A total of 187 people charged in 48 cases of illegal mining (or galamsey) have been convicted and sentenced to various terms of imprisonment in the Eastern Region since 2017, the Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Godfred Yeboah Dame, has said.
Giving the breakdown to the media, the Attorney General noted that all the cases were conducted by the Eastern Region branch of the Office of the Attorney General, led by a chief state attorney, Emily Addo-Okyireh.
Following a directive from the Chief Justice designating High Court 3 and Circuit Court B in Koforidua as courts to deal with illegal mining cases, the Office of the Attorney General prosecuted all cases of galamsey brought to its attention. Most of the cases were tried at Circuit Court B, Koforidua, presided over by Her Honour Mercy Adei-Kotey (as she then was), now a justice of the high court.
The Attorney General noted that the 187 convicted individuals include 29 nationals of Niger, seven Nigerians and three Chinese. A majority of the accused were tried and sentenced under the old Section 99 of the Minerals and Mining Act 2006 (Act 703). Section 99(1) of Act 703 prescribed a minimum fine of 3,000 penalty units or imprisonment for a term of not more than five years for the offence of buying or selling minerals without a licence.
For the offence of undertaking a small-scale mining operation without a licence or acting in contravention of a provision of Act 703 in respect of which an offence is created, Section 99(2) of Act 703 stipulated a minimum fine of 1,000 penalty units or imprisonment for a term not more than three years.
In spite of this provision, the Office of the Attorney General succeeded in ensuring that, in 40 of the 48 galamsey cases referred to, the maximum custodial sentences allowed under the law or close to the maximum were imposed on the accused, with the court exercising its discretion to impose a fine in eight of the cases.
Thirty-three of the individuals concerned were convicted and sentenced under the new Minerals and Mining (Amendment) Act 2019 (Act 995) between August 2021 and September 2022 and are now serving various prison terms of 15 years, 20 years and 18 years, together with the fines imposed in the various galamsey cases in which they were convicted.
They include 11 foreign nationals.
The passage of Act 995, spearheaded by the Akufo-Addo government in 2019, enhanced sentences for both buying and selling minerals without a licence and undertaking a mining operation without a licence to a term of a minimum 15 years’ imprisonment and maximum 25 years for Ghanaians, together with a fine of a minimum 10,000 penalty units and not more than 15,000 penalty units.
In the case of non-Ghanaians, Act 995 has enhanced the punishment for the same offences of galamsey to a term of a minimum 20 and a maximum 25 years’ imprisonment, together with a fine of a minimum 100,000 and not more than 350,000 penalty units.
Dame however expressed displeasure with the decision by the circuit court in five of the cases, involving the trial of 47 individuals – which were filed before the passage of Act 995, but which were determined after the act came into force on 19 August 2019 – to impose sentences of between three and five years’ imprisonment on the accused persons.
This, he said, is contrary to the law, as Act 995 substituted the punishment regime provided for under Act 703 with a new punishment regime which increased the penalty for engaging in illegal mining operations and illegal trading in minerals.
In the Attorney General’s view, the substitution of the former Section 99 of Act 703 with a new Section 99 under Act 995 implied that a court of law engaged with the conduct of a case pending before it was obliged to apply the new penalties provided for by the law, rather than the old penalties under the law which was no longer in force.
He signalled his resolve to resort to courts higher up the judicial architecture to ensure that the 47 accused serving what he considers to be softer prison terms under the old Section 99 of Act 703 are punished under the new Section 99 brought into being by Act 995.
The Attorney General announced that of the 48 cases tried in the Eastern Region since 2017, and in respect of which convictions have been secured, only one is on appeal.
He is, however, confident of the Republic’s chances in this single appeal.
He also said that there are about 43 new cases, involving the trial of roughly 250 individuals, pending at Circuit Court B, Koforidua.
The 250 people on trial include foreign nationals, some of whom are Chinese.
The Attorney General also announced that an update on the prosecution of illegal mining cases in other regions, particularly Ashanti, Western and Greater Accra, will be provided in due course.