The Ministry of Lands and Natural Resources will deploy 60 armed soldiers, similar to the Operation Vanguard team, to crack down on the activities of illegal miners in the Oda River Forest Reserve in the Amansie Central District of the Ashanti Region.
This follows the resurgence of illegal mining, popularly called ‘galamsey’, in the forest reserve.
Operation Vanguard is a Military Police Joint Task Force (JTF) set up by President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo in 2017 to combat the operation of ‘galamsey’ in Ghana as activities of illegal miners have, over the years, depleted the country’s forest cover.
During an unannounced visit to the forest reserve a fortnight ago, it was discovered that more than seven hectares of the 16,443-hectare forest reserve had been destroyed by illegal miners.
The sector minister, Mr Kwaku Asomah-Cheremeh, who was totally broken by the extent of devastation caused by the ‘galamsey’ operators, said urgent actions would be taken to stop the menace.
"Clearly, what we are seeing here and what we have gathered shows that Chinese are engaging in this illegal mining and destroying our forests; of course, with the support of local collaborators. I am going to deploy the Operation Vanguard team to this forest immediately to deal with all those who are engaged in this illegality.
"The mining laws of this country do not allow anyone to do mining in a forest reserve. Anyone caught doing so will face a prison term of at least 15 years," he warned.
During the visit, the team found eight excavators, 18 fuel storage tankers, a number of Chafan machines and other equipment in four illegal mining sites, indicating that the illegal mining business was in full force.
Mr Asomah-Cheremeh said the resurgence of galamsey in forest reserves demanded a review of the strategies that had been used by the government to fight the menace these past three years.
"I can say that we have a different strategy in place to crack down on the illegal miners, but I will not put it out for now. You will all see it in the coming days," he stressed.
The minister, however, said the burning of equipment of the illegal miners would be part of the strategy going forward.
He warned all people in positions of authority, who reportedly were behind the illegal mining activities, to advise themselves before the law caught up with them.
Touching on the Multi-Sectorial Mining Integrated Programme (MMIP) that was initiated by the government with $80 million funding from the World Bank to deal with the menace, the minister said efforts were being made to receive the first tranche of the funds.
"The MMIP is crucial to the fight against galamsey. We have received some dollars from the World Bank to set up the office and also buy some vehicles and equipment. We are waiting for the first tranche so that we can roll out our programmes," he said.
Officials of the Forestry Commission and forest guards were helpless in the situation since the illegality was said to be perpetrated by some Chinese nationals with support from locals who had the backing of ‘big men’.
The Manager of the Amansie Central District Forestry Commission, Mr Redford Twum-Damoah, said the galamsey business in the forest reserve was getting out of hand.
He expressed frustration over getting offenders to face the law, saying his men had succeeded in arresting two Chinese illegal miners but they had both been granted bail.
Mr Twum-Damoah also said the forestry guards were able to seize eight excavators last week, but the machines disappeared and could not be traced.
"We moved the excavators out of the mining sites to the nearest village but when we returned later, we could not find six of them," he said.