The ‘GALAMSEY’ Fight: the efforts so far (part 1)

As part of efforts towards curbing the devastating menace of the activities of illegal mining in the country, Economy Times has spent considerable time on covering news on the subject.

As efforts intensify, Economy Times once again gives an introspection into the fight against illegal mining within the past decade. Again, the paper looks at whether sustainable results are been achieved since the start of the fight and the way forward.

Economy Times reporter, Adnan Adams Mohammed, 3 years ago with a support from the Natural Resource Governance Institute (NGRI) went to the field of illegal mining areas in the country to unearth the motivation behind the illegal mining, despite its devastating effect; the best way to handle the illegal mining activities; and the effect on water bodies, farming and health and safety of the miners. s

The investigations and research revealed that, the illegal and small scale miners within the country’s mining industry accused mining licensing and regulatory bodies of being those breeding the increasing illegal mining activities in the country which have over the years cost the economy significantly.

The Economy Times reporter who lived among the miners in selected mining communities to acquaint himself with the situation as to how miners go about their work, whether their activities conform with the law and policies on mining, and what technical assistance or services the regulatory bodies give to them throughout the entire chain of activities. Some of the players in the industry, whom the Economy Times reporter spoke to while on the field, noted that, Small Scale Mining activities and the way they work cannot help in the development of the country considering the menace caused to the environment by their activities.

Corrupt licensing authorities to be blamed

“I do not blame the illegal miners, because speaking from experience I know the miners will wish to do the right thing as well as safeguard the environment but the licensing and regulatory regimes are not functioning proper and have been bedeviled with corruption.” Sumaila Seidu, a 35 year old gold dealer at Osino had said.

He explained that, it is frustrating and indeed almost impossible for the poor to get a license for a concession and for that matter they cannot access the services and advice of regulatory bodies, which included the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Minerals Commission, to help them do the right thing. “These are the causes of increasing illegal mining in the country,” he lamented.

He suggested that, the licensing and regulatory bodies normalized the process and requirement of giving licenses and mining permits to the people devoid of frustration, deliberate delays which in turn breed corruption and dubious ways of awarding mine concessions to those who have the money and can pay ‘big bribes’.

Over years, thousands of people including foreigners have taken to illegal mining in the country a situation experts say has a negative impact on registered miners.

Despite the disparities in knowledge of the distinction between small scale mining and illegal mining, small scale mining has become synonymous with ‘galamsey’ (artisanal gold mining in Ghana) due to the way they both go about with their work. ‘Galamsey’ is the term used to describe the aspect of mining that is not licensed, regulated or supervised by any authority in Ghana.

The study, which was conducted in the Denkyira, Nsutam and Osino townships where there are heavy presences of illegal and small scale miners.

A scan through the communities and the environments of these areas, showed that the Offin and Birem rivers, the main sources of water for household chores and other activities by the inhabitants, which flow through the areas, are heavily polluted through the activities of both small scale and galamsey gold miners. Some mining sites have also turned into deserts as the vegetation cover in those areas has been removed.

In Osino, most of the youth are at home untrained in any kind of vocation or higher education and unemployed; they therefore do not have any better option than to result to ‘galamseying’ even if at risk to their lives.

These comes to establish the fact that, ‘galamsey’ can never be eradicated completely so the government has the responsibility to ensure that the licensing regime becomes easier and effectively understandable to all so that illegal miners can start doing the right thing as they wish to do to save the environment and contribute to the development of the country at large.

“The effects of the mining on the environment today will be minimized if people (miners) start to do the right thing, based on responsible regulation and supervision”, Seidu asserted.

Sumaila Seidu had warned that, the lands allocated to the large-scale mining companies are mostly too big such that, the indigenes sometimes do not have any good concessions anymore to also work on to look for economic sustenance and that why the illegal miners sometimes encroach into the concessions of the large mining companies. “The concession allocation and licensing should be done in such a way that, the indigenes that are interested in mining and are ready to pass through the necessary process to get licenses and permits to mine also gets portions of the already prospected good concessions.”

He alluded to the fact that, “when the country is indebted, the government allocates the debt to all people in the country to pay through taxes and other levies, so in the same way the government must allocate the means of getting economic sustenance fairly and equitably.”

Sumaila Seidu, is not alone blaming state regulatory for contributing to the increasing illegal mining activities, but Civil  Society Organizations (CSOs) have also blamed politicians and state regulators in the mining sector for being responsible for the in the country.

The CSOs alleged that some politicians, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Minerals Commission were often offered enticing packages including scholarships from foreign mining companies and this made them to compromise the mining and mineral laws.

Mrs Hannah-Owusu Koranteng, the Associate Director of WACAM, expressed regret that most of the country’s forest reserves were being given to foreign mining companies.

She said, “No Company can enter into a community to mine without its Free Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) it is an internationally accepted principle which protects the rights of indigenous people”.

She explained that, many communities had the power to use this principle to stop companies from mining in their communities even after the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) had been done by the EPA.

Dying in the pit

Also from the field, the death of his brother from illegal mining is not deterring Kwaku Manu, a 28 year old native of Denkyira from embarking on the same path. Faced with abject poverty and the responsibility to feed his family and send his little brother to school, Kwaku Manu has no option than to go underground without any protective gear to mine gold despite the dangers associated with it.

This same job led to the death of his brother, Isaac Manu, a few months ago from a collapsed pit which killed 25 people, according to police report. In an interview with Kwaku Manu, he explained that he has to ignore these dangers and enter the pit on a daily basis just to make enough money to take care of his family. “I need money to feed my two children, my late brother?s son and my wife.? Manu prayed for a different source of livelihood but in this part of the country it is only galamsey that pays”, he lamented. Kwaku Manu and his colleagues are calling for proper regulation of the sector. This they believe would force their employers to provide them with protective gear as well as observe other safety precautions.

Government’s intervention needed

A 30 years old mason, King David, now an illegal miner at Akyem Nsutam, but who hails from Koforidua, married with three children told the Economy Times reporter that, “the nature in which we operate is not the best, we know that, but, it is all because the regulatory bodies do not help us in terms of education on proper means and method of mining and sometimes we lack technical assistance in terms of covering up the mine pits and also reclaiming the land after work.”

Again, making the situation worse, he said, is the introduction of a government taskforce which, set up to help clamp down the illegal mining activities in the country, is causing more harm than good to the environment and the workers.

He noted that, scared miners upon hearing that the taskforce is coming start to run thereby abandoning the pits uncovered even partially, while others fall into pits in the process of running. “A number of my friends have died through this situation”, he laments.

King David wants the government to intervene to make sure that regulatory bodies come to their aid. “We are all Ghanaians looking for work to do so that we can pay taxes to help develop the country.” Also, the taskforce activities should not become harassment to the people even those doing the right thing somehow in one way or the other.

He noted that, the youth population in Ghana are the majority and looking at the situation of lack of job opportunities there is nothing better than robbery to do other than to be involved in mining either illegal or legal. “With the current high cost of schooling and high cost of living this compels some of us to risk our lives. Sometimes sales are not good which affects our economic power. Over the past months most mine workers earn less than GHc500 a month.”

Safer way out

The government must intervene to help the small scale miners and even those doing ‘galamsey’ by grouping us, registering and regulating our activities in conformity with the laws of mining in the country to make the work safer for people and the environment. These could help create more formal and decent jobs for the unemployed which will increase the number of direct taxpayers in the country, he said.

King David lamented that “sometimes when we think about the economic security of our future it becomes sad. We do not have any form of social security for our future and our dependents when we are aged. We believe that, if the government intervenes and regulates our activities properly to formalize the ‘galamsey’ operations, we would be having some form of social security for our future.”

Illegal and small scale gold mining in Ghana has a long history. It has existed as far back as the eighth century as a household economic activity. It was legalised recently when the Small Scale Mining Law (PNDCL 218) 1989 was passed and public policies were formulated to support the implementation of the law. From then, the industry has become a major contributor to the total quantity of gold produced in Ghana. The industry is a major employer of the rural labour force. Despite these contributions, the industry has several negative effects on the environment.

……….to be continued

Source:  Adnan Adam Mohammed

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