Many have wondered why illegal mining is still a challenge that confronts Ghana as a nation but few have tried actually to find out why it still persists. This investigation shows that powerful land owners, helpless local chiefs, politicians and a police service that turns a blind eye are all part of the problem.
Many of the miners who operate these illegal mining pits popularly known as ‘ghettos’ do not own the pits. “The Police in Prestea and the Traditional Chiefs are among those perpetuating the act of illegal mining in Prestea,” Mr. Dominic Nyame, General Secretary for Prestea Concerned Citizen Association, an advocacy group, has alleged.
According to Mr Nyame, in addition to owning machines that mine gold illegally on the river Ankobra, the Police also collect between GH¢200.00 and GH¢300.00 as bribes from truck drivers who carry water hose. “The Police always suspect any vehicle that carries water hose, as a ‘galamsey’ operator and they get excited anytime they chance upon them,” he revealed.
In a sharp rebuttal, the Police has denied the allegation. “It is not true, we don’t collect money,” the Prestea Huni-Valley District Police Commander, Deputy Superintendent of Police Mr. Benedict Wonkyi has refuted. He however admitted the huge challenge in monitoring all ‘galamsey’ sites in the area. “We patrol the area day and night, the sites are so many, so when the police move here they also move there,” he said.
Adjei Boadi is a 32-year-old ‘committee member’, a sponsor and an owner of ‘Alafa La Laine Ghetto,’ a name given to an area that houses about five ‘galamsey’ pits near the Prestea Government Hospital. “This business is my life,” he declared.
According to him, when his boys get the gold ore, there is somebody who comes to buy them. “We take what is due us and pay what is due to Nana,” he revealed.
“In 2005, the military swooped on illegal miners in Prestea, for polluting the river bodies. But this became a nine-day-wonder,” Mr. Nyame said.
On his part, the Chief of Himan Prestea, Nana Nteboa Pra IV confirmed that, “it is true that illegal miners bring some of their proceeds from their activities to us, we collect it because they operate on our land.”
“Our sector of the economy is quite challenging and that is the only way they can survive, when you are here you feel the heat to go into ‘galamsey’ but when you are outside, your perception is different, Nana Pra IV said.
“Sometimes when they are in trouble they come to you and I step in and plead,” he revealed.
He advised the government of Ghana to make ‘galamsey’ legal so that government can derive some tax benefit from it.
“If I tell them to stop, they will rather destool me,” Nana Pra expressed worry.
The Prestea concession is mined by the Golden Star Resources Limited. This makes all small scale miners operating on the concession illegal.
“It is not only in Prestea, it is happening in all the mining areas. The national security knows where illegal mining is taking place. It is a big issue that confronts all mining companies in Ghana. It is a problem which will not go away soon,” the Group Manager, Public Affairs of Golden Star Resources Limited, Mrs. Elaine Kwami bemoaned.
The Ministry of Mines has adopted a policy to accommodate and support small scale mining within a legal framework in areas such as Prestea.
“Some of the Chiefs have been identified as being part of the problem of illegal mining,” the Minister for Lands and Natural Resources, Mr. Mike Allen Hammah revealed this in an exclusive interview with ghanabusinessnews.com.
The Minister regretted the low penalties imposed on culprits engaged in illegal mining and mentioned that, judges would be given training to understand the issues concerning illegal mining in order to stimulate stiffer punishment to deter ‘galamseyers’.
Mr. Hammah also revealed that, the Ministry is in the process of establishing a Special Prosecution Unit to deal with issues of illegal mining and other related issues.
In a related development, the Member of Parliament for Prestea/Huni Valley in the Western Region, Francis Adu Blay Koffie has said that, “no government can stop galamsey, whether we like it or not, small scale mining has come to stay,”
“Illegal miners do not operate only in my constituency alone, it cuts across the whole Ghana. There is no employment and there are many Ghanaians who want to mine but where are the lands, the lands have been given out as concession and as a result of that, when they get any place they begin to dig. If the state gets them the land and registers them, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Mines Commission can monitor them, give them training, it will help,” the MP advised.
“I am against the small scale mining that is being conducted on the river beds because of pollution of the water. Government spends a lot of money to sink bore holes, so I am against it. I don’t have any proof of the Police and Chiefs supporting illegal mining in Prestea but what I will say is, it involves a lot of people. Government will have to come in,” he added.
According to Dr Toni Aubynn, Chief Executive Officer of The Ghana Chamber of Mines, “very often, the mining operations are done haphazardly with severe consequences to the environment, the surroundings, and even distant communities and to the miners themselves.”
By Pascal Kelvin Kudiabor
This investigation was supported by the Programme for African Investigative Reporting (PAIR).