Verily, I’ll say we are not serious as a nation!

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Thu, 30 Mar 2017 Source: Badu, K

By: Badu, K

I can hardly abandon my puzzled countenance when some unrepentant agnostics persistently contend that it is somewhat trite for anyone to assert that after sixty years of independence, one would expect a nation like Ghana to be in contention with the likes of South Korea, Malaysia, and Singapore.

In any case, I will venture to state that we are at where we are today due to leadership paralysis. Truly, our leaders have not been hitting the ground running.

Let me crave your indulgence just a moment longer to pose: Which independent country on this planet (Earth) would its politicians, regulators and law enforcers sit idly while some recalcitrant foreign illegal immigrants despoil its natural resources and denude the environment?

How could the mining sector regulators and other law enforcement bodies look on unconcerned while foreign illegal miners are seizing our countryside, forcibly digging our gold, destroying the environment and worst of all terrorising the rural dwellers? Where is the exemplary leadership?

But then again, is it really fair to put all the blame on the foreign infiltrators? I do not think so.

We must not and cannot single out the foreign infiltrators for blame, because after all, they are being led and aided in our countryside by some irresponsible Ghanaians.

According to credible sources, some Ghanaians are acting as middlemen. The sources have it that the Ghanaian middlemen would manage to procure the mining concessions and then pass them over to the Chinese miners.

Disappointingly, however, no one seems to be policing the illegal activities of the wayward Ghanaians and the Chinese immigrants.

It is also worth mentioning that the small scale mining operation is capital intensive. Thus Ghanaians who do not have the upfront capital, albeit would manage to secure the mining concessions end up passing such concessions to their Chinese minions. The unconcerned Chinese then end up violating the laws which govern the small scale mining.

So, my question again is: Why is the regulator (the Ghana Minerals Commission) refusing to keep a close eye on the illegal activities of the foreign miners, many of whom are bent on destroying the environment?

Somehow, the foreign illegal miners have illimitable liberty to undertake illegal mining. Take, for instance, even though the small scale mining laws prohibit the use of large explosives, the Chinese illegal miners are using unstructured methods and at the same time supplying large explosive, rock crushers and other machines to local illegal miners.

Obviously, we cannot deny the fact that potential economic benefits (employment, tax revenues and development outcomes) can be derived from small-scale mining sector in Ghana.

It is also fair to state that small-scale mining is a significant contributor to the economic and social well-being of many people and households in rural, remote, and poor communities in Ghana.

You may believe it or not, the fact remains that the small-scale mining sector brings huge economic returns. Take, for example, in 2011, 30 percent of the country’s 3.6 million ounces of gold production came from small-scale mines, up from less than 25 percent in 2010, according to Ghana Chamber of Mines.

However, the way small-scale mining sector is being regulated in Ghana, it does not look promising. Indeed, the sector is being managed poorly. The illegal miners are not being controlled.

As a matter of fact, the illegal miners have the liberty to steal our natural resources, destroy the farming lands and pollute the water bodies with methyl mercury and noxious cyanide.

Apparently, the exposure to noxious mercury in Ghana remains a serious health problem, and we cannot continue to live in a denial.

“Unlike some other West African countries, Ghana allows mercury use in mining. Mercury is freely available in shops and can be bought with a canister, bottle, or as a ball wrapped in a plastic cling film. Much of it has been brought in by Chinese miners.

“Ghana has an estimated one million small-scale gold miners (Galamseyers), and they commonly use mercury to process gold.

“They mix the mercury with the ore to create a gold-mercury amalgam, and then burn the mercury off so the raw gold remains.

“The problems stemming from mercury use don’t stop at exposure from inhalation. Once used for gold processing, mercury-contaminated water is often dumped on the ground, polluting Ghana’s rivers and lakes, and poisoning its fish and those who eat them” (HRW, 2014).

As a bio-accumulative and toxic pollutant, when released into the atmosphere, mercury dissolves in water laid sediments and it can be consumed by fish and then ended up in the food chain of humans (Merem, Wesley, Isokpehi et al. 2016).

In that sense, toxic mercury pollution poses an enormous public health hazard and environmental risk (Merem, Wesley, Isokpehi et al. 2016).

Through extant research study, it has been established that mercury exposure can happen in the environment as well as in occupational and domestic settings (WHO, 2017).

As part of the prevailing quagmire, mercury poisoning involves the condition instigated by exposure at an accelerated dosage which could augment fatal health effects on communities (WHO, 2017).

Interestingly, however, it has been identified that exposure to mercury could manifest in several ways, including, inter alia, dental amalgam fillings and the consumption of contaminated sea food, and more importantly, the dangers of mercury exposure can happen in and outside of built environments. As a result, most individuals are mainly exposed to methyl mercury, an organic compound when they consume fish containing methyl mercury (Merem, Wesley, Isokpehi et al. 2016).

The World Health Organisation (WHO) however insists that people are mainly exposed to methylmercury, an organic compound, when they eat fish and shellfish that contain the compound.

Moreover, WHO suggests that the primary health effect of methylmercury is impaired neurological development. Therefore, cognitive thinking, memory, attention, language, and fine motor and visual spatial skills may be affected in children who were exposed to methylmercury as foetuses (WHO, 2017).

“Minamata disease, also known as Chisso-Minamata disease, is a neurological syndrome caused by severe mercury poisoning.

“Symptoms include ataxia, numbness in the hands and feet, general muscle weakness, narrowing of the field of vision and damage to hearing and speech. In extreme cases, insanity, paralysis, coma and death follow within weeks of the onset of symptoms. A congenital form of the disease can also affect foetuses” (See: www.bu.edu/sustainability/minamata-disease).

Let us face it, though, the illegal miners are taking advantage of the absence of monitoring and enforcement of the existing laws and regulations. For, if that was not the case, how on earth could foreigners seize our countryside, steal our gold and destroy the environment?

Ironically, we have enacted expedient laws, albeit the monitoring and enforcement are carried out with a stark perfunctory, or often non-existent.

Obviously, we have laws which govern the small scale mining in Ghana. So why are we dragging our feet in enforcing such laws?

“The Chinese never give up. They will never give up their pursuits. Whatever they pursue, they become experts and innovators in that field. They are never bogged down by failure. For them, failure simply means another shot to be successful,” said a social commentator.

“It seems some Chinese immigrants come across as aggressive, stubborn and somehow disrespectful, when they come to mirthful Africa, -- no offence intended though.

“They wield guns and would fire at anyone who dares to confront them to stop mining”.

Per the Chinese immigrants stubbornness, I venture to suggest that it would take a serious, forward thinking and a committed leadership in order to curb the illegal mining activities in our countryside.

I am afraid, if we failed to thwart the activities of the foreign illegal miners, we run the risk of insurgency in our countryside.

For example, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) insists that in the last 60 years, at least 40 per cent of all intrastate conflicts have a link to natural resources, and that this link doubles the risk of a conflict relapse in the first five years (UNEP, 2017).

According to United Nations, since 1990, at least 18 violent conflicts have been instigated by the exploitation of natural resources, whether ‘high-value’ resources like timber, diamonds, gold, minerals and oil, or scarce ones like fertile land and water’ (UN, 2017).

Given the enormity of the problems confronting us in the small-scale mining sector, I will venture to suggest that if possible, President Nana Akufo-Addo should suspend all the activities in the small-scale mining sector.

The recommendation may appear extremely harsh, but I am afraid, if proper care is not taken, some greedy and obnoxious Ghanaians will continue to collude with the illegal foreign miners to denude the environment, pollute the water bodies and inadvertently poison Ghanaians with noxious substances such as mercury and cyanide.

K. Badu, UK.

Columnist: Badu, K