Government’s move to promulgate a law to enable it confiscate equipment of illegal miners (galamsey) has been shot down by an African Center for Economic Transformation (ACET) dialogue in Accra.

At a Public-Private Sector Dialogue on Mining Governance in Ghana sponsored by the Australian Government, participants raised serious questions about how lopsided the law would be and called on government to rethink that position.

Under the laws of the country, the state has no power to confiscate equipment used in illegal mining, which has to some extent impeded the government’s efforts to stamp out galamsey activities; considered by many to be environmentally unfriendly.

The ministerial task force against illegal mining recommended the passing of a law that will give powers to government to confiscate assets of illegal miners. Probably frustrated by the nonexistence of such a law, there are reports of the task force going the extreme and setting fire to assets belonging to these miners.

However, presenting a position paper on “Improving Governance of the Artisanal and Small-Scale Mining Sector in Ghana” on Wednesday, a lecturer at the University of Education Winneba, Alhassan Atta-Quayson strongly disagreed with the taskforce’s proposal.

Though he equally condemned illegal mining, he observed that most of the people who engage in this unlawful uactivity are persons who have been frustrated by the state in their bid to acquire licence to operate legally.

He therefore challenged government to urgently improve the cumbersome framework on small scale mining to properly regulate their operations.  It takes years to acquire simple licence which should at most take six months, he revealed.

Mr. Atta-Quayson advised government to employ more intelligence in its fight against illegal mining if it really wants to win the battle.

Instead of moving in to destroy equipment or confiscating them, he submitted, government should use the intelligence apparatus to trace those in the value chain especially the financiers  and ensure the law take its course on them.

Also, as it is done in countries such as Liberia, Sierra Leone and Ethiopia, he implored government to classify artisanal and small-scale mining in Ghana as well as review the over decades-old law small scale operations.

In the 1990s, artisanal and small-scale mining contributed 5% of total gold output in the country, thus one out of 20 ounces came from that sector. Currently the output, Mr. Atta-Quayson disclosed, has significantly jumped to 30%, therefore one out of three ounces is produced by artisanal and scale miners.

This, he said, explains the reason why the sector has to be developed instead of fizzling them out of the system, which he indicated would be counter product judging by their contribution to the national economy by way of employment and other economic activities.

He therefore called on government to work at ensuring that small-scale mining companies get the necessary support especially in the area of finance to develop into big mining firms.

Ogyeahoho Yaw Gyebi II, Omanhene of Sehwi Anhwiaso Traditional Area, faulted the legal framework which gives absolute power to grant licence to mining companies without necessarily consulting the chiefs, resulting in a number of confrontation between traditional leaders and mining companies.

Worse still, he said chiefs are not clothed with the authority to check activities of miners so they are rendered powerless in determining whether a firm is mining legally or illegally let alone sanction wrongdoers.

Touching on confiscating equipment of illegal miners, the Omanhene was categorical, “that would not help anyone”.

He suggested that just as large scale miners are fined for flouting the laws, same must applied to small scale miners.

The first dialogue in November 2014 discussed the management of mining revenues. The third and final forum in the Public-Private Dialogues on Mining Governance series is scheduled for April 2015 and will focus on governance as it relates to Local Content policies.

The African Centre for Economic Transformation is an economic policy institute supporting Africa's long-term growth through transformation. ACET's mission is to promote policy and institutional reforms for sustained and economic growth throughout Africa, so that African countries can drive their own growth and transformation agendas.