On December 17, 2018, Kwabena Frimpong-Boateng, minister of environment, science, technology and innovation, announced the end of a moratorium on small-scale mining after nearly two years. During this period, the government had developed a comprehensive framework to regularise and monitor the industry. Although the ban gave rise to a degree of controversy, the government’s policies are expected to benefit the long-term health of the mining sector by addressing damaging and illegal activities.

Through improving environmental protection and overall regulation, the reforms should boost Ghana’s reputation as an ethical supplier of gold and minerals on an increasingly demanding global market. By tackling illegal and informal mining activities, and encouraging small miners to obtain licences, the government also hopes to raise its income from the segment.

Cleaning Up

Small-scale mining, known popularly as galamsey, has existed in Ghana for generations. The ban on it was first imposed in January 2017 and extended several times, despite opposition from smallscale miners. It followed several years of controversy over the rise of illegal mining operations, particularly in the north of the country. Formalising the sector and eliminating galamsey was a key part of President Nana Akufo-Addo’s political agenda when he came to power in January 2017. Illegal mining operations were seen as causing environmental damage, pollution to water sources and conflict with local communities, while depriving the government of royalties paid by legitimate operations – and thus undercutting operators following the law. The deaths of both miners and local people at galamsey sites were also a major cause for concern. The ban went hand-in-hand with the government’s Operation Vanguard, as part of which the security forces swept the country for illegal activities, making hundreds of arrests and seizing equipment.

The scheme is widely regarded as having been successful. “The interim ban was a good first step, an appraisal of small-scale mining,” Kwame Addo-Kufuor, regional financial officer of Africa Region Newmont, told OBG. “The lifting of the ban will hopefully improve tax income and environmental protection, as well as safety standards, which were unacceptable.”

Tougher Standards

The lifting of the ban applies only to those miners who have been granted licences to operate under the tougher regulatory regime. As of December 2018, 1350 miners had been vetted, with some 900 licences awarded. Small-scale mining companies must have permits from the Environmental Protection Agency, the Minerals Commission and the Water Resource Commission, as well as tax identification numbers. Mining equipment must be licensed and machines electronically tagged. Established concessions must also be re-vetted. The fabrication, transportation, and deployment of dredging equipment for use in bodies of water has been banned.

Under the new regulations, all mining companies are also obliged to have at least one employee trained in sustainable mining at the University of Mines and Technology. The government has deployed drones to monitor mining activity and ensure that miners are adhering to standards, while security personnel will continue to clamp down on illegal activity.

Those formerly engaged in illegal mining are now obliged to apply for a permit following training, and will be allocated a concession on which to work in accordance with the new regulatory framework. The government intends to group an initial cohort of around 3000 licensed former galamsey miners under the community mining model, and allocate them to formal mining concessions.

“Small-scale mining is an important part of the mining industry which needs to be supported and cultivated. They need capacity and appropriate technology in order to be able to operate more safely, productively and environmentally responsibly,” Sulemanu Koney, CEO of the Ghana Chamber of Mines, told OBG.