Is the ban on the importation of excavators really necessary?

Sun, 7 Apr 2019 Source: Cameron Duodu

The decision of the Government to ban the importation of excavators from May 1, 2019, is an indication of how irksome the activities of galamseyers have become.

The statement announcing the ban, signed by Mr Kwahu Ofori Asiamah, Minister of Transport, explained that “the decision was made by the Cabinet at its sitting on March 27, 2019. The statement said that “the Customs Division of the Ghana Revenue Authority and the Ministry of Trade and Industry had taken note of the directive by the Cabinet.”

The public was, therefore, being urged to take note of the directive, the statement added.

In taking this decision, the Government must have taken into consideration, the fact that despite the “roadmap” announced with great fanfare by Professor Kwabena Frimpong-Boateng, chair-person of the Inter-Ministerial Committee on Illegal Mining (IMCIM) galamsey – or a camouflaged version of it -- is still going on in the country.

Now, the greatest damage being done to our rivers and water-bodies as well as the rural environment, generally, by galamseyers, is through the use of excavators and bulldozers. Yet, it does not appear that the efforts of the DVLA and other agencies to track the machines and thereby prevent them from being used for galamsey’s destructive purposes, have produced the desired results. So, it appears logical that none should be imported for the time being.

However, logical though such a measure may be, it begs quite a few questions. The first one is: why have the agencies charged with tracking and impounding excavators being used for galamsey not been able to do so?

Another question is this: Is there really no ingenious way the anti-galamsey agencies can beef up their efforts and ensure that no excavators are taken into the forests and water-courses to cause damage? What methods have the agencies employed in that direction and why did these methods fail?

You see, banning the importation of excavators is easy, but it will result in unexpected consequences that will prove harmful to the economy. Road-constructors and house-builders will be the first to be hit by the ban. In fact, everyone charged with erecting essential social amenities, such as hospitals, clinics, schools and markets, will also suffer.

Indeed, the scarcity that the ban on the importation of excavators will produce may inevitably result in an inflation in the cost of procuring excavators for public works. This will, in turn, threaten the practicality of the Government’s own budget estimates, as approved by Parliament.

For it stands to reason to expect that contractors working on government projects will pass on any “unforeseen expenses” that they encounter after they have won contracts. “Variation Orders” will become common with regard to the execution of projects, and that too can become a means of corrupting public officers.

There are two other considerations that make the ban on the importation of excavators undesirable. If one assumes that excavators are currently being allowed to be used by galamseyers because the galamseyers are able to corrupt the officials charged with seizing such machines, what guarantee do we have that the customs and other personnel at the ports cannot be similarly corrupted to ignore the ban?

If, indeed, corruption is the main enemy, then it must be identified as such and more ruthless and/or foolproof measures adopted to try and key squash it. For instance: key personnel could be moved around in a haphazard manner, so that it would be more difficult to find them and succeed in bribing them.

I have in mind, those who license or inspect excavators. If it becomes impossible to predict who will be on duty where or when, the incidence of corruption could be lessened even if it cannot be totally eliminated.

A further unexpected consequence of a ban on excavators will be to offer a boon to those who are already owners of excavators. Such people could begin to hire out their machines only to their favourites. Or those who grease their palms!

After all, Ghana’s economic history is full of examples whereby shortages caused by an official restriction on imports, through import licensing, produced horrendous distribution systems like kalabule.

Kalabule succeeded in making a few people very rich indeed, while everyone else experienced economic misery. Everything that could be “hoarded” was hoarded! No -- a liberal economic regime, such as we are running at the moment, cannot allow itself to be compromised by artificial shortages. No matter how good the “rationale” of restrictions may appear on the surface, they cannot be countenanced in practice.

Do we want this type of situation to arise?


BUILDER: “We need two excavators for three weeks, please.”

PLANT MANAGER: “Sorry, we can only give you one for one day.”

BUILDER: “But why? We’ve always got the number we ask for?”

PLANT MANAGER: “Sorry, only 10 of the 30 excavators we ordered, arrived in the country before the Government ban came into force. So we are obliged to introduce strict rationing of the equipment on hand.” UNQUOTE

That’s how kalabule starts. The Plant Manager may secretly wink at the builder and signal to him to come back when there are fewer customers around. Or he may send the builder to go and bring a chit from someone somewhere.

Soon, kalabule turns to gyinabu and other “banter-and-barter” systems.

Now, one machine whose importation can be banned without qualms is the Chinese-made chanfan, whose sole purpose is to carry out galamsey. And yet, surprisingly, the importation of that has NOT been banned!

The question is: Why?


Columnist: Cameron Duodu