Sand winners degrade Akotsi lands (MAY 4)

Sand winners have invaded Gomoa Akotsi in the Central Region, destroying farms and vegetation just as illegal miners are wrecking havoc on the environment in mining communities.
Farmlands and plantations have been taken, leaving them with pools of water.
One of the many casualties of the illegality, allegedly endorsed by the Gomoa East District Assembly, is Rainbow Farms.
Five acres of its 20-acre oil palm plantation have been destroyed by sand winners who have dug out the 12-year-old investment which the company started harvesting this year.
Destroyed investment
The Managing Director of the farm, Mr Isaac Owusu, told the Daily Graphic that GH¢150,000 worth of investment had been mowed down while officials of the Gomoa East District Assembly looked on and collected tolls.
"The District Assembly came to the site with national security officials at the time the sand winner was here but they just called him aside and left. I complained to them but no action has been taken, rather they have men on site, anytime a tipper truck is loaded, they collect tolls from them. Every tipper truck driver pays  GH¢10," he alleged.
Many of such palm fruits from the plantation risk being destroyed
Giving more details about his predicament, he said: "We came here one morning and saw that illegal sand winners had raided our farm at night for two consecutive times, destroying about 100 palm trees which are 12 years old. We just started the harvesting after nurturing it all these years."
"We came later on and met them at the site during the day and reported it to the police. We arrested one person and sent him to the Bereku Police Station but the case was transferred to the Ojobi Police because the area is under their jurisdiction," he recalled.
He stated that when they got to the police station, the suspect was rather fraternising with the police.
"They (police) called the sand winner's boss to come. I waited until 5 p.m. but he did not come so I left. They called me to say they will track him and arrest him but we came later to see him destroying another part of the plantation," he alleged.
"They have cleared five acres. One acre has 60 trees so we have lost about 300 trees. When I came and met the man, he only said the police are taking money from me and from you, so what we would do is to compensate you for what we have destroyed and then we would not come back," he said.
He told the leader of sand winners to go to the police and sort it out since he had reported the matter to them.
He said the last time the police officers came to the farm, they only urged him (Mr Owusu) to solve the issue with the sand winner.
An aerial view of the palm plantation
“I asked them how I could deal with them when they are destroying my investment. Anytime I come to meet them (sand winners), they tell me not to worry, but this is my investment. We have even brought machines from China to process the oil palm here. It is almost at the harbour to be cleared. Now I don't know what to do. The illegal sand-winning is destroying not just my plantation but the land and the vegetation," he said.
Asked if he had reported the issues to the Environmental Protection Agency, he said he had not but some officers from the agency from Cape Coast came to check the area and added that “they met the people and left, but have not been back."
"I want the illegal sand-winning to be stopped, especially on my plantation, so that they would not destroy it any longer because the way the police is handling the case, I don't think we can prosecute these people to pay for their destruction. It’s a 12-year investment. One tree gives us two tonnes a year and a tonne is GH¢500, so in total they have destroyed what can give us about GH¢150,000. This is the hybrid type and it is a good time to recoup my investment but what they are doing is threatening it," he added.
Ojobi Police
At the Ojobi Police Station, the police officer on duty (who only gave his name as Peter) said the officer in charge of the case had been transferred to another police station.
He admitted that sand-winning was wide- spread in the area but the hands of the police were tied because of land ownership, so they could only deal with the criminal aspect.
"There were times we arrested people but chiefs and elders turned up and insisted that they gave the land out. Our case is even worsened by the fact that we are logistically constrained. We don't even have a car," he said.
He advised Mr Owusu to get in touch with the police whenever the sand winners entered his farm.
Assembly reacts
When contacted for their reaction, the Coordinating Director for the Gomoa East District Assembly, Mr Emmanuel Baisie, denied the allegation that the assembly was collecting tolls from the illegal sand winners.
He said that the assembly was not collecting fees from the sand winners since they had not been licensed to operate in the district.
According to him, the perpetrators of the act are illegal sand winners who operate only at night, destroying people’s lands and farm produce.
He noted that the assembly was taking steps to stop their operations and that the District Security Council (DISEC) had instituted a taskforce made up of officials from the Bureau of National Investigations, the Ghana Police Service, National Disaster and Management Organisation (NADMO) and officers from the works department of the assembly to clamp down on their activities to protect arable lands.
He explained further that the taskforce had put together a comprehensive data on the illegal sand winners and would ensure that they are flushed out of the area.
He assured the public that the assembly would not relent in its effort to protect all the affected lands in the district.
Gomoa Akotsi chief
The Chief of Gomoa Akotsi, Nana Osafu Nintsin XVII, admitted that there were numerous sand winners in the town and they operated mainly in the night.
"I have reported their activities to the police on a number of occasions. They always arrest and release them."
Sand winning through portions of the palm plantation
He, however, said he had not given any land to sand winners, contrary to what the sand winners claimed.
Sand winners 
While many accuse sand winners of being as destructive as illegal miners, the National Association of Sand Winners, Stone Workers and Tipper Users insist that a rather cumbersome process of obtaining a licence should be blamed.
Ghana's Mining and Minerals Act (Act 703)  also regulates the activities of those who involved in sand and stone winning.
The activities of the sand winners have  left many of the palm trees destroyed  
The act classifies sand and stone as major minerals, and, therefore, subjects them to the same process of obtaining a licence or permit like those who mine gold, diamond, bauxite.
Mr Peter Donkor, the chairman of the association, is quoted as saying that the long period of waiting, coupled with the cumbersome administrative procedures and the stress of having to travel all the way to Accra for a permit, encouraged some sand winners to engage in illegal activities.
He explained that the decentralisation of the issuance of permits would minimise and ultimately curb illegal sand and stone winning in the country.

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