A total of 187 persons charged with different mining offences have been convicted and sentenced to various terms of imprisonment in the Eastern Region since 2017.
They include 29 Nigeriens, seven Nigerians and three Chinese.
The Attorney-General and Minister of Justice, Mr Godfred Yeboah Dame told journalists that prosecution was conducted by the Eastern Region Office of the Attorney-General headed by Chief State Attorney, Mrs Emily Addo-Okyireh.
Mr Dame said since the designation of the High Court 3 and Circuit Court B, in Koforidua as courts to deal with illegal mining cases by the Chief Justice, Justice Kwasi Anin Yeboah, the Office of the Attorney-General prosecuted all cases on illegal mining brought to its attention.
He said most of the cases were tried in Circuit Court B, Koforidua presided over by Mrs Mercy Adei-Kotey, now a Justice of the High Court.
The Attorney General said that most of the accused were tried and sentenced under the old section 99 of the Minerals and Mining Act, 2006 (Act 703).
The Section 99(1) of Act 703 prescribed a penalty of a minimum fine of three thousand penalty units or imprisonment for a term of not more than five years for the offence of buying or selling minerals without a licence.
For the offence of undertaking a small scale mining operation without a licence or acting in contravention of a provision of Act 703 in respect of which an offence is created, section 99(2) of Act 703 stipulated a penalty of a minimum fine of one thousand penalty units or to imprisonment for a term not more than three years.
Mr Dame said in spite of that provision, prosecutors succeeded in getting custodial sentences imposed on the accused in 40 out of the 48 cases being prosecuted, with the court exercising discretion to impose a fine in eight of the cases.
Under the new law, Mr Dame noted that 33 of the convicted persons including 11 foreigners were convicted and sentenced under the new Minerals and Mining (Amendment) Act, 2019 (Act 995) between August 2021 and September 2022 and are currently serving various prison terms of 15 years, 20 years and 18 years together with fines imposed in the various cases in which they were convicted.
Mr Dame, however, expressed displeasure with the decision of the Circuit Court to impose sentences between three years and five years on the accused in five of the cases involving the trial of 47 persons, which were filed before the passage of Act 995 but which were determined after the Act had come into force on August, 19, 2019,
This, he said, was contrary to the law as Act 995 substituted the punishment regime provided for under Act 703 with a new punishment regime which increased the penalty for engaging in illegal mining operations and illegal trading in minerals.
In the view of the Attorney-General, the substitution of the former section 99 of Act 703 with a new section 99 under Act 995 implied that a court of law engaged with the conduct of a case pending before it, was obliged to apply the new penalties provided for by the law rather than applying the old penalties existing under the law which was no longer in force.
The Attorney-General indicated that of the 48 cases tried in the Eastern Region since 2017, in respect of which convictions have been secured, only one is on appeal.
He said that there were currently about 43 new cases involving the trial of about 250 persons including Chinese at Circuit Court B, Koforidua.
The Attorney-General said an update on the prosecution of illegal mining cases in other regions, particularly, Ashanti, Western and Greater-Accra Regions will be provided in due course.
BY MALIK SULLEMAN