Sloth in issuance of work permits fuels illegality, GGDMA says

- wants to help Brazilians regularize mining operations

Lengthy delays in the processing of work permits by the Ministry of Home Affairs contribute to illegal gold-mining by a number of non-Guyanese miners, particularly Brazilians, according to a Guyana Gold and Diamond Mining, and Association (GGDMA) source.

“It can take several months for a foreign miner to secure a work permit which really ought to be issued in a matter of days. In fact, what often happens is that by the time the permit is issued the period for which it obtains may have already expired or may be close to its expiry date,” the GGDMA source said.

GGDMA President Pat Harding confirmed that long delays in the issuance of work permits have allowed for foreign miners to commence mining operations without such permits but stressed that the association favours the eradication of illegal mining and compliance with local laws and that this should apply “to both local and foreign miners.”

The issue of the welfare of Brazilians who move to Guyana to mine gold has been the subject of discourses between the GGDMA and the Brazilian Embassy in Georgetown. Stabroek Business understands that one such meeting was held earlier this year during which the issue of the welfare of the Brazilians was discussed. Brazilian miners are also reportedly targets for shakedowns by policemen whom, this newspaper was told, turn a blind eye to the absence of work permits in exchange for payoffs. Additionally, Brazilians are frequently targets of robbery and, in some instances murder, by bandits operating in the interior.

Both Harding and GGDMA Administrative Coordinator Colin Sparman told Stabroek Business that the association favoured working closely with the Brazilians. Both officials said they favoured having Brazilian miners join the association. Sparman told Stabroek Business that by becoming members of the asociation Brazilian miners would be able to secure a better understanding of the laws and regulations governing the local mining industry and would also have an umbrella organization that would supportb them in pursuit of their applications for work permits.

Sparman told Stabroek Business that the Association had long acknowledged the contribution which the Brazilians make to the local gold-mining industry, “particularly through the technology which they bring to Guyana. Apart from that it has to be said that the Brazilian work ethic in the industry is one from which we can learn,” Sparman said.

Sources in the mining industry say that the problem of illegal mining has “festered over time” primarily on account of a “culture of corruption” which allows illegal operations to persist in exchange for bribes given to policemen assigned to check on work permits. One source told this newspaper that since it is known that many Brazilians are not in
possession of work permits they have become “targets for shakedowns” by policemen. According to Harding, the issue of the relationships between miners operating illegally and policemen has been the subject of discussions among the GGMC) the GGDMA and the Police Force. He said that it appears to be the view that the problem of illegal mining might be reduced if the processes associated with the granting of work permits were speeded up.

Meanwhile, Harding told Stabroek Business that with the GGDMA keen to ensure that mining laws are adhered to by the sector it was anxious to have the problem cleared up as quickly as possible.

Sparman suggested that with the recent introduction of work permits with a validity of three years, delays in their issuance were now likely to have a lesser impact on the ability of foreign miners to operate locally.

Stabroek Business has learnt that the clampdown on illegal mining has been ordered by the newly established Ministry of Natural Resources and the Environment, though a mining source told this newspaper that once the new ministry does not “bring to the table a system for properly policing the clampdown on illegal mining, the existing culture of corruption will allow the illegalities to exist with no trouble whatsoever.”

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