The wanton stealing of our mineral resources and the unpardonable destruction of our lands and water bodies by the recalcitrant illegal miners were revoltingly outrageous, so to speak.
But in spite of the apparent dangers, the men and women who were in charge of affairs back then were wholly oblivious to the seriousness of the situation, hence their blatant refusal to halt the activities of the obstreperous illegal miners.
You may take my word for it, dearest reader, I am not suggesting for a moment that foreigners are not welcomed in Ghana, far from it.
Truly, a large number of genuine foreign migrants are already plying their trades on our streets. However, foreigners are not allowed to engage in small-scale mining operations, and Chinese immigrants are not exempted from such laws.
Indeed, Ghanaians are known for showing exceptional cordiality towards visitors. Ghana has thus signed and ratified the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of Migrant Workers and their Family Members.
Ghana ratified the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrants Workers and Members of Their Families (the UN Migrant Workers Convention) on 8th September 2000 (See: http://www.migrantsrights.org/Ratificationchart.htm ).
However, it is worth emphasising that Ghana is not obliged to protect stubbornly unrepentant illegal miners per the provisions of the International Convention on the Rights of all Migrants Workers and their Family Members.
More importantly, the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrants Workers and Members of Their Families is one of the numerous core international human rights treaties.
So by ratifying the treaty, Ghana has demonstrated its willingness and commitment to protect migrant workers and their family members.
Likewise, migrant workers have a duty to obey the laws of the land. Suffice it to state that it is on record that some Chinese and other foreign immigrants are illegally mining our natural resources and destroying the environment in the process.
The influx of genuine tourists is good for our blossoming economy. But we should not be timorously opening our arms widely to welcoming individuals who harbour ulterior motives. Indeed, Ghana cannot afford to entertain any remorseless nation wreckers.
In spite of the fact that small-scale mining operation is reserved for only Ghanaians, the sector in recent past has been infiltrated by foreign illegal miners.
“Every mineral in its natural state in, under or upon land in Ghana, rivers, streams, water-courses throughout the country, the exclusive economic zone and an area covered by the territorial sea or continental shelf is the property of the Republic and is vested in the President in trust for the people of Ghana” (Minerals Act 2006).
Subject to subsections (1) of 1989 small-scale mining laws (PNDCL 218) and (2) of section 75 of the Minerals and Mining Law, 1986 (PNDCL 153) and amended Act 2006(Act 703), no licence for small-scale gold mining operation shall be granted to any person who is not a citizen of Ghana.
In practice, therefore, any person who without a licence granted by the regulatory bodies and chooses to undertake any small-scale gold mining operation contrary to (subsection 1) of section 1 of small-scale mining law; or acts in contravention of any other provision of small-scale mining law in respect of which an offence has not been prescribed, shall be guilty of an offence and shall on conviction be liable to a fine, or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 2 years or to both.
More importantly, where a foreigner is convicted of an offence under this Law he, shall after paying the fine or serving any imprisonment imposed on him, be liable to deportation under section 13 of the Aliens Act, 1963 (Act 160).
But despite the expedient regulatory measures that have been put in place, some greedy and unpatriotic Ghanaians have been conniving with the foreign illegal miners to steal our natural resources while the sector regulators looked on unconcerned.
It is an open secret that some Ghanaians would often secure plots of land and partner with the foreign illegal miners who have funds to bring in the bulldozers and other big equipment.
Even though the small scale mining laws prohibit the use of large explosives, the foreign illegal miners were revoltingly using unstructured methods, and at the same time supplying large explosive, rock crushers and other machines to local miners. How pathetic?
As a result of the involvement of the obdurate foreign illegal miners, the dynamics of small-scale mining has somehow changed.
The illegal miners have been using bulldozers, pay loaders and extremely heavy machinery. The foreign illegal miners have mechanized artisanal mining, and as a result the level of environmental devastation has been really huge.
Given the bizarre circumstances, I predicted some time ago that it would take a massive leadership in order to curb the menace of illegal mining.
It was thus refreshing when the forward-thinking, serious and committed President Akufo-Addo prudently placed an interim ban on small-scale mining activities. That was, indeed, the quintessence of massive leadership. Akufo-Addo, so to speak, did what Napoleon could not do.
Despite the small scale miners protestations over the temporary ban on their poorly regulated activities, it was, indeed, a pragmatic step to put better data and policies in place to get the sector back on track, given the level of environmental degradation amid polluted river bodies.
Let me crave your indulgence just a moment longer to pose: which independent country on this planet (Earth) would its politicians, regulators and law enforcement bodies sit idly while some stubbornly impenitent foreign illegal immigrants despoil its natural resources and denude the environment?
Given the extreme dangers associated with illegal mining, it was , in fact, a step in the right direction for President Akufo-Addo to halt the illegal miners, many of whom were using noxious mercury and cyanide in their mining activities.
The World Health Organisation (WHO), asserts that exposure to mercury – even small amounts – may cause serious health problems and it is a threat to the development of the child in utero and early in life (WHO 2017).
In a new Communities and Small-Scale Mining (CASM) publication, Somit Varma, director of the Oil, Gas, Mining & Chemicals Department of the World Bank/IFC, stated: "The social and economic characteristics of small-scale mining fully reflect the challenges facing the world, including: health, environment, gender, education, child labour, and poverty eradication."
There is no gainsaying the fact that mephitic mercury use in artisanal and small-scale gold mining is extremely harmful and its health effects on society are significantly worrying (WHO, 2017).
It is estimated that about 15% of the world's gold is produced by artisanal and small-scale miners, many of whom use mercury and other toxic substances to extract the minerals from rivers and underneath the ground (BBC, 2013).
“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, and 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).”
A typical example of toxic mercury contamination impacting negatively on public health happened in Minamata, Japan, between 1932 and 1968, where a factory producing acetic acid discharged waste liquid into Minamata Bay.
The discharge included high concentrations of methylmercury. The bay was rich in fish and shellfish, providing the main livelihood for local residents and fishermen from other areas.
Many years passed without no one realising that the fish were contaminated with mercury, and that it was causing a strange disease in the local community and in other districts.
It was reported that at least 50 000 people were affected to some extent and more than 2000 cases of Minamata disease were identified.
Unfortunately, Minamata disease escalated in the 1950s, with severe cases of brain damage, paralysis, incoherent speech and delirium (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).
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 predicament, mercury poisoning involves the condition instigated by exposure at an accelerated dosage which could augment fatal health effects on communities.
It has been identified that exposure to mercury could crystallise 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).
Methylmercury also biomagnifies. For example, large predatory fish are more likely to have high levels of mercury as a result of eating many smaller fish that have acquired mercury through ingestion of plankton.
People may be exposed to mercury in any of its forms under different circumstances. However, exposure mainly occurs through consumption of fish and shellfish contaminated with methylmercury and through worker inhalation of elemental mercury vapours during industrial processes (WHO, 2017).
Considering the dangers associated with illegal mining, no one seemed to be policing the illegal activities of the wayward Ghanaians and their Chinese counterparts.
Given that the small scale mining operation is capital intensive, the Ghanaians who do not have the upfront capital, albeit manage to secure the mining concessions, end up passing such licences to their Chinese counterparts.
The careless Chinese illegal miners then end up violating the laws which govern the small scale mining sector.
The overarching question then is: Why was the regulator (the Ghana Minerals Commission) refused to keep a close eye on the illegal activities of the unpatriotic Ghanaians and their foreign minions, many of whom were bent on destroying the environment?
It is absolutely true that potential economic benefits (employment, tax revenues and development outcomes) can be derived from small-scale mining sector in Ghana.
We cannot also deny the fact 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.
However, the way small-scale mining sector is being managed in Ghana, it does not look promising. The sector is being managed abysmally.
Somehow, the laws which govern the small-scale mining sector are confused and inconsistent. Suffice it to emphasise that all the attention is basically being focused on the large-scale mining sector, leaving the small-scale mining sector at a substantial disadvantage.
In addition, the effective implementation of regulations and fortifications towards the developmental potential of the sector must be the topmost importance to the regulating authorities.
It must also be emphasised that societies at large has been both positively and negatively affected by small-scale mining.
The positive effects include the extraction of ores from small deposits or from tailings which provide the rural folks and other small scale miners with sustainable incomes.
On the other hand, the negative effects include, among other things, environmental degradation, water pollution, the release of mercury and other toxic and hazardous wastes into the free environment, and unforeseen social tensions that can lead to civil unrest.
However, on the preponderance of probability, the negative effects outweigh the positive effects, and therefore it was prudent for any serious, committed and forward-thinking leader to put tabs on the activities of the unscrupulous illegal miners.
Sadly, however, some of us can attest to the fact that the lunatic fringe of the Chinese illegal miners are back in business following the lifting on the ban on the small scale mining.
Given the criminal intent of the illegal miners, we are, more than ever, urgently required our military power to combat the menace of the impenitent nation wreckers who are bent on stealing our natural resources and destroying the environment.
Let us face it, they, the scumbags, are well -prepared and they routinely carry out their illegal activities with military precisions, and can strike as lighting, and as deadly and destructive as molten magma.
In theory, the illegal miners' invasion of our countryside with a view to forcibly digging our mineral resources, polluting our sources of drinking water, destroying the environment and above all terrorising the natives is tantamount to war.
K. Badu, UK [email protected]
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