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Galamsey Menace: …The Failure Of Mining Governance System
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Mining has for several decades been the source of livelihood for many in resource endowed areas as they derive from their exploitation enormous financial returns. There is, however, a social cost associated with natural resources exploitation.

The social cost often gets exacerbated when exploitation is carried out by private individuals. The balancing between the private benefit motives and the consequential social cost must always emerge at least for sustainability argument sake.

Unfortunately, however, the dichotomy between private benefit and social cost is very wide especially in situations where resources exploitation regulations regimes are lax and weak. In such weak environment, not much is done to ascertain the potential risk and draw on risk comparison to inform the decision on exploitation.

Historically, small-scale mining in developing countries have dominated the mining sector and was unregulated. The risk perception was assumed to be low and their impact local. The notion being that small-scale mining, in the beginning, was much primitive and were carried out with simple tools and less use of chemicals.

Most importantly, small-scale mining was carried out by locals who also owned the lands and bequeathing such lands to their children placed an obligation on them to use land wisely.

The situation changed along the line with the influx of migrant miners. At that point, profit motivation(s) became a major consideration and not altruistic motives. On then did regulation become important and relevant. However, the enactment of new regulation never seems to have curbed the surge in growth of illegal mining. Illegal mining has since seen substantial growth despite the several risks including health, environment, social and economic that mining poses.

Mining has for several years been a significant contributor to the economic well-being of several mineral exporting countries. They are a quick way of making money especially the small-scale ones. Mining accounts for on average 2.1% of Ghana’s GDP and provides employment to about 1.1 percent of the Ghanaian labour force.

However, the net impact of mining to the economy of Ghana has relatively been modest, and their adverse impacts appear to be on the rise. The traditional accounting only accounts for the receipt from mining without acknowledging their negative impact.

At the local level, most mining companies have failed to better the livelihood of the local people. As a result, poverty and destitution have become the common characteristics of the majority of people living in mining communities. The weak wealth transmission mechanism has resulted in a rather disastrous situation where locals (indigenous people) have taken to illegal mining practices. They have resorted to all kinds of mining practices which are polluting freshwater bodies.

Given the calamitous impact of illegal mining, many expected a swift and decisive response from the government to reduce the surge and in particular protect land and water bodies.

However, the interweaving interest of political class in these areas have not helped the situation and rather rendered government’s responses to resolving and restoring sanity impotent.

The state’s (the Ministry of Land and Natural Resources, Environmental Protection Agency and the Minerals Commission) responds have also been weak and ineffective and have allowed the activities of these illegal miners to persist. The fear is if the situation persists, Ghana might lose a significant amount of fresh water quicker than anticipated.

The risks of illegal mining are many and varied. The common risks are water pollution (Mercury), Health risks and land degradation. The social cost associated with these risks are high.

Also, accidents are a frequent occurrence in illegal mining as pits often collapse, miners get contaminated with mercury, and many get drawn. According to Ghana Business New, annual reported death from illegal mining activities ranges between 200-400 persons per year.

The exposure to the risk of illegal mining is enormous to both citizens and miners. There is the need to reduce the risk to guarantee the longevity of lives of people who live in mine areas as well as those who off mines. Below are some of the measures to help reduce illegal mining in Ghana.

Increase employment in local mine communities- illegal mining is an economic issue. There are many in the local communities of Ghana with no employable opportunities. Most are primarily peasant farmers with very little income. With the increasing cost of living in Ghana, such farmers have been scouting for alternative livelihood opportunities. And mining comes in handy.

It is a quick but dangerous way of making money. Without employment opportunities, illegal mining becomes an option, as there exist a ready market for their product. To reduce the influx of the youth into such risky activities would require the creation of viable employable options for the youth who are ready to do anything for survival.

Enhance the local content law- most large-scale mining companies operating in the mine areas are virtually not using local capacity. Most of the local youth do not have employable skills also, and when they do, they are inferior to others from the big cities.

So, the local youth often lose out on employment with the big mining firms. However, with training, it has been shown that local youth can equally be competitive when giving opportunity. The Government of Ghana has since 2013 passed a local content law requiring multinational companies to reserve some opportunities for locals.

Enforcing this law comes at a cost to the mining firms, but the benefits of enforcement outweigh the cost to the firms. The government must push the mining firms to use the services of local youth especially for the provision of ancillary services which do not require significant skills and training. Such moves would help improve the economic well-being of the locals and put them away from illegal mining.  

Reform the licensing regime – among the most critical action required of government to reducing risk from illegal mining will be the reform of the licensing regime of the small-scale mining. Many have faulted the process as cumbersome and not worth pursuing.

The Minerals Commission has as a matter of urgency reform the licensing regime to make it easy for prospective scale-scale mining firms. The reform will enable the Commission to monitor the activities of such firms and set standards for them. By so doing, the use of illegal materials and methods will ultimately reduce, and illegal mining tamed.

Control of Chinese investment – another disturbing challenge to the illegal mining has been the alleged huge investment of Chinese in the trade. Chinese investment is used to purchase the equipment and ammunition used by the illegal miners. Such developments are disturbing and worrying.

To reduce the illegal mining activities means the Ghanaian authorities properly scrutinising Chinese coming to Ghana. Bilateral engagement between the two governments will be a sure way to solving illegal activities of Chinese in Ghana. Such efforts must continue as Chinese investment in the sector could be damaging, to say the least.    

Amplifying risk communication- People engage in the trade without knowing the risk to their person. Education, therefore, becomes a relevant tool to reducing the entry into such trade. Amplifying the communication of associated risks will deter many from undertaking such activity. The Minerals Commission must be required to embark on safety and risk campaign in these areas routinely.

Diffusing politics from mining- the illegal trade has persisted due in part to the fact that political willingness to fight the menace has fast weaned. Most of the mining areas have a large population that could decide who wins the next election in Ghana. Given the political cost of fighting the menace, most political parties have swerved away from confronting the trade head-on.

The political willingness to ameliorating the situation should be a must as the persistence of the illegal mining would have a large cost in the future.            

In a nutshell, I think it right to say, mining contribution to the overall economy is overly emphasised. When examined from the perspective of social cost, mining especially, illegal mining becomes a dangerous activity. The expansiveness of its impact is alarming and is both immediate and remote.

To control the surge would require a strong commitment of the government to enforce laws on mining and also the involvement of traditional authorities. Mining could be good for the economy but it implication on environment and health is something worth further indagation.

The large-scale mining firms also have a role to play in helping to reduce illegal mining. Giving opportunities to local foes and expanding corporate social responsibilities would all be positive steps to addressing illegal mining activities in Ghana.  

- See more at: http://thebftonline.com/business/mining/23569/galamsey-menace-the-failure-of-mining-governance-system.html#sthash.nB069sly.dpuf
Source: Kwadwo Kyeremeh ([email protected])

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