How mercury is driving the illegal mining business in Ghana

It remains uncertain whether Ghana can win the fight against illegal mining as the country maintains a loose regulatory regime on mercury accessibility.

Mercury, the most commonly-used chemical for gold extraction in the small and artisanal mining industry, often fall into wrong hands due to the gap in regulating the product by the Minerals Commission, can confirm.

Research has shown that the Minerals Commission issues a renewable license to importers and dealers of mercury at a fee of GH¢7,000 per year while that of industrial users is pegged at GH¢1,000. Free licenses are also issued to educational institutions to use the product for educational purposes.

However, investigations indicate that the commission does not regulate the product from dealers to the end-users and as a result, it is sold on the open market to all who can afford.  

In the mining town of Tarkwa in the Western Region, counted about 10 shops where this silvery-white substance is sold.

Both legal and illegal artisanal miners troop to these shops as buyers require no permit or documentary evidence in order to purchase the substance from these dealers.

This regulatory gap has been fuelling the illegal mining business popularly known as galamsey in the country, has observed.

George Appiah, an illegal miner in Tarkwa, confirmed that, having access to the product was not one of the challenges facing his business.

“Occasionally, we encounter the police raiding our mining sites but having access to mercury is not a problem at all. It’s sold everywhere”, he said.

Isaac Mwinbelle, a Principal Inspector of Mines at the Western Regional Inspectorate Division of the Minerals Commission, says the commission has not yet explored the option of restricting access of the substance to end-users.

He doubted whether such an option even if adopted, could curtail illegal mining since some miners could still smuggle the product into the country due to the country’s porous borders.

“One thing about galamsey is that they’re ready to do anything to ensure that their business goes on. They’ll definitely find a way out.

“They have an organized system like a mafia and so they’ll use their mafia tactics to get their way through”, he said.

Meanwhile, Ghana on March 23, 2017, fully ratified the Minamata Convention which seeks to reduce the use of mercury in artisanal mining.

It is however not too clear whether as the country embarks on this journey of implementing the objectives of the Minamata Convention, it would require end-users of mercury to obtain permit before buying it, in the same way some drugs are bought only by a doctor’s prescription.

By Marlvin-James Dadzie

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