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19.08.2005 General News

Minister doubts number of death of "galamsey" operators


Accra, Aug.19, GNA - Professor Dominic Kweku Fobih, Minister of Lands, Forestry and Mines, on Friday threw doubt on the number of small-scale miners suspected to have been trapped in a pit at the Nyanfuman-Noyem in the Birim North District of the Eastern Region.

"If there are any fatalities, the Ministry is of the view that the figures being speculated may not be factual," he told a group of journalists at a press conference held in Accra.

Media reports since last week Wednesday have speculated that about 40 small-scale miners were feared dead as a result of the caving-in of a pit in which they were allegedly working in the concession of Newmount Ghana Limited.

Prof Fobih stressed that as at mid-day on Friday no body had yet been retrieved, though the rescue effort was still ongoing. He said following reports in the press about the accident, the Ministry sent a five-man delegation of technical staff, led by the Deputy Minister of Mines, Madam Rita Tani Iddi on August 17.

The team included the Technical Director in charge of Mines of the Ministry, the Chief Executive Director of the Minerals Commission, the Chief Inspector of Mines and the Director of Monitoring and Evaluation of the Minerals Commission.

On the arrival of the team at the New Abirem, the District Capital, the delegation received briefing from the District Chief Executive of the Birim North District Assembly and Newmount Management on the situation and also visited the site of the accident, Prof Fobih said.

The delegation, he said, interacted with the galamsey operators, who were, however, tight-lipped on the issue, though information gathered from some circles indicated that seven people were known to have escaped into safety after the collapse of the pit.

According to the Minister the last of the seven people who escaped, identified only as Kwame, said there was only one person after him who got trapped in the pit after the collapse.

Prof Fobih said another fact established from the galamsey operators was that "four gangs of six people per gang are always in the pit working at any time," making the number 40 quite doubtful.

He said the Deputy Minister and her team advised the galamsey operators to form groups and cooperatives and contact the Ministry and the Minerals Commission so as to acquire concessions to operate.

According to Madam Iddi, who was also at the press conference, there was no mourning nor reported case of missing persons within the community at the time of their visit making it difficult for the team to ascertain whether such a large number of people were trapped.