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Opinions Sun, 7 May 2017

Let us ban all small-scale and medium-scale gold mining in Ghana

As someone involved in fighting illegal loggers and illegal gold miners at Akyem Juaso, in the Akyem Abuakwa traditional area since the 1990s, I always dreaded the New Patriotic Party (NPP) ever coming to power again, prior to the December 2016 presidential and parliamentary elections.

This was particularly because one was acutely aware of the power and influence wielded in the NPP by Bernard Antwi-Boasiako, who years ago hid behind claims that he was operating a mining services company, to cloak the illegal gold mining activities that made him a very wealthy man.

However, having seen the facts on the ground since the NPP came to power again on 7th January 2017 - when the minister for lands and natural resources, Hon John Peter Amewu, immediately took on the criminal syndicates behind illegal gold mining countrywide - today, this blog now backs the presidency of Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo to the hilt. 100 percent. Big time.

Like me, one might loathe the party he leads, but the president has proven beyond doubt that he is a great leader by taking a principled stand against the destruction of what is left of our nation's natural heritage.

He has also shown that he actually cares about the welfare of both present and future generations of our people by speaking out boldly against illegal gold mining. For that reason, one prays daily for God's protection and blessing for President Akufo-Addo.

The point however needs to be made that all small-scale and medium-scale gold mining must be banned in Ghana - to protect what is left of our nation's natural environment. Nothing else will suffice.

They are sub-sectors of our national economy's gold industry run mostly by ruthless and thoroughly dishonest crooks mainly for the enrichment-by-stealth of super-crooks-in-high-places. That is a fact.

The plain truth is that there is virtually not a single legally registered company in both categories that either has the wherewithal or technical expertise to properly restore degraded land anywhere in Ghana. So why tolerate them - especially when they always secure their advantages by bribery and egregious corruption?

When they exhaust the gold deposits in their concessions, instead of restoring degraded mined - out land scientifically, invariably, they simply resort to paying out monies to Chiefs and local people - ostensibly to fill their open pits for them by communal labour.

It is a strategy of grand deception they employ wherever they mine gold - a dishonest scheme dreamt up by the rogues in their midst to enable them dodge their legal obligations: and have a ready-made excuse if questioned by the authorities and asked to explain why open pits were left unfilled and degraded land not properly restored. Scandalous.

Furthermore, no independent observer who visits any gold concession allocated to small-scale or medium-scale gold mining companies anywhere in this country, will come away with an impression of their operations, other than one that raises alarm and concern for the future of our nation in their mind: by the devastation of the natural environment that he or she will witness there. Monstrous and abominable.

Moreover, not a single legally registered small-scale or medium-scale gold mining company in Ghana is run in accordance with corporate good governance principles. Far from it. They are all socially and environmentally irresponsible - and regularly evade taxes on top of that. That is also a fact.

And not even one of those companies will emerge unscathed if they were subjected to close scrutiny - of their operations - by honest and principled officials from the Minerals Commission, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Water Resources Commission.

If their operations are inspected by officials from the regulatory bodies who do not accept bribes and always work diligently to ensure compliance by gold mining companies of all the laws and regulations governing gold mining in Ghana, they will all be closed down immediately - for egregious infractions of the Mining Act and endangering public health: by poisoning soils, streams, rivers and groundwater sources.

The cost to society of the many ills of surface gold mining in this country is much, much too high for Ghanaian society to continue having to go on paying - without thought leaders questioning what so obviously poses an existential threat to our homeland Ghana: and has such a negative impact on its people's well-being and quality of life.

We cannot possibly allow the future of our country to be sacrificed on the altar of unfathomable greed - because a few thousand selfish and lawless individuals want to be wealthy at all costs at society's expense. No, No, No.

To secure the welfare and well-being of present and future generations of our people, perforce, we must ban surface gold mining by all small-scale and medium-scale companies throughout Ghana. Full stop. Period…, Haaba.

Columnist: Kofi Thompson