Friends of the Nation (FoN), an environmental Non-Governmental Organisation, has opposed an immediate ban on the importation of mercury into the country and, therefore, advised the Government to tread cautiously to prevent any backlash.
It said an immediate ban on mercury imports and use may make the current illegal mining situation even worse because it would force miners into black markets.
A press statement signed by Mr Donkris Mevuta, the Executive Director of FoN, and copied to the Ghana News Agency on Tuesday, said the strict approach to ban the metal by the end of the year was likely to backfire if miners were not helped to find alternatives.
On July 19, 2017, at a media briefing in Accra, Professor Kwabena Frimpong-Boateng, the Minister of Environment, Science, Technology and Innovation, announced a plan by government to ban the import of mercury for artisanal and small-scale gold mining (ASGM) by the end of this year.
The statement noted that since Ghana did not produce mercury, the ban would, in effect, affect the use of mercury in small-scale mining.
“While we strongly support the eventual phase-out of mercury use in ASGM, criminalising mercury use will undermine ongoing efforts to help miners to make the transition to mercury-free sustainable mining.
“Instead, the Government should follow a comprehensive plan of providing needed assistance for legal miners, strong legal enforcement against those who are operating illegally, and comprehensive tracking and management of mercury imports and distribution,” it explained.
It asked government to learn from the experiences of other countries that had banned the use of mercury in ASGM including Indonesia, Mongolia, Philippines, Burkina Faso and Ecuador, as well as those that banned its imports like Senegal and Mali.
In April 2017, in response to serious environmental impacts caused by the growing artisanal and small scale mining sector in Ghana, the Ministry of Lands and Natural Resources placed a six-month moratorium on all artisanal and small-scale mining with the intention to reviewing the status of the sector and identifying solutions.
The statement indicated that the Ministry put forth public consultation on a draft Project Appraisal Implementation Document of the Multilateral Mining Integrated Project (MMIP).
This project includes a comprehensive plan to crack down on illegal mining, while at the same time providing technical, administrative and financial support to those miners who wish to operate legitimately.
“Whiles we commend this initiative, we urge the Government to tread cautiously about dealing with issues on the use of mercury in ASGM.
“This can severely undermine legitimate efforts to help miners move away from mercury usage. In fact, such laws sometimes have the perverse outcome of increasing mercury exposures, because some miners choose to burn amalgam in secret, indoors, which exposes them and their families to health risk.
It recommended, under the new Minamata Convention on Mercury, that countries where ASGM takes place must reduce, and where feasible, eliminate mercury use in the sector.
However, the Convention does not require an outright ban of mercury use.
Instead, it suggests a different approach that recognises the need for a period of transition during which miners will be given assistance, knowledge and training to convert to lower mercury, and ultimately non-mercury processes while still reaping the economic benefits that ASGM can yield.
“This same enlightened approach was outlined in the new MMIP programme, which includes technical and financial assistance for miners to transition away from mercury use,” it explained.
The Minamata Convention requires that countries manage the trade of mercury, including new procedures requiring written consent from a country before mercury can be imported there.
Ghana can comply with these provisions by creating a comprehensive programme to track mercury imports including origin, quantities and intended uses, its distribution and uses once it enters the country.
It said such a tracking programme would allow the Government to ensure that mercury was used by legal entities and eventually eliminate its use.