Finders Not Keepers: The Ownership of Minerals in Ghana

Consider a scenario where you discover a gold nugget while digging your land for planting. Section 111 of the Minerals and Mining Act, 2006 (Act 703) defines “mineral” as a substance in solid or liquid form that occurs naturally in or on the earth, or on or under the seabed, formed by or subject to geological process including industrial minerals but does not include petroleum or water. In our scenario therefore, the gold nugget you found is a mineral. Do you, therefore, own the mineral you found on your land?

Ownership in ordinary language refers to having the power of use and enjoyment of a thing which belongs to a person. There are different kinds of natural resource ownership regimes in the world. There are open access resources that are owned by all, like the air we breathe. There are also natural resources that are subject to international regulations because they do not fall within a particular state or territory. An example of such a natural resource is the sea which is governed by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea which spells out the rights and responsibilities of nations with respect to their use of the world’s oceans.

In some systems, mineral rights are privately owned. An example is the United States of America where the owner of land is also the owner of any resource attached to his land. In other countries, some selected minerals in their natural state are placed under state ownership, requiring the official grant of mineral licences to be able to deal with them in any way. All other minerals are owned by the land-owner where the mineral is found or discovered. In the UK, for instance, with the exception of oil, gas, coal, gold and silver, the state does not own mineral rights.

In Ghana, the situation is different. Natural resources are owned by the state. Article 257(6) of the 1992 Constitution states that every mineral in its natural state in, under or upon any land in Ghana, rivers, streams, water courses throughout Ghana, the exclusive economic zone and any area covered by the territorial sea or continental shelf is the property of the Republic of Ghana and shall be vested in the President on behalf of, and in trust for the people of Ghana. This means that the owner of any land in Ghana is not the owner of any mineral in its natural state which she may find. 

The law further provides that despite a right or title which a person may have in a land, upon or under which minerals are situated, a person shall not conduct activities on or over land in Ghana for the search, reconnaissance, prospecting, exploration or mining for a mineral unless the person has been granted a mineral right in accordance with this Act.[1]

Thus, regardless of the fact that you own the land on which the gold in its natural state was found, a mineral right must be granted to you to deal with it in any way. To make matters a bit more complex for individuals, qualifications for mineral rights are limited to bodies incorporated under the Companies Code 1963 (Act 179), under the Incorporated Private Partnerships Act 1962 (Act 152) or under an enactment in force.

In conclusion, the land is yours but the gold is ours (the people of Ghana).


[1]Section 9 of the Minerals and Mining Act, 2006

Selasi Kuwornu

4 thoughts on “Finders Not Keepers: The Ownership of Minerals in Ghana

  1. “In conclusion, the land is yours but the gold is ours (the people of Ghana).”

    Who will you reconcile article 257(1) and part of the above, which I infere to mean citizens own land. When indeed they don’t.

  2. “In conclusion, the land is yours but the gold is ours (the people of Ghana).”

    How will you reconcile article 257(1) and part of the above, which I infere to mean citizens own land. When indeed they don’t. All public land is vested in the president.?

  3. Not all lands in Ghana are public lands. Public lands include vested lands and land that are acquired (compulsory acquisition) by the Republic in the public interest. Land ownership in Ghana include lands owned by stools, families and even individuals; these are different from vested and acquired lands (public lands); the Republic however is not precluded from acquiring lands owned by citizens. So yes, citizens own lands in Ghana. The same article 257 defines public lands. Please indicate if further clarification is needed on what vested and acquired lands are.

    Article 257 of the 1992 Constitution:

    (1) All public lands in Ghana shall be vested in the President on behalf of, and in trust for, the people of Ghana.

    (2) For the purposes of this article, and subject to clause (3) of this article, “public lands” includes any land which, immediately before the coming into force of this Constitution, was vested in the Government of Ghana on behalf of, and in trust for, the people of Ghana for the public service of Ghana, and any other land acquired in the public interest, for the purposes of the Government of Ghana before, on or after that date.

    (3) For the avoidance of doubt, it is hereby declared that all lands in the Northern, Upper East and Upper West Regions of Ghana which immediately before the coming into force of this Constitution were vested in the Government of Ghana are not public lands within the meaning of clauses (1) and (2) of this article.

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