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REGULATE OR STOP ILLEGAL SMALL -SCALE MINING ACTIVITIES

BY Godfred Kwaku Yormesor

 

If there is any Ghanaian citizen who claims to be oblivious of the menace or potential dangers posed to the national psyche by the escalation of illegal small scale - mining activities popularly dubbed “ galamsey”, he is neither realistic nor fair to himself.

 

Even if one’s community of origin is in no way affected, it is equally appropriate to appreciate the yawning dimensions to which havoc is metted out to innocent human life and precious national property in contemporary times.

 

I recalled during my active career as a Civil Servant, I was posted by my organization, the Information Services Department, to Tarkwa as Municipal Information Officer from 1987 to 1990. Among my numerous administrative engagements, in a typical mining enclave, was the monitoring and reportage on the activities of illegal small-scale miners to central government for action.

 

It is gratifying to note that the youth in every community across the country have the obvious right to access and exploit the endowed local natural resources to their advantage in order to enhance livelihood in a sustainable manner devoid of jeopardizing the values for posterity. Traditional authority in communities around Tarkwa- Abontiaku, Awudua, Bogoso, Prestea-Himan, Nsuta, Dompim, Damang and others have on numerous occasions, ruled against the practice but to no avail. There were bans on people carrying sacks containing a mixture of sand and stone treatable for gold ore in addition to some local mining tools and equipment.

 

Pit collapse, chemical poisoning and drowning, in the case of alluvial gold mining, in the deep waters of the Ankobrah River, posed death threats to the illegal small –scale miners. But it appeared that the myth was that where ever gold are abound, it was imperative for extraction at all cost whatever the implications.

 

Illegal Small-Scale Operators

 

The group of people termed galamsey operators proved not only notorious but were extroverts in society at the time. They organized occasional rampages, amid singing and dancing to Asafo war songs to stir up society. While the humane ones among them would like to remain unanimous, how dare people speak ill against their nefarious activities   to the detriment of society. The apparently drug-addicted galamsey operators were often reported to have excavated illicit tunnels which opened into the mainstream shafts of the erstwhile State Gold Mining Corporation (SGMC), Tarkwa, ventured into their underground concessions under cover of night and made away with their loot.

 

I recounted a report emanated from my office on the alleged harassment of SGMC underground workers by local illicit gold miners.

 

One would wonder at the personality or status of the people instigating galamsey operations in the Wassa Municipality at the time.  They dug very close to the pavement of roads, railways lines and near the foundations of buildings which collapsed in no time. Worse still, they were notorious for excavating cemeteries in some communities. Surprisingly, affected people scarcely raised protests for fear of their lives and property. Invariably, they persisted as an adamant and recalcitrant group heedless of standing norms or regulations in Society.

 

Arrests

 

One could enquire about the concerns of the law enforcement agencies, especially the police, under such trying circumstances. Obviously, they might have their own intelligence ramifications. But I recalled an incidence in which a section of them returned from a clamp down on illegal small-scale operators and a dispute arose in which a junior officer opened fire on a senior officer gunning him down instantly over the share of their results.

 

In another development, a section of the galamsey operators were arraigned before the Tarkwa Circuit Court for trespassing. Surprisingly, the Judge discharged them to the chagrin of the hardworking and efficient security officers who toiled to apprehend them in hot chase. Instantly, one of the victims cast a slur and threatened the life of the corporate security officers who arrested them to the court.

 

In an endeavour to inject discipline into their operations, the then novel District Assembly invited the galamsey operators through the respective Assembly members to a conference to deliberate on the prospects of their operations. Imagine, only a handful of them turned up.

 

Observations

 

In the 1990s, besides Wassa (Tarkwa) municipality, the other parts of the country seriously degraded by the activities of the illegal small-scale mining operations were Dunkwa-on-Offin in the Upper Denkyira District of the Central Region, the Ghana Consolidated Diamond Corporation (GCD) of Akwatia in addition to some Districts in Ashanti and Eastern Regions.

 

Unfortunately, today, a significant proportion of the country has been engulfed in the galamsey operations ranging from the Northern Sahel – Savannah sectors to the forest ecological zones where they impinge with impunity and savagery on the environment. Chemical misapplication emanating from the misuse of cyanide and mercury culminating in heavy metal and chemical residues, have polluted the environment in the affected areas rendering them ineffective in soil an agricultural productive activities.

 

Way Forward

 

The incidence of foreign mechanized small-scale mining activities in the Wassa, Amansie, Ahafo Annor and Birim Districts, among others, in the late 1990s led to the strict adherence of the environmental rules and regulations pertaining to re-aforestation, soil fertility regeneration, performance of corporate social responsibilities and administration of workers’ packages. The coloration and contamination of the waters of the Rivers Ankobrah, Prah and the Birim rendering them scientifically unpalatable for human consumption, are challenges yeaning for resolution.

 

The coalition of media houses in the fight against galamsey is commendable and tipped to achieve meaningful impacts on the people in the affected areas.

 

The joint partnerships between the political leaderships of the Ministries of Environment Science, Technology and  Innovation as well as Lands and Forestry to put an end to the menace of illegal small –scale mining activities is in the right and appropriate direction. Above all, the field tour of the Ministers of Lands and Natural Resource to the badly affected areas as a major policy directive is laudable and deemed to have meaningful impact in the very near future.

 

The writer is a Retired Deputy Director of Information Services Department.

 

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