitat and livelihoods as a whole if not abolished. Aside that, it is illegal because it has not gotten the backing of the law and no legal regime has ever supported illegal mining.

CAUSES OF GALAMSEY

Rt, Hon. Speaker, the factors that combine to trigger someone’s involvement in this illegal mining are easy to identify. One major cause of this devilish act is the individual’s burning desire for material wealth. It is always the ambition of many young men and women to get rich over-night in order to obtain whatever is fashionable to them. Such people would want to dress gorgeously, own mansions, ride the latest cars, and become millionaires at last. Devoid of the milk of human-kindness, it is not surprising to find these people attacking the defenseless "Virgin lands".

The lack of employment opportunities in this country is also a contributory factor to this situation. The absence of job facilities in our towns, cities and villages has compelled our able-bodied young men and women to join some of the foreigners in galamsey.(not to mention of the Chinese). It is very disheartening to find university graduates, trained nurses and teachers, carpenters, drivers, farmers, and others making frantic efforts to search for jobs that do not exist. The most heart-breaking aspect is that the few lucky ones who find jobs are even not well paid.

In recent times, in the name of economic reforms, structural adjustment programs and International Monetary Fund (IMF) conditionalities, people are thrown out of jobs. Those who finds themselves in this unfortunate situation become frustrated and are unable to sustain themselves. But they need to earn a living and have access to necessities of life. Thoughts of survival compel these men and women to consider galamsey as a lucrative venture that is worth exploiting.

Another major cause of this menace in the country is our ailing economy, which is incapable of supporting the skilled worker. The reason is that, Mr. Speaker, high rate of Inflation causes prices of goods and other services to be high and simply unaffordable. When this happens the poorly paid workers, especially the parents among them, find it very difficult to meet their numerous needs and perform their social responsibilities. As a result of this, parents and others who do not want to live a Hugger-mugger life of disgrace or failure, find solace in their thoughts to joining galamsey which could serve them greener pastures.

Rt. Hon. Speaker, another contributing factor is that, the political status quo in our country does not encourage professionals to stay and work permanently with their skills and competencies acquired through their education and training. There have been so many capriciousness and whenever there is a change of government, it is our professionals who suffer detrimentally. As a result, some engage in other activities including galamsey as a second means of their survival.

EFFECTS OF GALAMSEY

The adverse and horrendous effects of galamsey are quite obvious. Mr. Speaker, we do not need a seer to soothsay that our country is in danger of collapsing, when the country's fertile land and resources are misappropriated through galamsey practices. There is a clear evidence that putting square pegs in round holes would lead to mismanagement and total breakdown of our fragile economy. If the country continues to leave her natural resources to foreigners, this will intensively cast a slur on the nation's image.

EFFECTS OF GALAMSEY ON EDUCATION

There are numerous effects of galamsey as factors that engender education and to break the ice, Mr. Speaker, the aftermath of this illegal mining activity is a hostile and disorderly environment, which is incapable of promoting a sound academic work.

This is because, brilliant and gifted students who could have blossomed into scholars of repute to take charge of the affairs of the country, end up in underground pits searching for gold as destitute.

Also, if the involvement of children of school going age and the youth in galamsey is not checked, it would grow to destroy the moral fiber of the individual as well as the society, since the youth constitute the “soul and blood” of the nation. Because the idea of getting money in a jiffy has been the motivation behind the children’s engagement in galamsey. Most of the young people in such communities do not value the significance of education; hence, they choose galamsey over education. They would rather ignore the negative impact of this illegal activity and concentrate on the means to engage in the search for gold.

Rt. Hon. Speaker, the existence of galamsey has gotten to the extent that even BECE candidates who were about writing their exams abandoned school to engage in galamsey. During the 2015 BECE, a report from the Mensonso D/A Junior High School (JHS) in the Adansi South District of the Ashanti Region, revealed that four (4) male students out of the 253 registered for the examination were said to have abandoned their examinations to join their colleagues in galamsey. Source: Daily Guide, dated 16/06/2015. Headline “candidates-abandon-BECE-for-galamsey-activities).

Mr. Speaker, it will surprise you that even some of the teachers in the mining communities leave their profession and get to galamsey sites to do what they call “kolikoli”. And for me, there is no doubt that the school children, the community and the teachers in this act contribute to the low academic performance in most mining communities.

EFFECTS OF GALAMSEY ON HEALTH

Mr. Speaker, health is an essential asset of human life and development and looking at the vital contributions of health towards nation building, I doubt if any society can simply afford to deny any section of its people the access to health care. But today, the practice of galamsey in the country with its crude and wasteful methods has provided one of the stiffest challenges to public health. Galamseyers adopt water-use methods and alluvial mining techniques that cause devastating pollution of rivers, streams and lakes. Toxic chemicals such as mercury which have long term health implications, are released into water bodies in the process of searching for gold.

The mercury deposits dispense into the water bodies during the galamsey activities in the form of mercury vapor and makes the pollution of the water bodies highly toxic to human lives and aquatic creatures. Both grown fishes become contaminated for human consumption.

The pollution of rivers also has significant effects on the activities of the Ghana Water Company in its mandate to provide safe drinking water to Ghanaians. For instance, a few years ago the Ghana Water Company shut down a water treatment plant due to the fact that chemicals used for treating polluted water had become expensive. The company also had to shut down its water treatment plant at Kyebi in the Eastern Region for over one-and-half years due to the pollution of the Birim River.

Mr. Speaker, reports have also revealed that the Tano River which is the main source of water for more than 60 percent of the Brong Ahafo populace is bearing the attack of illegal miners and communities like Dormaa Akwamu, Kenyase, Nkaseim are also under similar threats.

Galamsey activities expose Ghanaians to drinking and inhaling of gaseous mercury, which is absorbed into the blood. Once the absorbed mercury gets into the circulatory system, it can pass through the blood-brain barrier and accumulate in the brain, hence damaging the central nervous system. Also, consumers of pipe-borne water may be consuming small amounts of mercury and unknown to the public, bits of it would accumulate and give negative effects in the not-too-distant future.

Rt. Hon. Speaker, aside those who drink treated water, millions of Ghanaians who live along the banks of these river bodies fetch the raw water, which is heavily contaminated with chemicals such as mercury and arsenic, for domestic use. They drink, cook, bath and perform all tasks with the polluted water in spite of the risk of contracting diseases such as cholera, diarrhea, fever, amongst others. Although many people are aware of the effects of these poisonous substances, the immediate economic needs that can be satisfied through its use outweigh the risk.

EFFECTS OF GALAMSEY ON THE ENVIRONMENT

The environment encompasses the interaction of all living species, climate, and natural resources that affect human survival and economic activity.

People living in these artisanal environments face climatic change due to the nature of the work, bad weather conditions and the almighty degradation of the natural resources that disturb human survival and monetary activities. Mr. Speaker, the cry and fear of the public for this menace is that the destructive nature of the environment can lead to a desert country in the near future to emanate if not checked.

There is no qualm that galamsey activities have caused a great harm to our water bodies. Because most of the minerals are found in rivers, and as a result, the illegal mining companies often resort to slate rivers and their surroundings to enable them get access to the targeted gold or minerals. This is done without caring about the consequences and dangers it may have on trees, birds, animals, and even individuals in those communities.

Mr. Speaker, another upshot of galamsey on the environment is deforestation, which involves the cutting down of trees to clear the forest for the operation of extracting gold. By so doing, the vegetation which support crop production and also gives us timbers for foreign exchange is destroyed. As a result, the rate of farming in such mining communities has declined due to the fact that lands for farming are turned into lands for mining.

Another consequence of galamsey is that, the dug-out pits or tunnels are always abandoned or left uncovered and this has turned out to be a death trap to the galamseyers themselves and some innocent people who find themselves in the such unfamiliar mining sites. Unascertainable human lives have been perished as a result of people fallen into the pits and get trapped in the mud or the topmost surface of the pits collapsed and trap them in pits while they are even underground searching for gold. I am an eye witness to one first year student in my secondary who fell into a very big galamsey pit full of water close to the boys’ dormitory and died.

Recently also in the news almost all of us heard about the collapsed of one mining pit at Obuasi in the Ashanti Region claimed many lives. 17 lives were said to have been recovered after some days’ search, the unrecovered bodies were left buried underground. Is this not disheartening?

Mr. Speaker, apart from recording death at the mining sites, these illegal pit workers also do not put in place any measures that will safeguard them from taking such risk. With the fact that the illegal sappers are mostly unskillful, they also use unprotected tools and equipment making them a big threat to other around them and the nation at large.

RECOMMENDATIONS

Mr. Speaker, the above mentioned upshots of galamsey demands a critical attention to control the situation to its barest minimum. I would therefore endeavour to put forward the following measures to curb the high incidence of this act in our country.

To moderate this disturbing situation, the government should, as a matter of urgency establish more jobs and improve the service conditions of workers. This artisanal incidence cannot be handled when the factors that influence it is not tackled. The causes are the main problems and it should be better dealt with.

Also, strenuous efforts should be made by the government to revive the country’s ailing economy and make living conditions better to ensure sanity in our nation. This is because if the economy is improved, parents will be in a better position to provide all the basic needs of their children and offer them access to quality education.

Rt. Hon. Speaker, the government should ensure that the rigorous laws governing our natural resources are strictly enforced. I fervently appeal to the government to pass a law to deter some irresponsible and greedy people whose primal desire is to sacrifice the country’s natural resources for self-satisfaction from the act. Further steps should be taken to ensure that security recruits are made to protect lands and other resources.

Moreover, I would call upon religious institutions to nurture their subordinates to strive against this act of illegal mining. As a matter of importunity, there should be social and religious mobilization and sensitization drives in all cities, towns and villages throughout the country to explain to their members the need to stay away from galamsey.

Once again, our political and traditional leaders should hold their tongues and refrain from making flippant remarks to the public. They aimed at being innocent from these artisanal acts but in the end they are the backbone of the canker.

Another remedy is the reclaiming of the mining sites and afforestation practice. The government must see to it that mining pits and tunnels are refilled with sand and new trees planted to replace those destroyed for galamsey to recover the land. When this is done and the land is left untouched for some few years, it will retain its nutrients and become fertile again for agricultural produce.

In conclusion Mr. Speaker, I would like to say that the time has come for government, civil society, NGOs, traditional authorities and well-meaning Ghanaians to move away from the rhetoric and take more decisive action to abort the galamsey menace which threatens our survival. Yes, the time has come for all and sundry to take serious action to confront the galamsey issue head-on. This is particularly important if the country wishes to achieve some number of sustainable developmental goals.

Mr. Speaker, I am of the strongest conviction that the above suggestions I have raised would help minimize this unpleasant situation and pave way for educational, moral and socio-economic growth and development to be in full swing for a better Ghana if the needy consideration would be given.

Thank you.