Once upon a time, the recalcitrant illegal miners were all over the place stealing our mineral resources, terrorising the indigenes and at the same time destroying the lands and water bodies.
Given the stubborn nature of the illegal miners, I predicted some time ago that it would only take a massive leadership in order to curb the menace of illegal mining.
It was, therefore, quite 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 endless protestations over the temporary ban on their poorly regulated activities, the unwearied President Akufo-Addo persisted.
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.
It therefore came as a huge surprise to some of us when no less a person than former President Mahama bizarrely decided to oppose the NPP government’s commendable efforts to curb the activities of the conscienceless illegal miners (See: Stop chasing illegal miners with soldiers – Mahama to government; citinewsroom.com/ghanaweb.com, 28/04/2018).
Ex-President Mahama was reported to have grouched somewhat plangently: “…it is true that if we don’t do something about it, it will destroy the environment. But we need to apply wisdom. Because we’ve chased young people involved in illegal small-scale mining with soldiers in the past in this country but it didn’t work.”
With all due respect, what does Ex-President Mahama take discerning Ghanaians for? After all, wasn’t he in government for eight years and what did he do to curb the apparent menace?
If, indeed, Ex-President Mahama and his NDC government deployed the military in their attempt to halt the menace of illegal mining but to no avail, why didn’t they employ alternative solutions?
So Ex-President Mahama wants to tell the good people of Ghana that eight years in government was not enough to halt a canker such as illegal mining?
Why must he then criticise someone who has put his job on the line to protect our mineral resources and the environment?
Former President Mahama was said to have shockingly pontificated: “But if we put a blanket ban and send soldiers after the young people that is not the way to go. As you stop illegal small-scale mining, at the same time you must put in place a livelihood package so that as you are displacing people from illegal mining, they have something to do…. But when there is nothing to do but you are just chasing them, shooting them, it is not the way to go.”
Deductively, Ex-President Mahama was suggesting that the security personnel should cease chasing armed robbers with guns and rather offer them alternative livelihoods. How bizarre?
In fact, there is an incontrovertible evidence of some galamseyers quitting their jobs and moving to the rural areas to embark on the illegal mining. A criminal shall remain so regardless.
Ex-President Mahama opined: “We [NDC] decided that we will bring a new mining law that will regulate galamsey that persons who do it well will be able to sustain themselves…So immediately, the [Akufo-Addo] government must look at these regulations and come up with good policies so that those who want to do it, will do it within the law.”
I could not agree more with former President Mahama. Indeed, better data and policies are needed to get the sector back on track.
But the all-important question we should be asking former President Mahama and his NDC government is: why did they fail woefully to arrest a quagmire such as illegal mining in eight years in office?
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 favourable. The sector is being managed abysmally.
Somehow, the laws which govern the small-scale mining sector are confused and inconsistent. Indeed, all the attention is basically being focused on the large-scale mining sector, leaving the small-scale mining sector at a substantial disadvantage.
But that said, in order to achieve the maximum benefit, it is extremely important that society as a whole shows interest in promoting and strengthening the role of small-scale mining in national development.
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 promotion of efficient resource use, such as extracting ores from small deposits or from tailings, and thus providing 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.
On the preponderance of probability, the negative effects outweigh the positive effects, and therefore it is prudent for any serious, committed and forward-thinking leader to put tabs on the activities of the unscrupulous illegal miners.
Sadly, however, it is being reported that a number of seized excavators have gone missing, while the lunatic fringe of the illegal miners are back in business following the lifting on the ban on the small scale mining. How unfortunate?
In fact, some of us, as a matter of principle, do not want to accept the weird story that some seized excavators have vanished without a trace.
We should, however, take solace in the fact that some suspects have been nabbed and assisting the police in their investigations.
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 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 country side 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.
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 are 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.
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.
So, it was, indeed, extremely baffling to see former President Mahama criticising President Akufo-Addo over his efforts to curb the illegal mining.
Take, for example, 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).
In sum, given the extreme dangers associated with illegal mining, former President Mahama was absolutely wrong in criticising President Akufo-Addo for doing everything possible to halt the repulsive activities of the illegal miners.
K. Badu, UK.