Forest reserves in the country remain under siege by illegal miners in spite of efforts by the rapid response team of the Forestry Commission to weed out the menace. Interference by politicians and traditional rulers continues to fuel illegal mining, popularly called galamsey. Some district managers of the Forestry Commission said it was worrying that while their rapid response teams risked their lives to arrest recalcitrant illegal miners under precarious environments, political figures and chiefs exerted their authority to get them freed. They told the Daily Graphic on condition of anonymity that in the circumstance, some illegal miners who were arrested by the rapid response teams and handed over to the police were let off the hook.
Forest reserves galamsey
The Daily Graphic team visited some forest reserves in the Western-North and Ashanti regions from February 6 to 9 and observed that the reserves had been heavily impacted by illegal mining activities. The forest reserves visited included Afao Hills at Bibiani Forest District in the Western-North Region; Denyau and Supoma, all in the Bekwai Forest District in the Ashanti Region. While the reclamation exercise was ongoing at some sites in those forest reserves, it was observed that there were many gaping and uncovered mining pits dotted across the restricted forests.
“You arrest the people and there is political pressure mounting on you to release them; traditional authorities demand their release and pressure mounts from all angles,” one of the district managers of the Forestry Commission, who pleaded anonymity, said. He explained that those interferers usually called to say they knew the person who was from this or that political party, so they should not try the case. “If you are someone who is not so strong, you will give up in this kind of situation,” the Forestry Commission officer added. Another district manager described as worrying the lackadaisical approach by the police and judiciary to prosecute persons arrested for illegal mining. “When the police are handling the cases, you can clearly see that they lose interest in them and this becomes so frustrating because gathering of evidence then becomes difficult,” the officer said. The source stressed that the continuous adjournment of cases was worrying and inimical to the fight against illegal mining. “Cases never start; the trials never start; they insist that they will have to get a Chinese interpreter before they can start the trial and that takes a lot of time,” it said.
Galamsey threat
Statistics at the Forestry Commission showed that 218 persons involved in galamsey in forest reserves were arrested. While some of them have been prosecuted, others are still standing trial by the courts. The figures also show that forest guards had demobilised 108 excavators and over 200 heavy-duty generators used to power operations at galamsey sites, and some vehicles. Touching on the arrests, the Manager of the Bekwai Forest District, Ernest Adofo, said from last year up to January, this year, the rapid response team in the district had burnt 76 excavators, 283 pumping machines, numerous motorbikes, vehicles and engine blocks. He said many illegal miners had also been arrested within the period but the prosecution process had been slow. “When I took over as district manager from August last year, 15 people have been arrested, with three of them being Chinese; but one of the major challenges we face is the court system,” he said. Mr Adofo said to the best of his knowledge, “prosecution has not started on the 15 cases. When we go to court, the case is called and it is adjourned,” he added.
For his part, the Bibiani Forest District Manager, Kobinah Baiden, said in January, this year, the rapid response team in the area arrested more than 20 people in four forest reserves out of which seven were being prosecuted. He called on the police and the judiciary to demonstrate patriotism by going all out to ensure that persons arrested for engaging in illegal mining were prosecuted as required by law. “I will suggest that the prosecution processes of illegal miners must be swifter and stiffer. If you arrest people and they are allowed to go, they will not see the effect of their activities on the environment,” Mr Baiden stressed.
As of May, last year, the State of the Nation’s Forest report by the commission revealed that 392,714.81 hectares of the country’s 288 forest reserves had been “significantly impacted” by illegal mining activities, out of which 4,726.26 hectares in 34 of the reserves had been confirmed as destroyed. During a recent engagement with the media, the Executive Director of the Forestry Services Division (FSD) of the commission, Hugh Brown, called for the immediate redeployment of the military to help halt illegal mining and other destructive activities in forest reserves across the country. He had said the withdrawal of the military from the fight against galamsey in forest reserves since 2022 had emboldened illegal miners to wreak havoc on forest reserves with impunity. Mr Brown said the illegal miners operated with sophisticated weapons, including AK 47, while forest guards used pump action guns.