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Opinions of Saturday, 14 April 2018

Columnist: Cameron Duodu

Why are they 'bad-mouthing' Operation Vanguard?

Two extremely serious allegations have recently been made against the soldiers and policemen engaged in “Operation Vanguard” – gallant public servants who are trying, with great personal risk to themselves, to save our water-bodies, rivers and farms, from the destruction wreaked by the heartless galamsey operators.

One allegation was to the effect that a member of the personnel of the 'National Security' (sic) was trying to arrange for galamseyers to obtain land for galamsey purposes – at a cost of '$20,000'!

The other quoted a Member of Parliament as having alleged that some Operation Vanguard personnel were conniving with some officers within the Ghana Police Service, to extort money from illegal miners and allowing them to mine.

These reports are totally irresponsible. If someone says he can procure services from 'National Security', without naming who his contacts are, or which branch of 'National Security' they operate in, is it worth publication? Is it not clear that the person does not know what he is talking about?

Is it rocket science for the so-called journalist infer from the circumstances that someone might be impersonating officials in extorting funds – $20,000 no less? When 'journalists' publish such rubbishy stories that have so many holes in them, is it any surprise that society tends to hold journalists in contempt?

The statement attributed to the Member of Parliament is also most regrettable. As an MP, he has the right to ask a question in Parliament to ascertain the truth about any allegations he hears. Not only that – as an MP from the same party as the Minister who is in charge of the police, he can call the Minister directly and confidentially pass any information he's got to him.

The Minister would then institute an official investigation by the police. Going on the radio or television to air allegations that might turn out to be unfounded is not in the spirit of the collective responsibility that should bind together, all the MPs from the same party.

For if an NPP MP makes allegations against the NPP Government, it reflects on ALL members of the NPP who attained their positions through the party and who will, therefore, be automatically associated with both the party's successes and – especially – its failures.

So then, how can this same MP turn round and establish a fund for NPP communicators, presumably for the communicators to use to carry the very NPP message he undermines by going public with allegations, instead of reporting them to his fellow NPP members who are Ministers?

A second reason why the allegations are unfortunate is that the Inter-Ministerial Committee in charge of Operation Vanguard is in the process of evaluating the performance of the Task Force, with a view to deciding whether it should continue or be called off.

Therefore any misguided allegations against the Task Force can obfuscate the hard-headed decisions that have to be taken about its future; decisions which should be made on the basis of VERIFIED FACTS, and not mere rumours. indeed, one suspects that the rumours are being deliberately spread by the galamseyers (who include several hidden bigwigs) as part of their intense lobbying of the presidency ad NPP Ministers/MPs, to call off Operation Vanguard.

Actually, the PRO of Operation Vanguard did not help matters when he told the media that the Operation had achieved about 75% of its objectives. That suggests that the Operation can be wound up soon. But I think that is too optimistic and springs from a premature assessment. And it begs several questions. For instance, what is the size of the operational area of Operation Vanguard? Is it 10,000 square kilometres, or 20,000?

If it is 10,000, then it means Operation Vanguard has ridden 7,500 square kilometres of galamsey operations; if 20,000, then 15, 000 sq. km. would have been cleared. Are such figures really verifiable? I doubt it because the galamseyers are extremely crafty and have learned, over the past two decades, to operate like guerrillas – they “hit-and-run”! When they operate in a water-body and obtain information from paid informers that Operation Vanguard is nearby, they move away very fast and go to another pre-arranged site.

In other words, they melt into the countryside and operate within it “like a fish in water”, as Mao Zedong would have put it. Their political strategy could also have been crafted by Mao: it is based on the principle– “fight, fight, talk, talk!” Just change it to “Dig! Dig! Talk! Talk!”

Now, the Ghana Minister of the Environment, Science, Technology and Innovation, Professor Kwabena Frimpong-Boateng, who is chair of the Inter-Ministerial Committee on Illegal Mining, showed awareness of some of these factors when he addressed journalists at his “Meet The Press” presentation in Accra on Tuesday, 10 April 2018.

Asked when the ban on illegal mining would be lifted, the Minister said:
"… We don’t want to go back to the bad old days. [So] all the agencies (Ministry of Lands, the Minerals Commission, the Forestry Commission, the Water Resources Commission and my Ministry) … all have various task to do. The inspection division of the Minerals Commission was very weak; that is why we went into this problem. So the government has given it resources to strengthen the inspecting division... The chief executive has announced that they are going to employ 540 individuals, who are going to be trained as inspectors. They are also going to set up three new mining districts and twelve sub-districts. The inspectors are going to be provided with motorbikes and vehicles so that the inspection can be …. more robust".

"….One thing we are also doing now is the application of drones. We are working closely with our colleagues from the University of Mines in Tarkwa. We have acquired some more drones and if you see our new reports, you will be impressed. With the drones, we will be able to detect, in real time, what people are doing. Two weeks ago, there was a mining company operating in the Kibi area. What they do is that, during the day, they would heap up the [gold-bearing gravel] and wash it. Whilst doing that, they would block the access to the river. But in the evening, they would [drive the stuff] into the river and you would never know who did it. By providence, our drones were working and we caught them!"

"….So we believe that, with the increasing use of technology, we will be able to limit human intervention; that is, we can modify the activities of Operation Vanguard. Maybe we can reduce their numbers. When we use the drones, we will know where there is something going on; we can get the exact coordinates and give them to Operation Vanguard, and maybe they can use a helicopter to zoom into the site. And also, we are going to restore the rivers. I assure you that the monitoring will be more intense, even after the ban is lifted. So the rivers will never go back to this situation [of turbidity] again".