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What’s the fate of citizens in Ghana’s mining communities? – Asks Dr Mensah

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Dr AK Mensah

In 2012, an Australian company, Castle Minerals discovered graphite in Ghana, not long after lithium has been discovered following the discovery of iron ore. Meanwhile, for over a century, mining has been going on in Ghana. Gold, diamond, bauxite, and manganese have been mined.

In this exclusive interview held through social media, Ghana Business News spoke to Research Scientist, Dr Albert K Mensah of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, who in his vast areas of research has studied the mining environment.

Dr Mensah argues that mining communities in Ghana are the evidence of bad roads, deplorable school structures, land degradation, water pollution, and varied social impacts, and states that the beneficial impacts of mining in Ghana, even if there are any, have been that on the central government’s revenues and foreign exchange earnings but real positive benefits on host mining communities are minimal.

Asked what he thinks about the benefits of mining to Ghana, he cited a 2003 report by the Bank of Ghana that said out of the $5.2 billion worth of gold produced from 1992 – 2002, the government of Ghana only received $87.3 million in corporate taxes and royalties.

This, he says, tells in part that Ghana has not benefitted from the mining sector.

“This question can further be answered by solely looking at the state of the mining communities in Ghana. One will rather ask, what is the fate of residents in mining communities? Agenda 21, the document that serves as a blueprint of sustainable development in the 21st century lists 27 principles to guide human activities regarding developmental projects,” he said.

According to him, principle number one states that human beings are at the center of all developmental projects, meaning that any project that disrupts livelihood of the people cannot be said to be sustainable.

“Mining communities in Ghana are epitomic evidence of bad roads, deplorable school structures, land degradation, water pollution, and varied social impacts. Finally, to answer this question, one can take a look at mining communities such as those in Obuasi, Prestea, Konongo, Bibiani! I thus, argue that the beneficial impacts of mining in Ghana, even if there are any, have been that on the central government in improving its national revenues and foreign exchange earnings but real positive benefits on host mining communities are minimal,” he said.

On mining sustainability in Ghana, Dr Mensah said, mineral resources are non-renewable, meaning that the resources will be depleted with time as the mineral exploration goes on i.e., there is a lifespan for the mineral resources.

“A sustainable mine is one that makes profits, cares for the mine workers and host community, and ultimately takes measures to protect the environment. Thus, mining sector sustainability consists of three main pillars- economic, social, and environmental. Economic sustainability is what benefits the mining companies and industries (i.e., the profits), so that will not be my focus in this interview,” he said, adding, “my focus will dwell on the social and environmental sustainability pillars. First, let’s look at the social sustainability – entails care for the mining communities through provision of social amenities and via corporate social responsibilities,” he said.

Dr Mensah pointed out that mining communities in Ghana are characterised with lack of basic social amenities such as functional hospitals and quality schools, highly contaminated rivers, and compromised food quality – which in turn affects and impacts negatively on the livelihood of the people.

“In conclusion, Ghana may not be achieving the social sustainability,” he said.

Secondly, he said, environmental sustainability – entails developing technologies in order to minimize or eliminate the negative impacts of mining (a strategy called concurrent rehabilitation). Further, it involves devising technologies to repair the negative effects of mining in order to restore the mine spoil for future use (i.e., post-mining reclamation), he said.

“Mining communities are characterised by land degradation, spillage of contaminated effluents into streams and rivers, abandonment of mining sites without reclamation, among others. In conclusion, Ghana may be far away from achieving environmental sustainability in the mining sector,” he said.

Mining communities in Ghana are epitomic evidence of bad roads, deplorable school structures, land degradation, water pollution, and varied social impacts.

New precious metals have been found in Ghana. Lithium and recently, graphite. Do you think the agreements on these new finds would be informed by past mining deals, or you don’t think anything would change?

“I think nothing will change inferring from previous mining deals and enactments. More than thirty mining laws have been developed, repealed, reviewed, and amended since 1980 and our mineral mining sector is still plagued with so many challenges of inadequate participation of the project affected people and tangible benefits on the host mining communities.

I argue that the discovery of these new minerals will further deepen poverty and compound the already existing problems in the mining communities. Farmlands will be lost, biodiversity will be depleted, vegetation will be cleared to pave way for construction of the mining processing plants, spillage will occur from mine tailings into the ecosystem, food quality in the mining communities will be affected negatively, water quality will be compromised in these communities, and there will be so many social impacts including prostitution and rise in the cost of goods and services in these communities!

These will concomitantly have heinous consequences on the livelihoods and health of the residents living in the host communities. Nothing will change, it will be repetition of the old mining and poverty breeding story!,” he said.

Asked what is graphite, what is it used for, he explained that it is a form of carbon with a gray crystalline allotropic structure. It can occur as a mineral in some rocks and can be made from coke. Uses include solid lubricant, in pencils, and as a moderator in nuclear reactors.

What recommendations, if any, would you give to handlers and managers of Ghana’s mineral resources as they sign deals with multinationals in the exploitation of graphite?

“The above heinous consequences will change if mining policies are made to benefit the very host project affected communities. This can happen by ensuring effective active participation of the very communities where the mineral mining takes place.

Second, by taking a look at the distribution of the mining revenues. Currently, mining companies pay 7 per cent of their revenues as royalties. 80 per cent out of this amount is paid to the central government (retained in the consolidated fund) and 20 per cent is transferred to the mineral development fund (MDF). 10 per cent is then reserved in the MDF and 10 per cent is transferred to the office of the administrator of stool lands. Eventually, only 10 per cent is paid to the local host community and out of that only 1.8 per cent ends up in the communities through the chiefs. These arrangements should be reversed- by giving say 60 per cent to the mining communities for developmental projects and 40 per cent to the central government. In that way, mining will be seen to be benefiting the host communities where the mineral exploration takes place and which people bear all the brunt of the mineral extraction!” He said.

By Emmanuel K. Dogbevi

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