The Okyenhene, Osagyefo Amoatia Ofori Panin, has appealed to the government to freeze small-scale mining because it is not different from illegal mining (galamsey) that is destroying water bodies and the environment generally.
Describing small-scale mining as official galamsey, he said: “There is no way we can deal with galamsey if we allow small-scale mining to subsist. Small-scale mining must be banned alongside galamsey.”
“In practical terms, there are barely any differences, either organisationally or technologically, between unregistered illegal miners and registered small-scale miners,” he told the Daily Graphic in an exclusive interview at the Ofori Panin Fie in Kyebi in the Eastern Region last Friday.
“We cannot continue to issue licences to small-scale miners when, as a country, we lack the regulatory mechanism to evaluate risks thoroughly and ensure that the methods and chemicals used are safe.
“Both galamsey and small-scale mining involve rudimentary techniques of mineral extraction, highly manual processes, hazardous working conditions and minimal capital investment. The only difference is that registered small-scale miners have security of land tenure,” he added.
The Akyem Abuakwa Traditional Area, which is under the authority of the Okyenhene, has seen one of the worst effects of illegal mining, from the pollution of water bodies to the destruction of cocoa farms and agricultural land.
The Okyenhene expressed worry over the high level of pollution which he said could be a ticking public health time bomb.
Pollution and dangers
Ghana’s mining laws require that mining companies treat the water used for mining activities before it is discharged into the environment, but for illegal miners, water bodies are the centre of their operations, a situation that makes communities living along rivers vulnerable to the effects of the dangerous chemicals used.
Osagyefo Ofori Panin observed that galamsey activities exposed many Ghanaians to health challenges through the drinking of water contaminated by gaseous mercury, adding that many rural dwellers living along the banks of rivers were exposed to mercury-contaminated raw water.
Indeed, traces of two heavy metals, arsenic and mercury, found in the Birim River in a research conducted by the Water Research Institute (WRI) have been tagged as harmful by the World Health Organisation (WHO).
“Mercury may have toxic effects on the nervous, digestive and immune systems and on lungs, kidneys, the skin and eyes. People are mainly exposed to methylmercury, an organic compound, when they eat fish and shellfish that contain the compound,” the WHO said on its website.
The Okyenhene, therefore, urged the government to ban the sale of mercury.
In 2013, the Mahama Administration rolled out a big crackdown on illegal mining, which resulted in hundreds of illegal foreign miners being deported, but the campaign lost steam midway.
According to the Akyem Abuakwa overlord, it was because there were “big boys” in the galamsey chain who put their interest over the environment.
While he could not mention names, he said “trust me. There are big boys. These boys around here don’t have money to buy excavators and they don’t have money to pay for the rent which is about GH¢2000 per day.”
“Every one of them has sponsors, big ones coming from Accra. They have party affiliations. I’m not singling out any party but what I am saying is there is a whole mafia around this galamsey.”
He said since 2009, he had made several attempts to rid his land of illegal mining without success because whenever the excavators were seized there was always an excuse to hand it over to the owners.
Citing a recent example, he said “last October, after being so frustrated, I caught up with the Chief of the Defence Staff (CDS) and we discussed at length the illegal mining issue and I asked him to do me a favour by sending some of his men.”
He explained that together with some of his subjects, they flew over the area and spotted the hot spots.
“A week later, they came to this town with 350 soldiers, within four days, the whole galamsey area was shut down. On the sixth day, the soldiers were called back to Accra… orders from above…
“You can check this with the CDS. Within four to five days, the whole place was shut down, that is why I believe law enforcement can stop this. They were running, and they were hiding their machines.
“The soldiers went back to Accra. He was called and told don’t you know it is an election year? They placed votes ahead of voters’ life? After they left two days later, the operation began again.”
He said he had a similar experience with the late President J.E.A Mills, who directed the then Eastern Regional Minister Mr Samuel Ofosu-Ampofo, to deal with the situation.
He said the excavators which were seized were returned to the owners with the excuse that “the owners did not know the boys would be using it for galamsey.”
He said while he had largely educated his subjects on the dangers of galamsey and dismissed some of his staff who went into it, there were more armed foreigners in the pit who were not afraid to use their weapons.
“Out of frustration, I hired some people to chase the galamseyers out but they were armed so we gave up.”
PMMC & galamsey
Long before small-scale mining was formalised in 1986, Ghanaians in mining communities across the country who felt left out of mining jobs in the formal sector always found underground pits tempting and fruitful.
That was what gave birth to the expression ‘gather and sell’, which has been corrupted to ‘galamsey’ in Ghana.
The Okyenhene alleged that the state would be engaged in double standards if it condemned illegal mining but the Precious Minerals Marketing Corporation (PMMC) failed to do due diligence on the sources of the gold it bought.
“Galamsey or illegal mining accounts for about 35 per cent of total gold proceeds in the country. The government of Ghana has set up an institution responsible for the purchase of all gold in the country. In exercising its monopoly over gold purchase, the PMMC does not make a distinction between proceeds from illegal mining and regular mining,” he declared.
As the world became engulfed in conflicts, fuelled by rough diamonds sold by rebel movements to finance wars against legitimate governments, in May 2000, the Kimberly Process (KP), a joint government, industry and civil society initiative to stem the flow of conflict diamonds, was rolled out.
Under the KP, diamonds from conflict zones, referred to as blood diamonds, are not allowed to be sold on the international market.
According to Osagyefo Ofori Panin, while Ghana might not be at war, it was obvious that a section of Ghanaians and foreigners from West Africa and China had declared war on Ghana’s natural resources.
He recommended that, as a first step to dealing with the galamsey menace, the government must implement the policy principle underlying the KP Certificate Scheme.
“We cannot condemn the evils of illegal mining and still buy proceeds of gold from it,” he added, saying that gold from such sources could also be referred to as blood gold.
He described the media campaign against galamsey as a worthy initiative that needed to be sustained, saying: “As a nation, we are going nowhere if we continue this line. They have to sustain it. Now people are beginning to feel what the devastation is about. We have to continue to write about it because it is an attack on our national security.”
“Water pollution is a national security issue. These people leave cyanide and mercury in the soil and it could create a health problem. People can get cancer and all kinds of lung diseases, and yet we do not have the health facilities to take care of them,” the Okyenhene added.
AIDS & malaria
Apart from the environmental consequences, there are social effects that have largely been left out of the discourse.
Osagyefo Ofori Panin said apart from mercury poisoning, the threat of HIV and AIDS was rearing its ugly head, together with malaria, in illegal mining communities.
“Vast stretches of our land have become convenient breeding grounds for mosquitoes due to stagnant water collected in abandoned gaping holes resulting from galamsey operations. Malaria is now the number one cause of infant mortality.
“Our people are exposed to social and ethnic class distinctions not previously encountered. There is also the weakening of traditional family relations, with a devastating effect on the education of our children. School dropout rate has quadrupled and Basic Education Certificate Examination (BECE) results have gone from bad to worse.
“We cannot forget the negative consequences of galamsey on more sustainable forms of economic activities such as agriculture, forestry, tourism, water and fish resources and consequently the livelihood of ecologically dependent communities,” he lamented.
On the Chinese invasion of the country’s mining communities, the Okyenhene said it was a matter of law enforcement and called on the security agencies to deal with the crisis.