By: Kwesi Biney
I have observed that in this country, when some institutions or organizations are given statutory or constitutional powers to execute certain policies on behalf of the state, some leaders or managers of those institutions tend to use the powers so vested in them in such capricious and whimsical manner which in the long run, tend to affect the nation in a very negative way. Common sense dictates that even when we have all the powers to engage in certain activities, the overall interest of the nation, not only for today but for the future, must be the guiding principle and consideration for the actions we take within the framework of the law. In a country where laws do not lend themselves to regular repeal and amendment, even in the face of changing situations and circumstances, one expects leaders to use more of their brains in protecting this nation without offending the law.
Today, one of the institutions set up by Parliament on the orders of the 1992 Constitution which is fast- tracking the destruction of this nation in a very profound manner, is the Minerals Commission. The Minerals Commission was established under Article269 of the 1992 Constitution and its own Act 450 of 1993. The Commission is responsible for ‘the regulation and management of the utilization of the mineral resources of Ghana and the coordination and implementation of policies relating to mining’. It also ‘ensures compliance with Ghana’s Mining and Mineral Laws and Regulation through effective monitoring’.
The Commission also has a number of functions primary among them is ‘to formulate recommendations of national policy for exploration and exploitation of mineral resources with special reference to establishing national priorities, having due regard to the national economy’. The Commission is also required by law to monitor the implementation of laid down Government Policies on minerals and report on this to the Minister as well as monitoring all bodies or establishments with responsibilities for minerals and again report to the Minister. The Minerals Commission in addition to its functions also has the responsibilities to ‘ensure that Ghana’s mineral endowment is managed on a sustainable economic, social and environmental basis…………….’ That Ghana is richly endowed with gold is no news to tell anybody since gold exploration and exploitation began in this country so long ago.
The question to ask the Minerals Commission is, going by their stated primary function above, what national policies are being used in the exploitation of this non-renewable resource in a manner that does not endanger the collective survival of our generation and the generations unborn? None, absolutely none! Yes, it may well be that from Hamile to Half Assini, and from Aflao to Cape-Three Points, there exists pure unadulterated gold. Does that mean we should allow the exploitation of the resource simultaneously all over the place in Ghana when the Commission does not even have the capacity to monitor and bring violators of the rules and regulations of mining to book? When the Commission has given licenses to miners to mine and in the process, water bodies have been polluted and in some cases totally destroyed, the Commission then turns round and expects other agencies which did not issue the licenses in the first place to chase out the perpetrators of those acts. When the Regional Coordinating Councils, in collaboration with the security agencies move on erring gold miners to stop them from their deadly activities, does the Commission know how much it costs them to deal with the situation?
Can’t the Commission, in its ‘national policy for exploration and exploitation of mineral resources’ demarcate certain areas of the country and allow exploration and exploitation of gold over a certain number of years, say 30 years, without touching other reserves until those demarcated zones had been fully exploited to the best of our economic, social and environmental benefit before we move on to another area? Under such circumstances, will the Commission not be in a better position to monitor the activities of gold miners and ensure full compliance of the laws and regulations?
What is happening today in this country is that, yes, the gold exist so let us exploit it regardless of their negative effects on our country in the short, medium and long terms. There is no national plan for the exploitation of this very resource in a very sustainable manner, economically, socially and environmentally. In the process, both our own nationals and foreign nationals have found liberty in digging for gold anywhere they find them. They are destroying our environment, water bodies are being polluted all over the place, arable lands for agriculture are at the mercy of the gold exploiters across this beautiful country. Is Ghana the only country in which gold is being exploited? Does the criminal and reckless destruction of our environments have a counterpart in South Africa for example? Why do we always want what is supposed to be a blessing to turn into a curse?
From what is happening to us in this country, the presence of gold has become a curse rather than a blessing. For the reason that there is an omnibus exploitation of gold resources, the Commission has become so overwhelmed with the damage that is being inflicted on this nation by gold miners, particularly those in the informal sector, such that the Commission cannot insist and ensure that the right things are done to protect the environment and also protect other economic activities and acceptable social lives of the people.
My biggest worry, and in my thinking, the greatest damage the Minerals Commission is inflicting on this country is the fact that it allows Multi-National Mining Companies to cut down cocoa trees and extract gold from both the surface and the belly of the land. This is the most senseless act of the Commission and by extension, those who take the decisions there, and I will tell you why. Even though there is so much gold deposit in this country, cocoa as an agricultural produce has remained the single largest foreign exchange earner for this country. While governments subsidize inputs for the purposes of increasing cocoa production, the Minerals Commission goes behind governments and gives cocoa lands out as gold mining concessions to companies who come and cut down the cocoa trees which are our major sources of foreign exchange. This is madness and senseless.
Why should this country give more preference to gold production in cocoa producing areas than the cocoa itself? Apart from the fact that cocoa gives the nation more foreign exchange than gold, the farmers themselves earn more for their labour on the cocoa farms with its attendant social security than workers in the mining sector. Uncontrolled gold mining, as it is being witnessed in Ghana today, destroys the environment, cocoa regenerates the land, protects the flora and fauna, preserves the water bodies and streams and are passed on from one generation to another. Cocoa farms are not just economic ventures, they are sources of social status for the owners and the security for their children and grandchildren. The wards of cocoa farmers enjoy scholarships from COCOBOD for secondary school education as long as they produce cocoa. Once they lose their farms, that opportunity for their children to benefit from the COCOBOD sponsorship is lost. This nation is today confronted with an evil of an economic activity which is drowning all of us and endangering our future.
Can’t people entrusted with public office, for once, reason and act in a manner that will ensure the collective safety and security for all of us instead of thinking of what they can get as individuals, while the nation bleeds? Today, no one knows the volume of mercury that has been pumped into our water bodies, which are the major sources of water for both domestic and industrial consumption, because of mining activities. As for lands destroyed without the opportunity to reclaim, the least talked about, the better it is, all in the name of mining.
The efforts by the state to deal with the ongoing destruction of the environment must be a national security affair and not the District Assemblies since they do not have the resources to deal with it. God ‘shave’ us. Davi, my mahogany bitters please.