Having a mining licence alone does not imply responsible mining: Effective regulation needed to enforce responsible mining practices
As enshrined in the Minerals and Mining Act, 2006 (Act 703) (now amended Minerals and Mining Act 2019, Act 995), obtaining a mining licence granted by the Minister responsible for mining based on recommendations of the Minerals Commission is a major prerequisite for any individual or company seeking to engage in large, medium or small scale mining activities in the country. Any form of mining undertaken without a license or outside the terms and conditions of the approved license is deemed to be illegal, commonly referred to as “galamsey”.
Currently, galamsey activities in the country have reached unimaginable levels with damning effects on water bodies, land and forest cover. This has raised serious concerns and agitations among the public against artisanal small scale mining (ASM). Ordinarily, it is expected that a company or an individual with a small-scale mining license would comply with responsible mining practices but this has not been the case.
Media reports reveal how some licensed ASM operators are also complicit in the debilitating effects of illegal mining in the country. These operators abuse their licences by moving out of their assigned areas of operation into restricted areas (rivers and forest reserves), direct tailings into river bodies and mount machinery (Chanfans) directly in river bodies for mining purposes. For instance, Akonta mining a licenced small scale mining company was recently halted from mining in the Tano Nirimi forest reserve as the Minerals Commission revealed that the company did not have a permit to undertake mining operations in the area.
Yet when approached by authorities and security forces, these operators are quick to deny their culpability in engaging in irresponsible mining with the usual rhetoric that “we have licence to operate”. Licenced ASM operators need to understand that just merely having a mining licence to operate does not mean they can engage in any form of mining that causes harm to the environment and community within which they operate.
The Minerals and Mining Policy of Ghana highlight responsible mining practices that mining operators are obligated to embrace. Responsible mining offers a way to minimize and mitigate environmental impacts, promote human health, ensures that interests of all stakeholders are protected, and that mining contribute to the broad economic development of mining communities and the country at large.
At the global level responsible mining and due diligence principles have become the acceptable standards of mining. Buyers and downstream companies of precious metals like gold demand that the metal is responsibly sourced.
Current happenings in the ASM sector indicate that, regulation by mining regulatory bodies have largely been ineffective. The extent of environmental damage from ASM activities across the country demonstrate the lack of proper monitoring and supervision of ASM operations by the Inspections and Compliance Division of the Minerals Commission especially at the district level.
Considering the remoteness of most of the mining sites, regulatory agencies have failed to take full advantage of available efficient technological solutions such as remote sensing technologies and drones to track and monitor activities of ASM operators in real time. Ideally, by the mineral and mining law, all earth-moving and heavy-duty equipment used in mining operations ought to have real-time trackers installed in them so that their activities can be monitored and tracked. Yet a number of these equipment both with or without trackers are used in illegal mining.
Also, corruption and political influences remain major impediments to fostering responsible mining in the ASM sector. Popular parlance in the galamsey conversations has been that politicians are the real perpetrators behind the menace. Political nepotism, favoritism and interference hinder the arrest and prosecution of individuals and owners of mining concessions engaged in illegal and irresponsible mining activities. For instance, in the case of Akonta Mining company mining in a forest reserve without permit, the company was only told to seize operation in the area without any arrest or sanctions (as prescribed under article 99 of the amended Minerals and Mining Act 2019, Act 995) meted out. The company is deemed to be owned by the Ashanti Regional Chairman of the ruling NPP party.
It is evident that licensing a company to engage in mining does not necessarily imply the company is going to conduct its operations responsibly and sustainably. Effective regulation and strict enforcement of mining laws is key to sanitising the ASM sector.
This can only be achieved through strong collaboration among all stakeholders especially between regulatory agencies, traditional leaders and community members; the adoption and utilisation of appropriate and efficient technologies; application of requisite legal sanctions to individuals (so called ‘big men’) and mining companies who perpetrate illegal and irresponsible mining activities; regular and periodic monitoring and auditing of activities of licensed ASM operators in line with responsible mining standards; and enhancing transparency through public disclosures of activities of licensed ASM operators by the Minerals Commission.
The introduction of the responsible small scale mining awards by the Ministry of Lands and Natural Resources is very commendable in promoting responsible ASM activities across the country.