Wassa Association of Communities Affected by Mining (Wacam) in collaboration with other civil society organisations and communities affected by mining yesterday launched a sample of a minerals and mining bill to provide a platform for discussions on how to identify solutions to ensure that the country harnessed maximum benefits from the extractive sector.
The bill developed through participatory processes aspires to present an alternative legal framework on the mining sector to address the challenges associated with the exploitation of minerals.
It is also aimed at aligning the country’s mining legal framework with the ECOWAS Directive on the Harmonisation of Guiding principles and policies in the mining sector.
Primarily, it seeks to address human rights, land acquisition and environmental concerns.
In her address, the Associate Director of Wacam, Mrs. Hannah Owusu-Koranteng, noted that the Minerals and Mining Act 703, 2006, was faced with some challenges as there were no provision for “No Go Zones’ to protect forests, and important national landmarks, made no provision relating to the environment and deferred same to the laws that were inadequate, for example, on cyanide spillage and chemical pollution of water bodies.
She, therefore, proposed the inclusion of the “Polluter Pays Principle” in the legal framework, the internalisation of all operation cost of companies, social, economic, cultural and environment costs and also develop a mechanism for applying the Polluter Pays Principle in line with international best practices.
“There is no provision to obtain consent of mining communities on the bases of Free Prior and Informed Consent, an internationally accepted principle which protects the rights of indigenous people. The Mineral Act failed to include human rights audits and reporting in the mining sector.” Mrs. Owusu- Koranteng noted.
She, further, suggested that the Act must address the issue of access to justice especially on compensation, adding that the penalties for infringement was ridiculous as for example, a company which violated the Act paid $5,000 and if unable to pay the amount it becomes a debt to the state.
The Associate Executive Director of WACAM said the Minerals and Mining Act had been in operation for about a decade and that its inability to adequately regulate mining in Ghana was clear as more problems had overwhelmed the nation.
Ghana, she mentioned, had mined rivers, mountains, cemeteries, sacred groves, forest reserves, displacing more than 60,000 landlords who had many dependants, but yet, there was nothing substantial to show for the extreme suffering mining operations had inflicted on the people.
Mrs .Owusu-Koranteng continued: “While Ghana has been very good attracting mining investments, we have woefully failed to regulate mining. Despite our continuous advocacy for Ghana to include Windfall Profit tax in our Mineral and Mining Act, we failed to do so and missed the opportunity to increase our benefits from mining in the period of high gold prices.
“No wonder the contribution of mining to Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in 2014 was a meagre 0.8 per cent. The mining companies took advantage of the period and increased their production which meant increased pollution of our rivers and environment with pollutants and mining waste.”
Reminding the gathering that mining industry goes through a cycle of boom and bust, she said, Ghana seemed to have missed the opportunities of the third gold boom due to weak regulatory framework which provide adequate protection for mining companies, with very little for national interest.
For example, she noted that Ghana had experienced three mining booms with the third one witnessing eight large surface mining operations in the then Wassa West District resulting in problems including pollution of rivers, displacement of mining communities, destruction of livelihoods and human rights abuses.
Again, she reported that mining communities became hotbeds of violent conflicts on social, economic, cultural and environment problems of the surface mining, sparking sporadic resistance to the devastating effects of large scale mining operations, led to organised resistance by host communities.
WACAM and partners, she said, had learnt useful lessons over three decades on how the mineral endowed countries in Africa fell into unhealthy competition in the “race to the bottom” and managed to attract mining investment by lowering regulatory standards.
But, she believed that there were still opportunities to make amends and save the nation from the challenges it faced today, for example, using the ECOWAS Directive for the Harmonisation of Guidelines and Principles in the mining sector which Ghana ratified in 2009 and gazette in 2010.
The Country Director of Care International, Ambassador Elkanah Odembo, commended the partnership between WACAM and other civil societies, hoping that mining should promote prosperity and not only profits.
By Clement Adzei Boye