The people of Bepotintin near Ashanti Bekwi in Ghana are probably relieved, following the arrest of the Chinese born “galamsey” or illegal mining operator, Aisha Huang, whose area of operation included their farmlands.
They must be relieved because the continuous vandalising of their erstwhile cocoa farms has ceased. But their relief is short-lived, because their once lucrative cocoa farms are no more and in its place are lost livelihoods, degraded farm lands and destroyed water bodies.
In the words of Civic Response’s Albert Katako, who visited the area recently, “the worst is yet to come, because the cumulative impacts of hazardous chemicals used in mining, will begin to manifest later in the health of the people, in about five years from now.”
It is for this reason, among others, that participants at a forum held a fortnight ago in Accra on irresponsible mining called for a one-year moratorium on illegal mining, within the short term. This is to allow for space for broadened discussions on the subject and to define long term mutually beneficial and appropriate solutions.
These are some of the key recommendations participants made at the event dubbed “Forum on the Campaign against Irresponsible Mining,” organised by Wacam, Tropenbos Ghana and Citi FM. The participants were mainly members of civil society organisations, media, academia, public and private sector institutions.
They concluded that any type of mining, which severely degrades land, water bodies and forests, is not worth pursuing. This is because, aside destroying the livelihoods of people, especially those who directly depend on these natural resources, such mining threatens food security and is not cost effective eventually.
The tone for the discussion was set by the Chairman for the occasion, Nana Kobina Nketsia, Paramount Chief of Essikado Traditional Area in the Western Region, and the team of facilitators namely Umaru Sanda of Citi FM, Mrs. Hannah Owusu-Koranteng of Wacam and Kobina Nketsia of Tropenbos Ghana.
Their posture on the subject was that “illegal mining has turned the nation’s blessings into curses, resulted in unprecedented environmental damages; government’s demonstrated commitment to tackle the issue head-on is commendable; but there is need to clearly define what the problem is so that the right strategies may be found.”
Subsequently, three key presentations were delivered that traced the historical perspective of mining; established the legal context and implications; and provided an overview of the Multilateral Mining Integration Project (MMIP) of the Ministry of Lands and Natural Resources.
John Opoku, a legal practitioner, mentioned the historical land marks in mining as including the arrival of the Portuguese and their interactions with the chiefs; farmers in the early days engaging in artisanal mining as part time activity; and the fine gold exhibition organised under President Hilla Liman’s administration in 1980 that publicised Ghana internationally as a rich gold country.
He mentioned others as the participation of Ghana in the World Bank and International Monetary Fund’s Economic Recovery Programme (ERP) and Structural Adjustment Programme (SAR) in 1983 under President Jerry John Rawlings.
Mr. Opoku explained that these programmes introduced the three elements of privatisation, liberalisation or open market and globalisation into the national economy, thereby granting free access to all sectors of the economy including mining to the international community.
He also made reference to the introduction of the Minerals and Mining Law 1986 (PNDC L) 153, saying it legalised surface mining in Ghana.
Augustine Niber of the Centre for Public Interest Law (CEPIL) threw more light on the legal dimensions of the debate and explained that government’s objective for the introduction of the ERP and SAP was to attract foreign direct investment to help turn around the general economy of Ghana, and the mining sector in particular, as it was near collapse at the time.
He recalled that PNDC L 153 “was passed to speed up the process of deregulation and the freeing of the mining sector from state intervention.” M. Niber added that “… this generated financial and other incentive including the formal introduction of surface or open pit mining ….”
He noted that “since the aim of PNDC L 153 was to attract foreign direct investment, the law was heavily skewed towards the interest of the investor than the overall interest of the country, and thus failed to provide protection for affected mining communities in particular.”
Delving further into the sector’s legal instruments, Mr. Niber said attempts were made to correct the shortcomings of PNDC L 153 with the passage of other laws. These include the Minerals and Mining Act 2006 (Act 703), passed to govern the operations of both large and small scale mining. Another one is Act 703, which repealed the Small Scale Gold Mining Law 1989 (PNDC 218), and the Diamonds Decree 1972 (NRCD 32).
“However,” he observed, “instead of Act 703 correcting the short comings of PNDC L 153, it fell short of expectation and rather compounded the problems with additional short comings resulting in some of the issues of irresponsible mining, we’re experiencing today….”
Mr. Niber made some proposals to help sustain the fight against irresponsible mining. “We have to reform our mining related institutions and eliminate the conflicting roles that have sometimes hindered their operations. We also need to provide the regulators with the power to prosecute offenders in their enforcement of laws….”
The Facilitator of the Multilateral Mining Integrated Project, Dr. Isaac Karikari, said the five-year project seeks to control irresponsible mining in the country through a collaborative, law enforcement and technological approach.
He said, “The project is an opportunity for civil society groups and other stakeholders interested in tackling illegal mining activities, to make recommendations that can feed into government’s policy action for a sustained campaign and lasting solution.”
His presentation was followed by a panel discussion that brought to the fore how different groups perceive and are responding to the issue at stake. It further highlighted subtle underlying problems that have to be taken into consideration in the fight against irresponsible mining.
The Director of the Ghana Association of Small Scale Miners, Nii Adjetey, was openly disturbed about how small scale mining operations have been lumped together with that of galamsey operators and asked for a distinction to be made between the two.
He stated, “We are licensed and our activities are governed by law. We do not engage in illegal mining and we’re even against galamsey operators, so we want the moratorium on small scale mining to be lifted.”
This call was opposed by Daniel Owusu-Koranteng of Wacam. He said “the issue at stake is about the negative impacts of mining on the country, whether by legal or illegal means and described mining as “A Tragedy of the Commons.”
For his part, Dr. Emmanuel Yamoah Tenkorang of the Institute of Development Studies, University of Cape Coast, noted, “The issues of mining are very complicated, involving a power imbalance with strong lobbying by the multinationals.”
This was following by hearty discussions on the floor which all pointed to one thing: “the need for a comprehensive national cost analysis of the mining sector, offering recommendations including the possible trade-offs the country will have to make to ensure sustainable development, secured livelihoods and the health of the people.”
By Ama Kudom-Agyemang, Accra, Ghana