Pressure group OccupyGhana wants government to change its approach to dealing with foreign nationals engaged in illegal mining in the country's forest after President Nana Akufo-Addo said his government's decision to deport a Chinese national, Aisha Huang after her reported involvement in illegal mining was a mistake.
“We will judge the Government in this matter, not based on its words and assurances based on hindsight, but on its acts that are based on foresight,” the group said in a statement.
OccupyGhana was among the groups that criticised December 2018 deportation and welcomed the President’s admission.
But it maintained that this did not absolve the government of its “grave and regrettable” actions.
“What we are concerned with is that it had to take hindsight, an understating of the situation only after it had happened and almost two years after the fact, for the Government to realise how bad a mistake that was. Ghanaians knew right from the start that it was a mistake and said so to the Government, which ignored us, making this regret very little and very late.”
The President in his remarks on the matter while in the US said the amendment of Minerals and Mining Act would prevent such a mistake from occurring again.
But OccupyGhana said it did not see how the new legislation could prevent future mistakes because “the decision to free Aisha Huang without trial, had nothing to do with the law as it existed at the time.”
She had been charged with three counts of undertaking small-scale mining operations, contrary to Section 99 (1) of the Minerals and Mining Act, 2006 (Act 703); providing mining support services without valid registration with the Minerals Commission, contrary to the Minerals and Mining Act, 2006 (Act 703), and the illegal employment of foreign nationals, contrary to the Immigration Act, 2000 (Act 573).
“Certainly, the Government was aware of the message that that act gave to the whole world: the law will be enforced against citizens, but foreigners who breach the same law would be flown to their countries to sleep in the comfort of their beds and enjoy their illegal made-in-Ghana Galamsey booty. Yet the Government went ahead, took that decision and implemented it. That was the mistake, not the law.”
“We are unable to agree with the President's claim that this would not happen again simply because the punishments provided in the law have been enhanced by a recent amendment. The decision to free Aisha Huang without trial had nothing to do with the state of the law or punishment regime at the time. It was simply an unfortunate political decision.”
What OccupyGhana believes is needed is an assurance from the President that such a mistake will not happen again.
The group suggested that the President direct that all persons who have been arrested over illegal mining activities “especially the foreign nationals who are routinely simply handed over to Immigration for deportation instead of standing trial, should immediately be put before trial.”
Find below the full statement
RE: FIGHT AGAINST GALAMSEY – OCCUPYGHANA'S RESPONSE TO THE PRESIDENT'S REGRET ON AISHA HUANG'S DEPORTATION WITHOUT TRIAL
OccupyGhana® has noted with wry resignation the recent statement by the President that he regrets the Government's decision to deport Aisha Huang without first completing the trial of her for mining-related offences. The President specifically said that that decision, “on hindsight, was a mistake.”
We appreciate the President's candour in admitting this mistake. We agree with him that that decision was a mistake, a grave and regrettable one. What we are concerned with is that it had to take hindsight, an understating of the situation only after it had happened and almost two years after the fact, for the Government to realise how bad a mistake that was. Ghanaians knew right from the start that it was a mistake and said so to the Government, which ignored us, making this regret very little and very late.
And, while the legislative amendment that enhances the punishment regime for mining-related offences might deter some from engaging in Galamsey, we do not see how that, in and of itself, will prevent the repetition of the government's mistake. That is because the mistake, the decision to free Aisha Huang without trial, had nothing to do with the law as it existed at the time.
We take these positions because there was sufficient basis, at the time of the decision, to show that the deportation without trial would hurt and weaken the fight against illegal mining. Certainly, the Government was aware of the message that that act gave to the whole world: the law will be enforced against citizens, but foreigners who breach the same law would be flown to their countries to sleep in the comfort of their beds and enjoy their illegal made-in-Ghana Galamsey booty. Yet the Government went ahead, took that decision and implemented it. That was the mistake, not the law.
For several years, OccupyGhana has been involved in the campaign against illegal mining. From that, we know that Ghana cannot divorce the scourge of Galamsey from the invidious roles played by several foreign nationals who exploit our weak and sometimes non-existent internal security system to engage in illegal mining.
That is why we were extremely disappointed when the then Minster of Lands and Natural Resources, Mr. Peter Amewu, instead of seeing to it that the law was simply enforced, was reported to have met with the Chinese Ambassador to Ghana and the Mayor of China's Guangxi Zhuang Province on 27th March 2017, to solicit their help to fight Galamsey, saying, “we are begging you to help us address this particular difficulty that we are having.”
Disappointed in this anemic and pathetic approach by the Minister towards the fight, it was refreshing and reassuring when the President, in a speech at Akyem Wenchi in April 2017, called the bluff of Galamsey operators. We issued a statement on 2nd May 2017 to stand with the President on this matter. Pleased with the stance taken and leadership provided by the President at the time, we expressed the “hope that the fight against this scourge will continue on an even higher level,” and that “with the President taking the lead and the support of all well-meaning Ghanaians, we will win.”
This was followed by the launch of Operation Vanguard by the military in July 2017 to combat Galamsey operations.
However, the matter involving Aisha Huang and the Government's handling of it beggars belief, insults our intelligence, contradicts the President's numerous pledges to fight Galamsey, and is probably the most obvious indicator that the Government's commitment to the anti-Galamsey fight has been at best half-hearted.
When Aisha Huang was first arrested, being as obviously involved as she was in Galamsey, she was only charged with petty immigration infractions, namely hiring foreign nationals and disobeying directives. The steepest penalty for these was a risible and ridiculous GHS12,000 administrative fine!
It took an OccupyGhana Petition addressed to the Attorney-General in May 2017, protesting this and demanding that proper charges are laid under the Minerals and Mining Act, for that to happen. In that petition we pointed out that “the fight against illegal mining in Ghana is a fight to protect, not only the present, but the future of this country. It is therefore imperative that the law must be applied to all who fall foul of it, without fear or favour.”
But we were to be disappointed again when after several fits and starts, the prosecution on the charges laid by the Attorney-General only after OccupyGhana's petition, was truncated and aborted by the same Attorney-General's nolle prosequi; and then Aisha Huang was deported without standing trial. The result is that Aisha Huang did not even pay the GHS12,000 in administrative fines for the petty immigration infractions she was originally charged with before our protest and the Attorney-General's intervention. We recall a petition from the Media Coalition Against Galamsey (MCAG) dated 21st December 2018, pointing out in real time that that decision was a mistake, and which fell on deaf ears.
It was sad that in the face of protests by the public over this action, a Presidential Staffer and the then secretary to the Inter-Ministerial Committee on Illegal Mining, Mr. Charles Bissue, in apparent answer to the MCAG's petition, added insult to injury in December 2018 by claiming that the Government deporting Aisha Huang was to prevent tax payer monies from being spent on her trial and possible imprisonment. What Mr. Bissue was unable to tell us was what that cost of prosecution and imprisonment would have been, compared to the damage that Aisha Huang's alleged activities had caused, and as compared with the Ghanaians and others who had been tried for, convicted of and punished for the same offence.
Then, as recently as April 2019, the Senior Minister Mr. Yaw Osafo-Maafo compounded the situation, justifying the lack of prosecution of Aisha Huang on the basis of Ghana's relationship with China and the prospect of receiving $2bn under the Sinohydro bauxite project.
In our statement dated 22nd April 2019 in response, we were emphatic that “the Senior Minister's comments make complete mockery of the fight against Galamsey and critical decisions Government and the coalition against Galamsey have taken to address this issue. This statement suggests that there is a price tag for the exoneration of foreigners implicating in the appalling desecration of Ghana's environment, rivers and laws. It positions foreigners who break/flout our laws as untouchable and above the law because their countries offer a trade partnership and benefits, we will receive from them.”
Neither Mr. Bissue nor Mr. Osafo-Maafo has withdrawn and apologised for these offensive and insulting statements. That is why we think that the Government's alleged volte-face, captured in the President's “mistake on hindsight” statement gives no, little or very cold comfort.
We are unable to agree with the President's claim that this would not happen again simply because the punishments provided in the law have been enhanced by a recent amendment. The decision to free Aisha Huang without trial had nothing to do with the state of the law or punishment regime at the time. It was simply an unfortunate political decision, the real reason being possibly what Mr. Osafo-Maafo's epiphany revealed. The amendment that the President refers to will not compel the Attorney-General to prosecute foreign nationals who are arrested for engaging in Galamsey or any other offence. Indeed, in July 2019 Huang Yanfeng, another Chinese national who was arrested in May 2019 for illegal timber operations, was also quietly deported, reminiscent of a pattern in dealing with foreign nationals who defy our laws regulating natural resources.
Thus, in our view, what the President should do is to assure Ghanaians that the executive power vested in him under the Constitution shall not be used in this manner again. And then we expect the President to order that all persons who have been arrested for being involved in Galamsey, especially the foreign nationals who are routinely simply handed over to Immigration for deportation instead of standing trial, should immediately be put before trial.
This “on hindsight mistake” has been a rather unfortunate, deflating and regrettable phase in the fight against Galamsey and a slap in the face of Ghanaians. We expect that all subsequent acts will match the realisation of the titanic mistake we made with Aisha Huang and more recently with Huang Yanfeng. We will judge the Government in this matter, not based in its words and assurances based on hindsight, but on its acts that are based on foresight. Let the Government beget fruits that befit the repentance of the “on hindsight mistake.”.
Yours in the service of God and Country