The ‘GALAMSEY’ fight: attacking the wrong target (Part1)

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.
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.
Invasion of licensed concession by illegal miners
After witnessing a massive invasion by illegal miners on concessions of bigger mining companies, the Ghana Chamber of Mines in 2016 called on government to intervene in what has become the perennial invasion of mining concessions by illegal miners.
The chamber said the phenomenon worsens especially in election years.
Sulemanu Koney, former Chief Executive Officer of the Chamber said the country stands to lose if steps are not taken to address the canker.
The chamber wanted specific steps to be taken to restore order at the AngloGold Ashanti mine where the Director of Communications, John Owusu of the company died in mysterious accident.
John Owusu lost his life when his driver, escaping the attacks of illegal miners on concessions owned by AGA, accidentally run over him.
The driver was said to be on a reverse when the incident happened.
The Chamber said the “Companies such as AngloGold Ashanti – Obuasi Mine and Perseus Mining at Ayanfuri experienced an escalation of activities of illegal miners on their concessions. These companies who employ thousands of Ghanaians were compelled to use all legal means and a financial cost to eject the illegal miners from their concessions with the help of the security apparatus. This often resulted in violent confrontations leading to injuries and destruction of property.”
The impunity against legality
Laws have been made and revised over time to ensure that precious minerals of gold and diamond are mined in more responsible ways that will not negatively affect the environment. The constitution of the land entrusts the minerals of the land in the care of the President of the Republic for our collective benefit as a people. Since gold mining, and illegal mining for that matter, has become a justifiably national issue, it is important for us as citizens to know what the law says in that area.
The prevailing legislation of Act 703, 2006 (1) with its amended portions of Act 2015, states that ‘Every mineral in its natural state in, under or upon land in Ghana, rivers, streams, water courses throughout the country, the exclusive economic zone and an area covered by the territorial continental shelf is the property of the Republic and is vested in the President in trust for the people of Ghana’.
The understanding of the above is that, for instance, if I own a piece of land in my village, and there is any form of mineral so properly defined ‘in its natural state, in, under or upon land’, I have no right to mine the mineral or give it away to anybody else to mine because that mineral is the property of the Republic and is vested in the President. To attempt to mine it or offer the piece of land to anybody to mine will be illegal and therefore a breach of the law.
Contrary to this, it is common to hear that illegal miners mentioning names of some chiefs and family heads as those who have given the ownership of mine concession.
The obvious question therefore is that, with all these powers entrusted in the hands of the President, why did we sit down for individuals, Chiefs and other such people to illegally give out lands to miners without the state doing anything about it? It is a simple question from a simple mind.
Now Section (4) of the Act Section 4 (1) of the Act states: ‘The Minister may, by Executive Instrument declare land, not being the subject of a mineral right, to be observed from,
(a) becoming the subject of an application for a mineral right for a mineral, or
(b) becoming the subject of an application for a mineral right in respect of specified minerals or of all minerals except specified minerals.
(2) An Executive Instrument issued shall be by the authority of the President.
Again, the understanding of the above is that the Minister for Lands and Natural Resources is the official empowered by law to act on the authority of the President on matters of mining. Now once again, the areas that are ‘prohibited from mining’, which have become bones of controversy and public angst, did the Minister declare them as such, and if the Minister did, whose responsibility it was or still is, to ensure that people who have broken the laws by invading on land ‘not being the subject of a mineral right’ to deal with the culprits?
Subsection (4) of section 5 of the Act states ‘A transaction contract or undertaking involving the grant of a right or concession by or on behalf of a person or body of persons, for the exploitation of a mineral in Ghana shall be subject to ratification by Parliament.
Subsection (5) goes on to say ‘Parliament may, by resolution supported by votes of not less than two- thirds of all the members of Parliament, exempt from the provisions of subsection (4) of this section a particular class of transactions, contracts or undertakings’.
Now, my patriotic compatriots against illegal mining in Ghana and its concomitant destructions of our lands and water bodies, with the powers conferred on the Minister for Lands and Natural Resources and Parliament, did the Minister, on the recommendations of the Minerals Commission, present any of such applications for mining rights to Parliament for ratification? How many of such recommended applications were sent to Parliament by the Minister for ratification over the last 10 or more years?
How many of such applications did Parliament ratify and how many of them were given exemptions by Parliament per the provisions of subsection (4) of section (5) of the Act by resolutions of two thirds of the members of Parliament? The law makes no classification of categories of mining operators.
Jailing of chiefs proposed
Although, the Chief Inspector of Mines of the Minerals Commission, Inspectorate Division, Stephen Piedu has proposed the prosecution and jailing of chiefs who involved themselves in illegal mining, saying it is one of the surest ways of dealing with the canker of illegal mining in the country.
Mr Stephen Piedu explained to the Economy Times in an interview that, as part of the strategies to combat illegal mining in the region, his outfit will also embark on a campaign in the hinterlands to educate chiefs and district assemblies on how miners could acquire lands legally for their operations and register their activities with the Minerals Commission.
According to him, through an intensive education drive, some miners have legalized their operations in parts of the Central Region, and was hopeful that would soon start in the Western Region.
“We’ve tried several means to eradicate illegal mining and this led to the creation of the National Security Sub-Committee for lands and natural resources, putting in a lot of money to eradicate illegal mining. But we had several challenges associated with such operations hence the need by the Minerals Commission in collaboration with relevant stakeholders to come up with taskforces in all the regions in order to fight the menace in a more sustainable manner”, he explained.
Mr. Piedu, however, stated unequivocally that the surest way to wipe out illegal miners was for Government to get tougher on traditional authorities by prosecuting and jailing them.
“If there is no land, there will not be illegal mining. Some chiefs are even claiming ownership of the portions of the Pra River to give it to foreigners to mine. So if there is no land there is no illegal mining. And it is the chiefs who are custodians of the land. So we have said it at the national security sub-committee that it is time we take some of these chiefs to task.”
“In the past, we have said that we respect our chiefs and that they should not be sent to court and jailed. We must start jailing them and some of them have been invited to the National Security. The Asantehene for instance has warned all the chiefs in the Ashanti Region not to involve themselves in illegal mining because now he knows that we are going to prosecute them. We can jail them. That’s the way forward,” he stressed.
Joyce Aryee makes a case for illegal miners
“The fight against illegal small-scale mining should not be directed at the labourers who descend into the bellies of the earth in search of precious minerals but to those who invest money into it”, the former Chief Executive Officer of the Ghana Chamber of Mines, Joyce Aryee has said. 
According to Ms Aryee, those who invest money into the unlawful act, by paying the illegal miners and securing equipment for the purposes, must rather be tackled.
She explained that those who labour in the value chain do so because they want to earn a living and are given this by investors.
Ms Aryee said because what they want is payment for work done, the labourers – popularly known as ‘galamseyers’ – disregard the degradation their activities cause.
A lot of those miners do not even belong to the area, she cited, adding that some even are from outside Ghana. She, therefore, asked the Minerals Commission to change its approach by confronting those who own the equipment used in the business.
She explained that mining of any mineral cannot be banned since “it is critical to us”.
The former Chamber of Mines boss said because almost every gadget found in homes and offices are products of mining, the business cannot be stopped. “What it will be is to get the Minerals Commission to take the whole issue of licensing and monitoring very seriously.” She also called for a constant campaign “to get people to undertand what the right things are.”
Forestry services calls for police-military intervention to end illegal mining
Also, the Forestry Services Division called for military and police assistance to curb the influx illegal miners in forest reserves in the country.
Officials say the satiation has reached uncontrolled levels as the destruction of river bodies, aquatic life as well as plant worsens.
Water bodies which serve as the only source of drinking water for communities in Amansie Central and West, Atwima Nwabiagya, Ahafo Ano North Districts, among others, have been polluted.
Forestry officials are overwhelmed by the invasion of reserves by illegal miners who have mounted several Champhi machines, a Chinese-technology, on Aboabo, Offin and Odaw streams.
The widespread invasion is visible in Apraprama, Supima, Subin Shelter Belt, Disiri and Asenayo as well as Tano-Offin and Prako Reserves and several others are under constant siege.
The Champhi comes with two engines one that powers the entire system and another that pumps water from and discharge waste into the stream.
About 50 of the machines manned by at least four men sit on the Odaw River within Odaw Forest Reserve in the Amansie Central District.
The once colourless stream now looks milky as the sound of Champhi continuously rams across the river.
Efforts by forestry officials to clamp down on the miners have been unsuccessful as they outwit the officers by swimming in the muddied water to escape.
Pursuing them comes at a cost to the Forestry commission especially when there are no live jackets while small canoes are used to pursue the illegal miners.
Professional divers carry forestry officials on their back to be able to reach the other side of Aboabo River after using the canoe to cross the Odaw stream in pursuit of the miners.
Nonetheless, officials persevered until they managed to set about 20 of the Champhi machines ablaze.
Assistant District Manager at Bekwai Forestry Office, Emmanuel Agyapong Donkor is overwhelmed by the development.
He says about four kilometers of the forest has been destroyed by the illegal miners.
“You have a lot of trees falling down because of the activities of the illegal miners and looking at the coloring of the river too, they’ve caused a lot of pollution to the water body. They have done a lot of damage to the water body,” he said.
Key and important plant species such as medicinal plants and game species have been lost as the destruction of the forest is so glare.
The Odaw River, which hitherto can be accessed on foot, has had its banks widened. This means one can only get to the other end of the river via canoe, boat or swim.
According to Mr. Agyapong, it will take a police-military intervention to flush out all illegal miners from the area.
“There is a lot of destruction caused to the Odaw Forest. The river course was not as wide as you see it [today] they have widened the banks of the river because the mineral resources are within the river banks.
“So what they do is they take the soils from the river banks and wash widening the course of the river. You these banks of the river are habitats for some of the tress and animals so we are losing all these diverse forms of species,” he said.
A distance from the river bank is Aborokyire, a small community whose inhabitants, hitherto, prided themselves as farmers.
The wooden sheds house illegal miners mostly from Volta and Bono Ahafo Regions.
Akwasi Anto, a native of Yeji-Kojobuffuor, who owns one of the wooden homes here had abandoned a less-paid masonry and farming ventures to engage in galamsey.
He has no immediate plans to give up the lucrative galamsey business, having acquired a boat at GH5,000, which he raised in three weeks.
For Anto and several of his colleagues, it would be difficult to abandon this lucrative galamsey business.
The activities of the illegal miners are peculiar not only to the Odaw Reserve.
The Rapid Response Team of the Forestry Commission cannot handle this alone said Assistant Regional Director of the Forestry Services Division. Isaac Noble Eshun, wants support from all stakeholders including police, military, media and the judiciary to fight the canker.
According to him, punishments meted out by the courts to offending miners are not punitive enough.
“In the past we have arrested illegal miners, both Ghanaians and foreigners and when we hand them over to prosecuting agencies, we are mostly not happy with the outcome.
“So we want the police especially to step up their prosecutorial role. That is the way they can assist us as a commission to deal with this menace. And the judiciary to also apply the relevant punitive measures as stated by law,” Mr Eshun appealed.
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.
Source: Adnan Adams Mohammed
News Editor, Economy Times

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