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Ghana is not poor afterall; We did not need Aisha Huang to come and tell us

Sat, 27 May 2017 Source: Vicky Wireko-Andoh

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They came from thousands of miles away, crossing oceans and mountains, arrived in the country and went deep into our forests. They knew a lot of things that we, sitting just some scores of miles away, either did not know or perhaps knew very little about.

And so, they came, they saw, they liked what they discovered in the deep bush and they conquered our forests, our rich minerals and even some powerful citizens. They bought their way through and literally went on the rampage, destroying our water bodies and brutalising the environment and farm lands. The result is the sorrowful state illegal mining has left us with.

It has indeed taken foreigners like Aisha Huang and many others from near and far engaged in illegal mining, alongside their Ghanaian collaborators, to come and signal to us in such crude ways that Ghana is sitting on untapped stretch of gold and other precious minerals. And so, while we crossed our legs, sitting pretty, they damned our hospitable mining and immigration laws and launched scathing attacks on our forest lands the devastating results are now turning us all dizzy.

Indelible imprint of galamsey

The more I think about it, the more I believe illegal mining, or what has become known as galamsey, though a nasty evil, has succeeded in leaving an indelible imprint on my mind. I now know and firmly believe that Ghana was called Gold Coast for a definite reason. Our rivers and forests literally have gold linings but we have done very little, aside from what has been crafted as mineral laws, to preserve our wealth. Then with all the impunity, certain persons came into town with a hidden agenda to prove to us that we are not poor and should stop chasing the world with a cup in hand.

In the name of tradition and customs, we have put so many hindrances in the way of advancement and development, to the extent that even forest areas where people can farm to feed themselves and their families and also earn some living have been declared sacred. No matter how fertile they are, they cannot be touched, not farmed on, they should not be disturbed by any form of human activities otherwise the gods would get angry. Well, our beliefs and traditions have meant nothing to illegal miners. They have no respect for written laws how much more traditional beliefs. And so, they came with one agenda, bent on prosecuting that agenda irrespective of the consequences. This is where they have brought us to this day.

Prospects for rich minerals

A piece of news item the other day piqued my curiosity. Is it really true that eight of the regions in Ghana have been badly affected with the curse of illegal mining? According to the Minister for Lands and Natural Resources, Mr. Peter Amewu, most of the 230,000 kilometre square land area of the country had been affected by galamsey activities. Does this mean then that out of the ten regions, all these eight regions have or are seen to have prospects for rich minerals?

If this piece of information is right, and all these years we have had illegal mining carried out with impunities of the highest order, then do we really have any excuse to moan about poverty and the low living standards of our people?

Ghana is not poor

A few weeks ago, a Member of Parliament (MP), was said to have reported that he was approached by a foreign national who was actively in the galamsey business offering him, the MP, a whopping $1million to allow him to prospect for gold in his constituency. Really? I was stunned that instead of collecting the money to pursue development in the area and then going on to report for his arrest, he just let the man off with the $1 million, only to claim the angel that he is.

This claim of the MP no doubt collaborates my assertion that Ghana is not poor in the least, for if a foreign illegal miner can pay $1 million just to gain him free access to our forest to illegally dig for gold, then one can imagine how much he must have estimated he was going to earn from illegal mining, obviously based on his own research. Does this not reveal the fact that Madam Aisha Huang and her cohorts have made wealth out of us? And the nation definitely is the biggest loser? Herein lies a lead to gathering funds for the NPP government’s proposed $1 million for every constituency to pursue its development agenda.

When the Minister for Lands and Natural Resources announced his crusade on illegal mining a few weeks ago, the push back he received was enormous. Some of the Ghanaians who were deeply involved in illegal mining came out boldly to speak on camera bemoaning their losses. Some talked about earning between GHC4,000 and GHC10,000 a month from the little they were engaged in. How many middle management job positions would receive this monthly stipend without paying taxes to the state, one may ask?

Taxes and royalties

With all the earnings made from galamsey, illegal miners have perpetrated another illegality by not paying taxes and royalties as is expected by law.

In a publication by The Finder on its front page of 10th May, 2017, the country lost a whopping $2.3 billion in 2016 through galamsey activities. This, according to the publication, was revealed by Mr. Isaac Karikari, a Director at the Lands and Natural Resources Ministry, when he made a presentation to heads of African Diplomatic Missions in Accra. Further to that, just earlier this week, one of the Deputy Ministers of Lands and Natural Resources, Mr. Benito Owusu-Bio, in a meeting at Kumasi with District Chief Executives and the leadership of the two leading political parties, dropped another shocking information that more than $7 billion of gold obtained from illegal mining in 2016 alone was smuggled out of the country by foreigners who go to the galamsey sites to buy them. Because the gold purchased are smuggled, the state again earns nothing in terms of taxes.

Galamsey has indeed robbed rich Ghana not only of our environment and clean river bodies but also substantial sums that could have been channeled into development. But who do we blame? If our mining laws were strictly enforced, all the wealth that have gone into individual pockets, local and foreign, all the taxes and royalties that have been lost to the state through illegal mining would have developed our country beyond what it is now. Many more decent jobs could have been created, a lot more classrooms could have been built and plenty of clinics fully equipped.

Multi-mining integrated policy

One can only pray that the government’s newly adopted five-year Multi Mining Integrated Project (MMIP) would be quickly put into practice and all the mining laws that have been violated with impunity and which have driven our rich and beautiful country beyond environmental crises would be enforced.

Ghana cannot continue to lose out on minerals mining, especially when gold exports constitute a chunk of our foreign exchange earnings. In the news last week, we learnt that gold exports hit an all-time high at 3.84 million ounces in 2016. Thus, last year’s earnings were still the fourth highest in the country’s gold export history, coming after the impressive amounts attained from 2011 through to 2013. We cannot continue to mortgage our future gold earnings to illegal miners.

No, our country is by no standards a poor country. We have a lot of wealth buried underground and we are going around with cup in hand. We should all commit to supporting uprooting galamsey as we encourage the appropriate state institutions to streamline our laws on mining with strict policing by communities of what belongs to the people and not just the few. Generations of Ghanaians have definitely been robbed through galamsey. The steps so far taken by the Ministry of Lands and Natural Resources need to be commended as we march on to guard our forest lands, environment, river bodies and our untapped wealth. We have no reason to cry poverty.

Columnist: Vicky Wireko-Andoh