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Burning Galamsey Excavators and The Threat of Judgement Debts – A Utilitarian Perspective

 Burning Galamsey Excavators and The Threat of Judgement Debts – A Utilitarian Perspective

The other day, I posted on my Facebook timeline that the burning of “galamsey excavators” by the military, despite the hue and cry of many, was a realistic option to be deployed under the prevailing circumstances. Why do I say this? It’s true that I was equally gobsmacked as you many others, when I heard about the burning of the said excavators found within prohibited perimeters from our water bodies and forest reserves.

Notwithstanding my primary gut felt objection, I didn’t immediately comment. Because you want to ask, why would a reasonable person burn excavators worth hundreds of thousands of dollars? If the answer isn’t obvious, you need to dig further. So I hit the streets as any worthwhile #StreetPhilosopher would do, to find out more.

To cut a long story short, our system is so compromised to the extent that most confiscated excavators would someway somehow find their way back into the bush; making the work of our valiant military officers deployed into the jungle a fruitless one. And neither could such excavators be moved from site, since the owners take away some critical components while fleeing from the oncoming military, thus making these machines immotorable. This act of rendering the excavators immovable gives the owners a window to return and refix them for continued galamsey activities once the military leave these sites.

So in straight forward terms, we must choose between the idealism of hoping our civil servants and political officers live up to the ethics of ensuring that confiscated excavators are kept under lock, or ask the State to invest in clearing paths to these galamsey sites and use trailers to convey the dud machines to police stations; or we allow the military to burn them on sight, as an immediate and clinical deterrent to those who invest in these machines for wrecking our environment.

If you ask me, at this very moment, I choose the restoration of our water bodies over the hope that our politicians and public officials would safely and securely hold confiscated excavators under lock. I prefer the immediate restoration of the Pra, Brim, Volta, etc. over any idealist expectations of our politicians putting those seized excavators to any alternative productive use (something the failed at spectacularly in the “flying excavators saga”), or that the State spends scarce resources trying to convey immotorable excavators to police stations as sources of evidence for prosecution, with almost the certainty that owners of such excavators would go to theses stations and successfully bribe officers in order to retrieve the said excavators.

In short, the galamseyors are waging a war of attrition – a war of inconveniencing the State, so as to frustrate and defeat the fight. In doing so, with the help of their collaborators within the State apparatus, they can revert to their illegal and vile actions after making naught of the efforts of the military officers deployed to stop them. It’s in this light that some of us are of the view that the government cannot afford to continue fighting this war with the mentality of “business as usual” hence our support for drastic measures like the burning-on-sight of any such excavators found at illegal sites.

However, some other concerned citizens have expressed fears about the possibility of judgement debts against the State, for summarily destroying properties of without recourse to laid down procedures and laws ( particularly the Minerals and Mining Act), which stipulates how to deal with such illegal mining activities and how machines used for illegal mining must be handled.

While these are genuine concerns, we must not lose sight of the fact that citizens have been appealing to government to use the laid down laws to fight the menace, when it started getting out of hand almost two decades ago. Well before 2012, and by 2014 when the power generation capacity of the Bui Dam for instance was gravely hampered by galamseyers, there was immense pressure from citizens for a major clamp down on galamsey using the laws. But several years after, in the second term of a new government, it must be clear to all that our governments are either incapable or deliberately unwilling to use the appropriately laid down laws in fighting the menace. This could ostensibly be due to the potential complicity of many of their financiers and staunch members. Their negligence has left the matter to fester to the point where using run-of-the-mill legal approaches would leave our environment, hence our health, utterly destroyed before any decent progress could be made.

Today, we’re clearly staring into the abyss of a national water and health crisis due to the madly devastating effects of these illegal mining activities on our environment. As such, it would be incredulous to expect that anything would change by calling on our same old impervious governments to follow the laws as laid down. The venerable Albert Einstein once said, insanity is when you do the same old things the same way but expect different results. That’s why some of us are of the view that burning the galamsey excavators is bound to introduce a new dimension to this crisis – no matter how the cookie crumbles.

Reverting to the judgement debt concerns, our constitution and laws make room for the government to avoid such legal distractions during times of an emergency – which is exactly what this galamsey menace is. Obviously, the President has the power to declare a national crisis, with the approval of parliament, and then go ahead to burn those machines, which are found within proscribed areas, to serve as an immediate deterrent. Such emergency powers can then allow the Executive to take other such decisive actions as may be required to stop this disaster before it completely devours our environment, with all of us along with it.

In my considered view, hoping against hope that members of our governments would someday voluntarily prosecute their friends who may be involved in this criminality is nothing but wishful thinking. So to close the door of using the act of burning excavators as a mere populist stance to hoodwink the public, while providing their political cohorts who may be involved in galamsey a leeway to recoup damages via the window of judgement debts, let’s all join our voices together and call on the President to activate Article 31(1); that is the only way to know if he really means business, and is truly committed to winning this war without compromise nor equivocation.

Again, others argue that since the earlier burning of excavators was not done under a warrant of emergency, the owners are duly entitled to their day in court. My response to this is that all Ghanaians must welcome this ab initio twist with great joy. Because the only way to excavate some of the truth underlining the apparent spinelessness of government, in fighting this crisis head-on, is to provoke the two parties against themselves- that is, government on the one hand, and the galamseyers on the other. It is only the burning of the properties of one of the parties that will prime an internal conflict between the two to allow the public a sneak peak into what has long been suspected as a nefarious affair between purveyors of galamsey and high ranking persons within our political space. So let those who had their excavators burnt go to court. In court, the aggrieved excavator owners would have to prove which State entities or government functionaries gave them the permit to mine in those proscribed areas; where such mining activities pose such grave threats to our water bodies and forest reserves.

It’s only from the evidence presented by the aggrieved “complicit” parties that we may have any hopes of getting any close to the truth. We should just hope that these aggrieved parties are not cooled off behind closed doors. Our hope of peeing behind the veil lies in their going to court.

However, going forward, there is ample legal provision for the government to stem a barrage of needless judgement debts. This, as I indicated earlier, we must compel the President to do, by way of activating the emergency laws that are required to deal with this galamsey menace.

The Executive can fall on Article 31(1) of the Constitution and the Emergency Powers Act(Act 472) to give it the right locus to tackle this galamsey crisis with military urgency- and that can allow deterrent actions such as the burning of excavators found within proscribed areas, an other such measures that must be put before parliament for approval. It goes without saying that we more than need such immediate and decisive actions to bring our waters and forests back to life, without being held back by the merry go rounds of legal gymnastics.

It would be disastrous, and equally devoid of any appreciation of reality, to continue living in expectations of using ordinarily long and winding everyday legal procedures to deal with this rather stark and dire existential crisis we are confronted with. If we don’t take any decisive action, soon we will be fighting water wars and the effects of arsenic and mercury poisoning on those living (and the concomitant genetic defects caused in children yet to be born) would leave us in a state of unimaginable regret and suffering.

To conclude, I must reiterate the fact that no worthwhile leader should see such an ominously unfolding disaster in his nation, and go on entertaining leisurely legal dances; in anticipation of compliance by incorrigibly recalcitrant illegal miners and an endemically compromised law enforcement/justice system. Something different must be done, and it must be done now; and if that must involve the burning of excavators, so be it. The President must simply evoke the constitutional instruments that grants the State immunity from peace time legal distractions, so as to forge ahead and decisively win this war; for now and for posterity. Anything less would leave an indelible scar on the legacy of this government, and on our collective conscience as citizens of this country.

By: Jason Tutu


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