187 Illegal Miners have been jailed in the Eastern Region for mining offenses since the current government took office.
The Attorney-General and Minister for Justice, Godfred Yeboah Dame said that the convicts were in 48 cases which came before the State and prosecuted.
He mentioned that all the cases were conducted by the Eastern Region office of the Attorney-General headed by a Chief State Attorney, Emily Addo-Okyireh.
Following a directive of the Chief Justice designating the High Court 3 and Circuit Court B, Koforidua as courts to deal with illegal mining cases, the Office of the Attorney-General prosecuted all cases on illegal mining brought to its attention.
Most of the cases were tried in Circuit Court B, Koforidua presided over by Mercy Adei-Kotey (as she then was), now a Justice of the High Court.
The Attorney-General noted that the 187 convicted persons include 29 nationals of Niger, seven Nigerians and three Chinese.
A majority of the accused persons 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 penalty of a minimum fine of three thousand 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 penalty of a minimum fine of one thousand penalty units or to 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 cases referred to above, the maximum custodial sentences allowed under the law or close to the maximum were imposed on the accused persons, with the court exercising the discretion to impose a fine in eight of the cases.
Convictions since 2021 – New Law
Thirty three of the convicted persons were convicted and sentenced under the new Minerals and Mining (Amendment) Act, 2019 (Act 995) between August 2021 and September 2022 and are currently serving various prison terms of 15 years, 20 years and 18 years together with fines imposed in the various cases in which they were convicted.
These include 11 foreign nationals.
The passage of Act 995, spearheaded by the Akufo-Addo administration in 2019, enhanced the 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 a Ghanaian together with a fine of minimum 10,000 penalty units and not more than 15 two thousand penalty units.
In the case of a non-Ghanaian, Act 995 has enhanced the punishment for the same offences to a term of a minimum 20years imprisonment and maximum 25years together with a fine of minimum 100,000 penalty units and not more than 350,000 penalty units.
Dissatisfaction with sentencing in some cases Mr Dame however expressed displeasure with the decision of the Circuit Court in five of the cases involving the trial of 47 persons, which were filed before the passage of Act 995 but which were determined after the Act had come into force on 19th August, 2019, to impose sentences between three years and five years 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 view of the Attorney-General, 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 applying the old penalties existing under the law which was no longer in force.
He indicated his resolve to resort to courts higher up the judicial architecture to ensure that the 47 accused persons 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.
Only one appeal pending, in 43 new cases involving 250 persons.
The Attorney-General indicated 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 about the chances of the Republic in the appeal.
He also indicated that there are currently about 43 new cases involving the trial of about 250 persons pending at Circuit Court B, Koforidua.
The 250 persons currently on trial include foreign nationals, some of whom are Chinese.
Cases from other region
The Attorney-General indicated that an update on the prosecution of illegal mining cases in other regions, particularly, Ashanti, Western and Greater Accra Regions will be provided in due course.