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Opinions Wed, 20 Dec 2017

Galamsey: One step forward, two steps back!

I am sure I am not the only person who was dismayed to read that the Minister of Lands and Natural Resources, Mr Peter Amewu, had stated that the ban on illegal mining (galamsey) would be lifted at the end of January 2018. Speaking in an interview with Accra-based JoyFM, Mr. Amewu said: “The ban will soon be lifted to enable the miners [to] work.... Currently, small-scale mining licenses are undergoing some form of auditing and when the process is completed, it will be recommended to [the] Cabinet for the ban to be lifted,” he added.

The lifting of the ban, Mr Amewu went on, would depend on “the level of cleanliness of the river bodies across the country, and also the number of people that have been trained and the validation of the licenses and the willingness for reclamation.”

I am afraid Mr Amewu's statement will only add to the confusion that already exists in the public mind about the Government's approach towards the elimination of galamsey. The Government has sent a Task Force, composed of military and police personnel, to the areas where galamseyers are known to be operating, to drive them out. Those arrested are handed over to the police for prosecution and their equipment is seized and sometimes destroyed. Has the Task Force told the Government that it has accomplished its prescribed objective successfully?

Mr Amewu must be aware that a massive propaganda offensive has been embarked upon against the operations of the Task Force by well-organised galamseyers' groups, who do not even seek to hide the fact that they have a political agenda! These people will do everything to discredit the operations of the Task Force in order to have it withdrawn (as happened to the Task Force set up by the NDC Government)..

As could be expected, the galamseyers have consistently sought to “bad-mouth” the Task Force, accusing its members rather loosely of “corruption”.

Despite their ability to bend the ears of some journalists, however, they have never been able to produce an iota of evidence to support their allegations. If such scandalous behaviour is prevalent in an operation that has loudly advertised itself as setting out to save the nation from “destruction”, (no less!) shouldn't those who claim they had detected the corruption be ready to collect evidence of it so that corrupt soldiers might be taken before a court-martial and similarly placed policemen prosecuted before the courts?

But no: the Task Force's accusers merely allege: “Some members of the Task Force are collecting bribes.” Anyone -- but anyone -- can say that if he finds the Task Force a serious obstacle to his money-making, can't he?

One hesitates to provide a blanket defence for the Task Force because Ghana is a strange place where the unexpected often happens. But fair is fair: if there is evidence, it must be presented to the appropriate authorities. But unfortunately, even some members of the Government itself are given to making unsupported allegations about “corruption” within the Task Force, which can only gladden the hearts of the anti-Task Force propagandists.

For instance, the Eastern Region Minister and Chairman of the Regional Security Council (REGSEC), Mr Eric Kwakye Darfuor, was reported by CitiFM on 14 December 2017 to have “revealed that some youths in mining communities are enticing (sic) members of [the] anti-galamsey Taskforce, Operation Vanguard, who are on assignment in the region.”

“Reveal”? What were the names of the youths? And those of the "enticed" Task Force members?

The CitiFM report continued: “According to him, the situation is making the fight against illegal mining very difficult.... The youth of this area who are into galamsey are bribing the Operation Vanguard personnel, so it doesn’t work. You don’t know when you’ll suffer the effect of illegal mining. This is a serious issue so I beg of you let’s discourage such acts.”

Obviously, Mr Darfuor is rightly concerned about the damage galamsey is causing in his region. But he should be careful not to play into the hands of those his Government is fighting against. With the greatest respect, I must point out to the Minister that what he said is capable of demoralising the members of Operation Vanguard. Yet he provided no evidence to back what he said. Certainly, if he has solid evidence of such bribery (and I allow that as chairman of the Regional Security Council, he could well have come into possession of such evidence) he ought to communicate it to the commander of Operation Vanguard (who, to my knowledge, liaises closely with the regional authorities).

If the commander failed to take action upon receiving the information, then the matter ought to be brought to the notice of the President's Chief of Staff, who would alert the Ministers of Defence and the Interior, who would immediately pass the information down the chain of command, I am sure. There is something called "collective responsibility" which must be observed by all Ministers. In short, it obliges a Minister to tell a colleague Minister about issues concerning departments under the colleague's portfolio, that come to his/her notice. Going public with information that might amount to no more than an unfounded allegation, does harm to the Government as a whole.

Anyway, the Commander of Operation Vanguard, Col. William Agyepong, said of these allegations: “From where I sit, I can say [that] noOperation Vanguard personnel has [so far] been compromised, as is being said.... You [galamseyers] are not supposed to be in the field.... so why do you go to the field and later claim that somebody is [extorting] money from you? That’s not how we’ve been trained. If you look at the items we’ve seized so far and the money we’ve collected from the arrested persons as exhibits... Let me cite Atiwa. We had to collect money [amounting to] over GHC40,000, together with [US] dollars and [British] pounds sterling, from the miners and these monies were intact as at the day they were giving [a] pronouncement [on it] at the court.

“ These monies were handed over to the [police and exhibited in the court]. If we were out there looking for money, why [would] we even have to wait a minute [before pocketing the money]? These monies were with us!”

That's the situation on the ground. But with such things still going on, why is the Minister of Lands and Natural Resources Minister, Pete Amewu, convinced that the time has come to lift the ban on galamsey and call off Operation Vanguard, as early as the end of next month?

I am sorry but Mr Amewu is perhaps being naïve in thinking that the Government has got anywhere towards ending galamsey. I know that enormous pressure will be put on him by the hidden forces that have been stopped from obtaining filthy riches through galamsey and who care nothing for our water-bodies and farms. But he must continue to resist such forces. Talk by the galamseyers' participating in "voluntary land reclamation"; of allowing themselves to be “trained” to observe “good practice” with regard to the environment; or at the Ministry level, of "scrutinising" miners before they are granted licence, is all eyewash. Such things have been talked about forever, and yet Ghana has inexhorably been turned into a wasteland before our very eyes.

Indeed, shall quote a traditional proverb to Mr Amewu: “If you don't know what death is like, take a look at deep sleep!”Mr Amewu should think back to his reaction on first seeing the devastation that galamsey had wrought upon our landscape and water-bodies. Could he believe that any fellow Ghanaian would willingly take part in wrecking his own people's rivers and streams and farms and forests – to such an incredible extent? If they could summon the initial wickedness to transform our green and fertile country into “a lunar landscape littered with craters on its surface”, why should we trust them to ever their methods? Isn't the smell of money the same top them, no matter what method is used to get it?

The incredible damage they have already done was carried out without the slightest remorse (even when the authorities were hunting the galamseyers). What will prevent them from doing worse things when given the go-ahead by politicians whom, they will believe, they have managed to intimidate with overt and covert threats, to agree to the legalisation of galamsey?

Politicians who “recognise” that the galamseyers' need to “to earn a living”? (As if "earning a living" can be done through breaking the law -- through such wicked acts as armed robbery; waylaying of people; and other nefarious enterprises).

I want to remind Mr Peter Amewu that our President and Commander-in-Chief has declared unambiguously that the approach to ending the “destructive activities” of galamseyers has to be“comprehensive.”The “piecemeal” approach that had characterised past efforts to end the menace had not t been effective, the President once told journalists in Kumasi. “We need a comprehensive policy which may even involve [new] legislation," the President said.

That, Mr Amewu, is your unambiguous mandate.

Columnist: Cameron Duodu
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