By way of introduction, I need to state that Mr John Peter Amewu is the President’s nominee as Minister of Lands and Mineral Resources.
He is also the Volta Regional Chairman of the New Patriotic Party (NPP). According to his curriculum vitae (CV), he is a cost engineer in mining. He, therefore, must have a good idea of the portfolio that has been handed to him.
I had a banter recently with a friend about how “rich” or “poor” some ministries are. He listed in a descending order the best five well-resourced ministries. At the top, he put the Ministry of Lands and Natural Resources. Having been some time ago very active in Natural Resources and Environmental Governance (NREG), I said the Ministry had been beset with challenges that everybody sees. Ministers come and talk glibly about them and leave. In fact, the care for our land, our forests, water, minerals and game and wildlife can be likened to an elephant meal. I, therefore, imagine Mr Amewu sitting at a huge table of whole roasted elephant. Fork and knife in hand, he is confused about which portion of the meal to attack.
At his vetting, he answered the questions knowledgeably on land ownership, the process of acquisition, deforestation, water pollution, ‘galamsey’ and others. However, not many listeners were impressed because no minister of that portfolio has ever said anything different over the years. Yet, the challenges that confront the ministry are rather getting out of hand.
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The Land Commission is touted as a one-stop shop to ease acquisition of land, but it is now more difficult to acquire land for either industrial purposes or real estate, not to talk of individual accommodation. Talk of government acquiring land banks to be leased to those who need them has become an empty one. Rather, high government officials parcel out choice lands for themselves under the scheme of redevelopment.
Chiefs, clans and individuals indulge in double sale of land and there is litigation because boundaries are either not clear or non-existent. The Land Administration Programme (LAP) to map out boundaries, which has been supported with good donor money, has been at a standstill for years.
Our land is losing forest cover at an alarming rate through the activities of legal and illegal loggers. Replanting is only a buzz word. In the savannah areas, the land is losing grass and shrub cover due to the sustained invasion by Sahel cattle through the connivance of some chiefs and the high in society. Bush fires also contribute their bit to the harm.
Parts of the Ankobra, Offin, Pra and Densu have turned into soupy, brown water and are even drying up due to small-scale mining activities. One does not need to tramp in the bush to see all these levels of continuing degradation. Only a bus trip on the major highways brings one face to face with the stark realities.
According to Mr Amewu, he plans to tackle the challenges through regulation which involves policy, law, technology and enforcement. He makes it sound as if there has never been any policy, law and enforcement regime and he is now going to institute them. The simple fact is that in one form or another, there has always been a policy and there has always been a law on mining, logging, water usage and wildlife conservation. The problem really is enforcement of the law.
It is a dictum that nature hides its treasures in difficult and fragile terrains. For man to exploit them for better standard of living, he has to do damage to the land. That is why regulation is very crucial to natural resource exploitation for its sustainability. However, it is known all over the world that enforcement is very difficult when powerful interests are involved in the business of logging and mining. Who does not know the overwhelming leverage which multinational mining corporations exercise through lobbying, brown envelopes and other corrupting influences on government officials? Who does not know that some chiefs are either directly mining or acting as fronts for foreign ‘galamseyers’?
As for introducing new technology, Mr Frazier is yet to be convinced of a method of extracting minerals by small-scale miners which does not involve digging the land and washing the soil with water. This talk of new technology is what my people term xevidzi, the promise of a dazzling red bird to a child to stop crying.
To be able to come on top of his portfolio, Mr Amewu will need to apply the laws with all the sanctions prescribed. He should enforce performance bonds for land reclamation and the cleansing of our rivers. He should be prepared to be a social outcast while regulating the activities of those with whom he attends church, his business associates and chums. That is the hard part of staring at a roasted elephant. Where do you sink your teeth?