When illegal miners heard that the Lands and Natural Resources Minister’s convoy was heading towards their Fure forest reserve, they did not run away. They continued mining.
The convoy, in addition to Minister Kwaku Asomah-Cheremeh, contained technical directors and some soldiers, JoyNews’ Latif Idris reported on Thursday.
The convoy passed right by illegal miners on the shoulders of the road that runs through the Fure forest reserve in the Prestea-Huni-Valley District.
But to the left and to the right side of the road, the illegal miners continued unmoved in a bold testament of the state of the government’s once-praised fight against illegal mining.
“Not even the huge convey of the minister scared them. They were there doing it with impunity,” JoyNews’ Latif Idris added.
Several months ago, rumours of soldiers and police officers closing in on illegal mining sites was sufficient cue to bolt. But on Thursday’s trip with the minister, they did not flinch, the JoyNews reporter said.
“These guys were operating just by the shoulders of the road. They are not doing it deep in the forest. It appears these guys are coming back with much more confidence and impunity,” the reporter said.
According to Latif Idris, the miners told some members of the press, they were not afraid of any sanctions.
The JoyNews reporter said although the journalists saw the illegality, he cannot say if the minister saw them. The minister who was in another vehicle kept driving on as the one transporting the journalists stopped to allow the reporters to speak with the ‘galamseyers’.
There is a permeating belief among illegal miners that the government is softening its stance against their work as election beckons in November.
“They have in mind that it is an election year. They are taking advantage of the fact that 2020 is an election year”, the minister said.
Photo: Kwaku Asomah-Cheremeh
Kwaku Asomah-Cheremeh said this perception is feedback to the government. “It means that they have told us to beef up our strength on the ground,” he interpreted the perception.
While the minister talked about beefing up its forces, JoyNews sources have said, the government is withdrawing the military contingent of the Operation Vanguard taskforce.
The government has signaled it is leaving only the police contingent to keep up the fight against illegal mining, Luv FM’s Erastus Asare Donkor has reported.
The soldiers who have been trudging through forests in mining zones across the country have begun packing up. The first group based at Tarkwa in the Western Region will move back to the barracks in the next 24 hours.
This will be followed by the contingent in the Central Region and later, the military officers based in mining zones in the Ashanti Region will be withdrawn by March.
President Nana Akufo-Addo has repeatedly indicated his resolve in stopping the menace of illegal mining. He has said he is prepared to put his presidency on the line in the fight against illegal mining.
But nearly three years into the fight against illegal mining, Ken Ashigbe who leads a media coalition against illegal mining told JoyNews, “it looks as if we are retrogressing.”