When Professor Kwabena Frimpong-Boateng, Chairperson of the Inter-Ministerial Committee on Illicit mining (IMCIM) launched the Committee's first road-map on galamsey on 16 August 2018, I described the road-map as a “sophisticated” one that placed not one “hydra-headed” monster in the path of a solution to the galamsey problem, but several.
The follow-up programme which the Minister announced on 14 December 2018, is also a terrifying incubus. Everything about the programme is scientific-based and logically constructed.
But it neglects one important factor: the Ghanaian character.
What do I mean?
This: that as soon as the Minister said that the ban on illegal mining would be lifted on Monday, 17 December 2018, a cheer went up in the International Conference Centre (where the Minister launched the new programme).
That was what many people had come to hear. And they got it.
Yet the Minister had outlined a complex set of rules which small-scale miners must follow if they are to be allowed to carry out mining.
They must be trained; they must be vetted; their licences must be genuinely legitimatised at the office of the Committee; they cannot use earth-moving equipment and excavators unless these have been licensed by the DVLA and fitted with tracking devices. If such vehicles are detected to have been taken to sites where they are not supposed to be, they will be confiscated.
And the list of prohibitions went on; prohibitions formulated after a microscopic examination of what has been going wrong in small-scale mining.
And yet, people – some of whom had been happily breaking such regulations -- cheered?
Yes, they did! They cheered because they know they are Ghanaian “magicians”. They live in a country where a single telephone call can erase the fact that five, or ten, or twenty, or thirty foreigners, armed with sophisticated weapons including pump-action rifles, have been caught illegally mining in a forest reserve of all places.
Arrests, followed by SILENCE.
Have they been charged? SILENCE.
Have they been taken to court? SILENCE.
Will they be allowed to stay in Ghana? SILENCE.
Who arranges these “silences”? Ghanaian magicians, both in private life and in our state institutions!
They know they live in a country where chanfans are regularly used to churn up riverbeds and turn the water into mud. Everyone cries when these chanfans are shown in operation by our TV stations. But they continue to move from river to river. Because they are operated with the help of – Ghanaian magicians.
On the day before Prof Frimpong-Boateng made his awesome presentation, a video went viral on the Internet. It was a short JoyFM report from Apamprama Forest Reserve.
In the video, the enormously eloquent reporter, Erastus Asare Donkor, shows us horrendous pictures of the “wanton destruction” that has taken place in Apamprama “Forest Reserve.”
Mr Donkor closes his eyes and says, comically, “For over a year, the Forestry Commission saw no evil!”
Then he closes his ears, “And it heard no evil”.
And, of course, it said nothing evil. Neither did anyone else in the entire community see any evil.
The leader of the Task Force that Mr Donkor accompanied, almost breaks down when he describes the scene: “I have never seen anything so big like this,” he says. “In fact, I never believed there could be anything like this!”
Well, Dr Frimpong-Boateng says the Forestry Commission will be put through processes that will “reform” it. So will the Minerals Commission. And the Environmental Protection Agency.
New tasks will also be assigned to the Geological Services and other organisations.
But these are the very bodies that sat down and watched and DID NOTHING until today, there is hardly a water-body or river that's not in danger of perishing, are they not?.
I pray that the IMCIM's optimism will be rewarded and that everyone concerned will see their folly, play their part and help to transform galamsey into a sanitised and respectable business that does not harm our environment.
For indeed, as the Professor said, if everyone does his bit, the situation could be changed radically. Small-scale miners will be trained (if they have not been trained already) to mine in responsible and safe ways. Their concessions will be scientifically mapped out so that they cannot go too near water-bodies and rivers. Their operations will be watched by drones.
As the Professor said, “There is no logical reason why, with all these measures in place, anyone should want to engage in illegal mining.”
But indeed, that's where the rub is. Ghanaians don't always act logically. They like to cut corners. Instead of choosing the straight path, they often choose the crooked one, and try to bribe their way out when they are caught.
That, I fear, is what could do down the programme launched by the Professor.
So I hope he is keeping some weapons in reserve that he will deploy as soon as it becomes clear that the old Ghana “magic” is reasserting itself to resurrect galamsey.
Of course, that will be unnecessary if only the Ghanaians involved would reciprocate the enormous goodwill the Government has shown towards them. Nowhere in the world will a Government spend its own money and use its own expertise to try and turn an illegal business into a respected, legitimate one.
Former galamsey operators, as they go about their business carrying authentic ID papers; mining licences and papers covering legitimate mining concessions should be singing the praises of the Akufo Addo Government.
If they don't co-operate, then they will deserve whatever comes to them.
This, then, is a crunch time for the galamseyers. What they have done in the past shows that they don't deserve this second chance. But they are being given it. If they go back to their bad old ways, the country will deal with them, one way or another.
I give them one hint: Half a century ago, no-one imagined that there could be an America in which the Mafia would not be playing a dominant role in both social and business affairs. But where is the Mafia today, huh?