A former Executive Director of the Forestry Commission, Oppon Sasu, says the lack of political will on the part of politicians to clamp down on illegal mining (galamsey) during election years has resulted in the devastation caused by its activities.
According to him, the country witnessed an increase in illegal mining during the election years of 2012, 2016 and 2020 due to the involvement of politicians in galamsey.
He said the active involvement of politicians and politically exposed individuals in the illegal gold trade had also helped to entrench the destructive activity in the nation’s forest reserves.
Mr Sasu told the Daily Graphic in an interview that during the past three election years, politicians either relaxed the clampdown on illegal mining or simply looked away to profit from the proceeds of the illegal trade to support their political campaigns.
“During election years, we see the increase in galamsey because it gives the politicians easy money, so they lack the political will to stop it and sometimes they even take money from the illegal miners even before they enter the forest to mine, and all you need is the power to mine without restrictions.
“Even if they enter the forest for only a week, imagine the destruction they can cause and the money they can make,” he said.
Mr Sasu was speaking to the Daily Graphic during the recently held stakeholders’ dialogue on natural resources in Accra. It was held on the theme: “Harnessing our natural resources responsibly for our sustainable collective good.”
With over 40 years of experience in managing forest resources, Mr Sasu said without the help or protection of the political class, individuals would not be able to enter forest reserves illegally to mine gold.
Giving a personal history of how the country’s forest reserves had been degraded over the years, he said major degradation started in the 1980s when devastating wildfires broke out in many parts of the country.
He said the mass return of Ghanaians living in Nigeria in 1983 also brought about the phenomenon of illegal chainsaw logging, while farmers also encroached on forest reserves to expand their farms around the same period.
“As young officers, we realised the destruction before illegal mining set in,” he recalled.
He said until around 2000, there were no illegal mining in forest reserves, and that galamsey activities were only done with hand-held tools such as pickaxes and shovels, limiting the extent of destruction.
However, he said, by 2012, illegal miners had begun using excavators for their activities, thereby increasing the impact on the forest.
The advent of excavators in the illegal mining trade came with the influx of foreign nationals in the trade.
Mr Sasu said there was no small-scale mining ongoing in any of the country’s forest reserves but rather, large- scale illegal mining under the pretext of prospecting for gold.
He, therefore, urged the government to, as a matter of urgency, stop all prospecting activities in forest reserves and encourage deep mining instead of surface mining if there was the need to mine in a forest reserve.
He also called for strict implementation of the country’s regulations on mining, noting that enforcement of the regulations would deter people from indulging in illegal mining.
However, the Chief Executive Officer of the Minerals Commission, Martin Kwaku Ayisi, said a lot was being done to contain the menace and also cause people to shift from illegalities to legal mining.
He said small-scale mining was taking place in 13 out of the 16 regions, apart from Oti, Volta and Greater Accra, with about three million people depending on small-scale mining.
“We have to do it very well. We must not look at the few in illegal operations to say we should shut down small-scale mining,” he said.
Mr Ayisi said there were areas where illegal small-scale mining was not taking place in water bodies, ramsar sites or ecological sensitive areas and they could be supported to formalise their operations.
He said recently when the commission discovered that 200 smaller scale miners were mining illegally underground in a community in the Upper East Region, the commission stepped in to support them and they were now doing things right.
“We have given them two mercury free processing machines which cost $300 to $1,000 to work and pay. Their operation has been licensed, they have their EPA permit and they are working lawfully,” Mr Ayisi pointed out.
Also in the Bole District, the Minerals Commission CEO said 300 people were operating illegal mines, but the commission sent them three mercury-free processing machines and formalised their operations which would translate to providing a means of livelihood to 3,000 people.
‘If we do it over the next five years we will see responsible mining. The solution will not be overnight. It will require time to do this,” Mr Ayisi pointed out at the just ended Natural Resource Stakeholders Dialogue.
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