He was speaking at a public lecture organised by the Institute for Christian Impact in Accra last Friday.
The lecture was on the theme: “Between Kayayie, galamsey, Mediterranean cemetery: Our collective moral responsibility for the wellbeing of our vulnerable younger generation.
Mr Okudzeto said without the ban, the country would, in some years to come, experience not just water shortage but its cocoa farms and timber might also be wiped out.
In March 2017, the government placed a ban on illegal mining following a wave of media campaign on the menace that has left many water bodies polluted and farmlands with deep trenches.
The dates for the lifting of the ban have been postponed more than three times. Recently, the Minister of Lands and Natural Resources, Mr John Peter Amewu, stated that not until there was permanent improvement in the country’s water bodies, the ban would not be lifted.
The government’s decision has over the period attracted a backlash from small-scale miners who insist that they had licence and operated within the legal environmental requirements and that their rights had been trampled upon. Many have been rendered jobless.
Human rights vs poison
Mr Okudzeto, who maintained that there was no difference between small-scale and illegal mining, popularly known as galamsey, said such arguments were unfortunate.
“It would seem common sense to understand the logic of the preference for cultivation of the soil for food than a search for food. But our young unemployed do not understand this. There are even rumours that some influential persons have employed these young men to do the mining, legal or otherwise,” he said.
To take the hundreds of young people streaming towards Europe and indulging in other forms of illegal migration, as well as provide alternative livelihood for galamsey operators, he said the solution was in agriculture.
“Look at the Accra plains, water from the Volta River is flowing into the sea at Ada. We are not using it for anything, meanwhile the lands are there fallowing and we are importing plantain from Cote d’Ivoire and tomatoes from Burkina Faso, which is close to a desert and has less rainfall,” he said.
He commended the Ghanaian media for waging a strong ‘war’ against illegal mining, which, he said, had helped to rally the country against the menace.
Turning his attention to the hundreds of young people who journeyed through the Sahara Desert to Libya and subsequently travelled on dingies on the Mediterranean Sea, where countless youth had drowned, Mr Okudzeto said it was simply because such young people had lost hope that there were opportunities in Ghana.
“The streets of Europe and the United States are not paved with gold. They also have unemployed people. In the United States, more than 80 million people are living below the poverty line and about 20 million are stark illiterates,” he said and asked why some youth would want to risk their lives by making the perilous journey to Europe or the United States.
On the kayayei (head porters) situation, the Member of the Council of State blamed it on the lack of opportunities in the three regions of the north, coupled with the high illiteracy and unskilled labour rate, leading to the urban drift to the south, particularly, Accra and Kumasi in search of jobs.
Mr Okudzeto urged the Christian Council, the Catholic Secretariat and other church umbrella groups to encourage their members to set aside one per cent of their weekly offertories and build rehabilitation centres where the kayayie could acquire skills.
The Minister of Finance, Mr Ken Ofori-Atta, in a speech read on his behalf, urged the Church to also take up the mantle to support job creation in the country. “If we ignore the opportunities given us by God to help, we will also fall victim to the societal ills that confront us,” he contended.