The Attorney General and Minister for Justice, Godfred Yeboah Dame, has revealed that a total of 119 criminal cases involving the prosecution of about 727 individuals for offences relating illegal mining (galamsey) have been pending at the High Court and some Circuit Courts around the country since January 2022.
Four regions – Eastern, Ashanti, Western and Greater Accra regions are the main regions in which the prosecution of persons engaged in illegal mining is being conducted, while the Upper East and the Northern Region have a few as well.
Giving the breakdown, Mr. Dame indicated that, on average, a typical galamsey case involves the arrest and prosecution of at least six or seven individuals. For that matter, the total number of persons standing trial in the 119 cases is over 727.
He said most of the cases are prosecuted in the region in which the arrests were effected, and the accused persons involved in some cases are Ghanaians, Chinese, Nigerians, Nigerien, Burkinabe and other West African nationals.
Mr. Dame said 50 cases are pending in Koforidua in the Eastern Region, 33 are being prosecuted at Tarkwa and Sekondi in the Western Region, 23 in Obuasi and other parts of the Ashanti Region, whilst seven (7) are currently pending in the High Court, Accra.
The Upper East and Northern regions record three (3) and one (1) in the courts at Bolgatanga and Tamale, respectively.
He said the accused persons are standing trial for undertaking a mining operation without a licence and buying and selling minerals without a licence under the Minerals and Mining (Amendment) Act, 2019 (Act 995).
He noted that the passage of Act 995, spearheaded by the Akufo-Addo administration in 2019, enhanced the sentences for both buying and selling minerals without a licence and undertaking a mining operation without a licence.
“In the case of a Ghanaian, it is now a term of a minimum of 15 years imprisonment and maximum of 25 years together with a fine of minimum of 10,000 penalty units (GH¢120,000) and not more than 15,000 penalty units (GH¢180,000). In the case of a non-Ghanaian, Act 995 has enhanced the punishment for the same offences to a term of a minimum of 20 years imprisonment and maximum of 25 years, together with a fine of a minimum of one hundred thousand penalty units and not more than three hundred and fifty thousand penalty units,” he stated.
Mr. Dame indicated that the new punishment regime is in contrast to the situation under Act 703 passed in 2006, which prescribed a penalty of a minimum of three thousand penalty units or imprisonment of not more than five years for the offence of trading in minerals and mining without a licence.
He lamented about the grant of bail by the court to accused persons on very lenient conditions which enables them to easily meet them and abscond afterwards, as one of the challenges responsible for the slow pace in prosecuting galamsey offences in the country.
Other challenges, he said, includes failure by police investigators to seize the illegal mining equipment used to commit the crime, and even when they do, they fail to bring the items to court.
He also identified lack of cooperation on the part of witnesses and absence or lack of court interpreters who can speak and interpret court proceedings in the language accused persons may want to use, as witnessed in the trial of a Vietnamese national in Accra, which slows down court proceedings.
One major drawback to the prosecution of galamsey offenders is what the AG describes as the “strange and absurd situation” where some judges fail to apply the new mandatory punishment for convicted persons and rather sentence them to a fine only.
He, however, assured the nation of the commitment of his Office to the prosecution and punishment of suspected offenders following the conclusion of sound investigations.
Mr. Dame revealed that even though Greater Accra is not a “galamsey region”, the High Court, Accra, has been the scene of many high-profile prosecutions in the fight against galamsey, especially involving Chinese and other foreign nationals.
He said 50 galamsey cases are currently pending in the High Court and Circuit Courts in the Eastern Region. The prosecution has closed its case in about eight (8) of them, with the court holding that a case has been established for the accused persons to open their defence. The accused persons are thus calling evidence in their defence.
Twenty-three (23) galamsey cases are currently pending, mostly at the courts in Tarkwa and Sekondi. These cases involve a range of people, including foreign nationals and officers of companies which have abused their exploratory and prospecting licences to illegally engage in mining.
The Ashanti Region also records 33 pending galamsey cases since 2022.
Mr. Dame added that until recently, dockets on galamsey cases were prosecuted entirely by the Ghana Police Service, a situation which was fraught with serious challenges and compelled the Attorney General to instruct the Head of the Kumasi Office of the Attorney General to call for all dockets on galamsey for prosecution.
This, he said, has sped up and boosted the general efficiency of prosecution of galamsey cases in the Ashanti Region.
BY Gibril Abdul Razak