The spate at which lands in the country are being defiled in the name of small scale mining leaves much to be desired. It is unfortunate the previous and current governments have not had the political will to stamp authority on fraudulent gold trade which has been on the upsurge these days. Not only do these illegal gold dealers destroy the environment through illegal mining popularly called galamsey, they also make huge returns from their operations. So lucrative in the galamsey business that, foreign nationals including Chinese have ventured into it and are destroying the environment with reckless abandon. The Daily Graphic in its Monday edition reported that illegal Chinese miners have invaded the concession of Anglogold Ashanti at Kwanwire near Obuasi and established perhaps the biggest galamsey mine in the Ashanti Region. According to the report during a visit to the site last Friday, four bull dozers were seen cutting through muddy grounds in the large area close to river Kwanwire for gold. What was most despicable was the fact that the river is the main source of drinking water for the residents of some of the villages downstream. In 1989, the then government worried about illegal mining passed PNDC law 218 to legalise small scale mining in a bid to check galamsey. However the move appears to be yielding little dividend as illegal mining activities are on record high if the 2008 Ghana Chamber of Mines report is anything to go by.
Galamsey did not start today, it has lived through almost all governments. Under the law, small scale miners need to be registered in order to work on land to which they have legal access and are subject to regulation by the Environmental Protection Agency or the Miners Commission or both. Recently there was mad rush by the youth to the beach of Elmina in search of Alluvial gold, a situation which compelled the authorities to close down the beach by placing military and police surveillance there. At Prestea - Huni Valley in the Western Region, the youth have taken to illegal mining to the detriment of their education. In the Upper East Region, precisely at Nangodi, illegal mining has become the order of the day and at Kyebi in the Eastern Region the situation is despicable. Galamsey is thriving because they are largely unregulated and the activists operate outside the law. Galamsey operators and to some extent the few licensed ones cause serious environmental damages. In some areas, operators enter forest reserves, illegally cut down timber woods just to get access to gold under the forest land. Some of them de-vegetate and do not reclaim the trenches they dig. They use mercury for processing the alluvial gold which is very harmful to health. A lot of the galamsey operators engage in blasting and other activities which pose a nuisance. The long and short of it all is that the reckless activities of these illegal miners pollute the river beds as they easily release cyanide, a poisonous chemical into them. A section of the public argues that galamsey guarantee easy jobs for the youth and reduces crime among others in the mining communities but in reality have we sat down to examine the risky nature of the job? Most of these operators meet their untimely death in the course of business. They are trapped underneath the pits they dig. This brings pain and agony to their families and people in the community. What is worst is that most of these galamsey miners are always armed to the teeth, which is a threat to security.
The activities of galamsey operators affect the earnings of the major mining companies which pay royalties to the chiefs of the land on which they operate as well as dividend to government. This helps in boosting national revenue. Most of these companies in pursuant of their social responsibility to the community in which they operate build schools, community centres, health facilities, drill boreholes and provide alternative livelihood to people in communities where their mines are located. The Mining Companies can help discourage the galamsey operators from their illegal activities by offering them jobs, soft loans and other forms of capital to start their own businesses. Chiefs who encourage their subjects to engage in galamsey must be dealt with according to law. We are aware some chiefs and opinion leaders are behind the lawless galamsey operations. They offer land and other incentive, to these operators. The security Agencies must regularly swoop on the galamsey pits to apprehend the perpetuators. All efforts must be put in to make galamsey an unattractive venture else it keeps destroying our energetic youth. If we keep damaging our arable land and water bodies in the name of illegal mining, we must remember that indeed we are destroying our very selves. A stitch in time they say saves nine.
BY: JUSTICE MINGLE, A JOURNALIST.