A total of 727 individuals are currently standing trial across the country over their alleged involvement in illegal mining, popularly known as galamsey, the Attorney-General (A-G) and Minister of Justice, Godfred Yeboah Dame, has disclosed.
According to the A-G, the 727 individuals were involved in 117 cases pending before various High Courts and Circuit Courts.
In a statement, Mr Dame said the Eastern Region accounted for 50 of the 117 cases, 33 in the Western Region, 23 in the Ashanti Region, seven in the Greater Accra Region, with the Upper East and Northern regions recording three and one respectively.
“On the average, a typical galamsey case involves the arrest and prosecution of at least six or seven individuals. Most of the cases are prosecuted in the region in which the arrests were effected,” the A-G said.
The principal legal advisor to the government said the 727 accused persons had been charged with offences such as undertaking mining operation without a licence and buying and selling minerals without licence.
The offences, he said, were under the Minerals and Mining (Amendment) Act, 2019 (Act 995), which attracted stiffer punishment and which was an amendment to the Minerals and Mining Act, 2006 (Act 703).
Under Section 99 of Act 995, a Ghanaian engaged in illegal mining, or one who commands, instigates or employs others to engage in illegal mining commits an offence and is liable, upon summary conviction, to a fine of not less than 10,000 penalty units (GH¢120,000) and not more than 15,000 penalty units (GH¢180,000) and to a term of imprisonment of not less than 15 years and not more than 25 years.
For a foreigner engaged in illegal mining, Act 995 stipulates a fine of not less than 100,000 penalty units (GH¢1.2 million) and not more than 300,000 penalty units (GH¢3.6 million) and a term of imprisonment of not less 20 years and not more than 25 years, or both the fine and the term of imprisonment.
The A-G said the passage of Act 995 in 2019 was a demonstration by the Akufo-Addo administration that it would not leave any stone unturned in the fight against illegal mining, and would go all out, including making sure such people were prosecuted and punished accordingly.
In terms of successes, Mr Dame singled out the Eastern Region branch of the A-G’s Office for securing the conviction of 187 individuals who engaged in illegal mining and were accordingly convicted and sentenced to various terms of imprisonment.
“Out of the 187 convicted persons, 33 were tried and sentenced under the new Act 995 between August 2021 and September 2022, and are currently serving various prison terms of between 15 years and 20 years, together with fines imposed by the court,” he said.
Despite the successes and the dedication by his outfit to fight illegal mining on the legal front, Mr Dame said the prosecution of suspected galamsey offenders were fraught with serious challenges.
According to him, one of the major challenges was the granting of bail with lenient conditions by some of the law courts.
Most of the accused persons, he said, absconded after being granted bail.
Even when the accused do not abscond, they go back to engage in galamsey after having been granted bail by the courts.
“The Judiciary ought to cooperate in the fight against galamsey by being cautious in the granting of bail and speeding up its processes to ensure swift prosecution and punishment of offenders,” he said.
Another challenge, the A-G said, was the failure of some judges to apply the punishment regime under Act 995, and rather applying the old regime under Act 703.
He cited examples of two of such cases that occurred in Tarkwa and Bolgatanga, where the judges sentenced the convicts to fines instead of the custodial sentences and fines as stipulated by Act 995.
“Pursuant to the instruction of the A-G, the Western Region Office of the Attorney-General intervened and applied to the High Court for judicial review of the orders of the Circuit Court. This application was upheld and the accused persons were then sentenced to terms of 15 and 20 years as required by law, which are being served,” the A-G added.,
With regard to the case in Bolgatanga, Mr Dame said he had instructed the Upper East branch of the A-G’s Office to file the necessary court process to quash the decision of the court.
Illegal mining has taken on national significance due to evidence of the destruction of water bodies, forests and the environment in general.
The fight against the menace was declared by President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo, who, in 2017, said his administration would go all out to stop illegal mining.
As part of the fight, the President launched many initiatives, such as Operation Vanguard, a drive-by members of the security agencies to stop the activities of illegal miners.
Other initiatives included a community mining project to help people in mining communities to mine responsibly.
In terms of the prosecution of illegal miners, a former Chief Justice, Justice Georgina Wood, in 2017 dedicated 14 courts throughout the country to deal with mining-related offences.
However, six years after President Akufo-Addo started the fight against illegal mining, many critics say his government has failed to deal with the problem.
But the government insists that it is still committed to dealing with the illegal menace and is working hard to achieve that.