A burnt excavator

Never since international gold trading started over 400 years ago in the ‘Gold Coast’ at ‘El Mina’ has the winning of the precious metal become an existentialist threat like now. To save this nation, Government is being compelled to resort to radical measures, including burning equipment found near river bodies and in forest reserves.

Strong arguments against outright destruction through burning include illegality of burning, indiscriminate approach impacting legal miners and impunity of Government. Moreover, burning equipment is an expensive waste and has failed before and that rather, equipment should be seized, processed through court and used for other productive purposes by needy state institutions. Also, using the military as the primary enforcement agent is wrong. It should be police.  

Attractive as these arguments are, the lived reality is one of the genuine challenges to regulation and enforcement. State capacity, reflected in its footprint in terms of mining regulations management and enforcement, reach of courts, policing, advocacy and self-restraint through representative associations, have fallen short of curbing the menace. The government needs precious time to retool regulations and bring responsible mining on stream. In the interim, irresponsible mining must be stopped from completely spiralling out of control.  

And that is why it is necessary to burn stray equipment once and for all to deter repetitive destructive behaviour. The state is enforcing through burning because it must necessarily do so if it is to turn the tide in the short term whilst strengthening traditional regulatory measures in the medium to long term. As has often been repeated by H.E the President, he does not intend to stop the age old business of artisanal mining but its highly destructive modern version must necessarily be stopped with all the authority and force the state commands.

‘Necessity’ is a legal construct which presumes acting beyond existing law in the interest of protecting a larger public interest. Glanville Williams says;

“By necessity is meant the assertion that conduct promotes some value higher than the value of literal compliance with the law”

Judges sometimes refer to it as justification. The key argument is that extraordinary measures overriding current legal rights are permissible if the intent and action is in the line of duty and will preserve larger public interests.

As a judicial officer of well over forty years standing, H.E the President is keenly aware of our capacities and what must be done to bring us up to speed. This is what he said in September 2018 to the Ghana Bar Association gathered in conference; 

“… I began this address by indicating that I wanted us to be frank in our discussions about ourselves and about our conduct in the practice of our profession.

Our nation has had a lot of difficulties with our politics and governance structures, but for the past 25 years we have had a stable political system. We have had regular elections and sitting governments have been defeated, and there have been peaceful transfers of power.

We are making progress in our economic sectors also, but we need to do even more to meet the aspirations of our young and growing population, and feature among the leading lights of the world.

One apparent restraint to our progress, what we may term the missing link in our governance system, which hampers the rapid economic development we seek, is the deficit in the application of the rule of law.

It affects everyday life. It is about breaking rules and regulations in many aspects of our lives, and wanting to, and, indeed, circumventing the laws that are meant to guide our society.

It has to do with driving recklessly, and breaking all the traffic regulations and trying to bribe the police when you are pulled up. It has to do with not getting the proper permit to build a house, and it has to do with looking the other way when something wrong is going on.

It has to do with sharp practice and unethical behaviour by some lawyers, which jeopardise the administration of justice and the interests of ordinary people. It has to do with judicial corruption, which, a priori, constitutes a violation of the judicial oath.

It has to do with the degradation of our environment and the pollution of the atmosphere and of our water bodies. It has to do with petty bribery and corruption, and it has to do with bribery and corruption on a grand scale.

…I invite you to see and appreciate that many of the problems that plague our country have something to do with the mal-functioning of the law.

Many a bad headline can be traced to a law and order problem. In our country, currently, the problems confronting our banking sector are dominating the headlines, as they should. The story of every bank that has had problems, be they indigenous Ghanaian banks or international banks, like Barings Bank, Lehman Brothers, Bank of Credit and Commerce International (BCCI), each one can be traced to someone or some people breaking the law, or trying to cut corners by flouting regulations. The effects of these acts of lawlessness have been, invariably, the loss, and threat of loss, of innocent depositors’ savings and jobs.

When a building being constructed collapses and lives are lost, the cause can, in many cases, be traced to someone or some people breaking the law, or cutting corners. When a road that was built barely a year ago develops potholes, someone or some people have been breaking the law or cutting corners. The story of environmental degradation occasioned by illegal mining, what we call galamsey, is a clear case of people breaking the law.

We, who are gathered in this room, know the law, which is the foundation of law and order, and the foundation of every organised and progressive society. Our work matters. It affects profoundly the ordering of the state. Promotion of the rule of law is at the heart of this Association’s vocation. Its members must be the natural champions of a law-based state, whose establishments should be solid enough to sanction effectively vigilantism, bank frauds, cyber frauds, sharp practice, illegal mining, unlawful exports of fertilisers and oil products, identity thefts, stealing of public funds, bribery and corruption, criminal cartels, and criminal behaviour in general. ….

So, let us be up and doing. Let us put our shoulders to the wheel so that future generations will appreciate our contribution to the making of a successful, democratic Ghana, which guarantees the liberties of our people, the institutions of good governance, the cohesion of our society, the well-being of the masses, and the peace, prosperity and unity of our nation.”

The President is being accused of impunity for trying hard to enforce rules that people routinely ignore. Yet, this is the President who has opened up the most space in the political governance arena. He is a known advocate of media rights, representing journalists in court, helping repeal criminal libel, passing Right to Information legislation and speaking to the Press regularly. He has overseen an explosion in social media-attracting both Google and Twitter. Nana Addo does not have the right, authority, capacity or inclination to stop the media from doing its legitimate work. All he wants is mutual responsibility and accountability for our actions. He will not shy away from that. The media ought not to appear to be a den of impunity. Indeed, no institution of state ought to be above lawful enquiry, as Rule of Law demands.  

He has resolutely tackled political violence, taking the unprecedented steps of not only setting up a Commission after the Ayawaso West Wuogon election, but also encouraging the two major parties to dialogue face to face and then passing anti-violence legislation the success of which was more than evident in the 2020 Elections. Indeed, his tolerance for political debate was on show in the nearly two years of NDC protests against the EC and then he quietly set a great record by supporting the entire election budget from Government resources.

His political equanimity is evident in his relations with the current Parliament, especially Rt. Hon Speaker. He has quickly accepted the verdict of Ghana to work together and is doing so.

Significantly, he has also set up the most empowered institution to deal with political impunity. With our goodwill, The Office of the Special Prosecutor (OSP) will perhaps be the most enduring legacy of President Akufo-Addo, rivalling the mass spread of literacy that the educational reforms will bring.  

In conclusion, the lack of self-restraint within the general populace, if not addressed resolutely, will overwhelm every progressive initiative of Government. The Hon. Greater Accra Regional Minister, embarks on a major clean-up in response to our own complaints about a clean Accra, and immediately, his methods, some of which are necessary, are questioned when the affected people are mostly breaking the law and rules with impunity.

There will be innocent victims. Those exceptions must be entitled to address their grievance in the context of the state institutions of redress, especially the judicial process. But the likelihood of innocent victims ought not to stop the state from exerting its authority in the interest of preserving our common heritage, be it in the cleaning of Accra or battling galamsey.

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The writer is the former Adentan MP and Director of Communications of the New Patriotic Party.