Environment Minister, Mahama Ayariga says it is time for government to regularize illegal small scale mining (galamsey) activities as a more proactive way to stop pollution of water bodies.
Mahama Ayariga says attempts to halt illegal mining activities have not yielded the desired results because “wherever there is mineral resources people will do everything and whatever it takes to be able to extract those resources”.
The admission comes more than three years after the government set up anti-galamsey taskforce in May 2013 to clamp down on the practice.
President John Dramani Mahama who inaugurated a five-member inter-ministerial taskforce to fight the menace named as Chairman, then Minister for Lands and Natural Resources Alhaji Inusah Fuseini, with then Minister for Defence, Mr Mark Woyongo, then Minister for Interior Mr Kwesi Ahwoi, Dr Joe Oteng Adjei, and Ms Hannah Tetteh as members.
All the minsters have since been reshuffled but the ministry remains on the taskforce which is responsible for seizing all the equipment the illegal miners use to destroy the environment.
They are to arrest and prosecute both Ghanaians and non-Ghanaians engaged in small scale illegal mining, deport all non-Ghanaians engaged in the practice and revoke licenses of Ghanaians who have sub-leased their concessions to non-Ghanaians.
They would also hold Metropolitan, Municipal and District chief executives and district security councils accountable for any illegal mining activity in their areas of jurisdiction among other responsibilities.
But revealing the struggles government is facing, Mahama Ayariga told a story of a DCE who has been sued by an illegal miner after his earth-moving equipment were seized during a crackdown.
According to the minister, the DCE now has to show up in court every two weeks as the hearing goes one.
Signaling exasperation in the fight against galamsey, the minister told Joy FM’s Super Morning Show Thursday that a new approach is needed to deal with its destructive effects.
“I called Minerals Commission, I called the EPA, I called all the stakeholders and I said look, it looks as if we cannot stop them from mining so why don’t we help them to mine properly so that we avoid the pollution”, he said.
Describing the challenges in fighting galamsey, Mahama Ayariga expressed shock after touring illegal mining areas where he observing in the Bamba area that the miners go into the forest reserve at night to dig deep pits.
“They have a way of covering it and you won’t know that there is a pit there…you just won’t know” he said.
Mahama Ayariga said the menace of galamsey cannot be blamed entirely on central government noting that the responsibility to stop it is a shared one. “It extends to traditional authorities and local government authorities. Many of these institutions are failing” are lamented.
The minister also said that his ministry cannot be free from blame as several water bodies suffer severe pollution. “My officers ought to do more than they are doing”, he admitted.
Pointing to resource constraints, Mahama Ayariga said the Environmental Protection Agency which is under his Ministry does not have offices in all 216 districts across the country.
The EPA’s lack of reach is affecting the ministry’s ability to monitor and track operations of illegal miners. “Siting in Accra here, it will be difficult for me to know where in the Offin area somebody is carrying out illegal mining activities…I need intelligence”.
Explaining steps his ministry to gather intelligence, Mahama Ayariga said about 1,000 youths have been recruited and are undergoing training to support the districts monitor the activities of illegal miners.
The recruits are expected to work under the Youth Employment Agency’s module for environment, he said.
The illegal small-scale miners account for approximately 10% of the gold production in Ghana, research has indicated. The processing techniques used in illegal mining have led to the contamination of water bodies and soil.
Toxic chemicals like cyanide, arsenic, sulphate, and heavy metals are released into water bodies which some experts say defy the treatment regime used by the Ghana Water Company.