Ghana's Mahama forges team to fight illegal gold mining By FRANCIS KOKUTSE in Accra | Thursday, May 16  2013 at  12:47

A boy sits beside the pit of an illegal gold mine collapsed at Dunkwa on-Offin in central region, Ghana, on June 27, 2010. Illegal mining in the resource-rich country is blamed for increasing crime and the loss of revenue, forcing President John Mahama to set up a team to tackle it. FILE | AFP 

Ghana President John Mahama has set up a team to fight the illegal mining of gold and diamonds, blamed for degrading the environment while costing the mineral-rich country millions of dollars in lost revenue.

The inter-ministerial taskforce will also plug loopholes that have allowed independent gold exporters to trade in secrecy.

Known as "galamsey", the illegal mining has in recent months taken a turn for the worse, with even foreigners involved in it increasingly taking the law into their hands. Early this month, two Chinese nationals were arrested for shooting at two Ghanaians who were protesting the encroachment on communal farm lands.

The Ghana Immigration Service has also said another 80 Chinese nationals are in its custody pending deportation.

"We have all witnessed the devastation galamsey has caused to some of our water bodies and its effect on the production and supply of water to various communities. There has also been casualties and loss of lives arising from conflicts in some areas where illegal small-scale mining is taking place," President Mahama said while launching the team.

There is further alarm over the lawless and criminal behaviour underpinning the illegal mining, that has seen foreign nationals such as the Chinese and Italians scouring the hinterlands where the minerals are.

"Even though we have accused foreigners for taking part in this illegality we must also flush out Ghanaians who front for these people. These include the chiefs who give out the land on which they engage in their illegal activities," the chairman of the civil society group Mining Alert, Paul Kyere, said.

Ministers roped in include those overseeing the dockets of lands, interior, defence, foreign affairs, regional integration as well as environment.

The team can under its mandate "arrest and prosecute anybody, both Ghanaians and non--Ghanaians, involved in small-scale illegal mining," with foreigners involved to be deported.

Ghanaians who have sub-leased their concessions to non-Ghanaians would have their mining licences revoked, the President said, while those locals involving foreigners in small scale mining would also see their permits revoked.

Held responsible

The ministerial team would also now hold all authorities responsible for any illegal mining in their jurisdictions, as the government looks to safeguard jobs in the industry.

"There is no doubt that small-scale mining can help alleviate poverty and can create jobs," President Mahama said. He pledged to support sustainable small-scale mining, including by promoting village co-operatives ahead of bigger companies, and improving infrastructure.

"This would provide regular income and will be in line with our long-standing belief that as a responsible government, we are also responsible for the common welfare of the people,” he added.

"Such an arrangement will eliminate the use of heavy equipment and its deployment in the small-scale mining sector."

Ghana will also explore encouraging the local purchase and export of minerals. Currently, Precious Minerals Marketing Company Ltd and a few other privately-owned companies are the only agencies licensed by the Minerals Commission to export independently.

Most of these independent companies are owned by non-Ghanaians, posing a problem in authenticating gold and leading to accusations of underground dealings and loss of revenue.

President Mahama has thus charged the taskforce to "co-opt all the necessary expertise that would assist it deliver on a coordinated Action Plan For dealing with a small but multi-faceted problem."