If survey deal caters for prospecting licences, Robert Persaud misled us – GHRA

The Guyana Human Rights Association (GHRA) today said that if the content of a survey permission for rare earth metals is as reported in the media, then it has been misled by the Minister of Natural Resources, Robert Persaud.

The GHRA statement came amid a burgeoning furore over what Persaud did not reveal about a Permission for Geological and Geographical Survey (PGGS) with Muri Brasil Ventures in the sensitive south east of the country.

Persaud had last month sought to assure the Natural Resources Committee of Parliament and the GHRA in separate meetings that there was going to be no mining east of the New River. However, since these assurances were given an agreement with the company has surfaced containing a clause which compels the GGMC to provide a maximum of 18 prospecting licences in the said New River Triangle. Stabroek News has reported on this in each of the last four editions.

Following declarations this week by opposition MPs that Persaud had withheld information on this deal with Muri Brasil, the Ministry of Natural Resources had sought to defend the minister by claiming that he had been upfront with the GHRA on this matter.

Responding to this, the GHRA today said that if there was an assurance in the contract for prospecting licences – Stabroek News has a copy of the PGGS which contains this – then it has been misled by Persaud.

The GHRA statement ups the pressure on Persaud and his ministry over this deal.

The GHRA release follows:

GHRA MISLED ON RARE EARTH SURVEY

In response to statements carried in the media from the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment to the effect that the Guyana Human Rights Association (GHRA) was informed at a meeting with the Ministry of ‘rare earth’ surveys in the New River Triangle, the GHRA feels obliged to clarify the precise information that was provided.

As part of a general assurance given to the GHRA that no permits had been issued for mining-related road construction in the new River Triangle, the Minister Persaud went on to say that the only activity taking place was an aerial survey being conducted to determine the presence of ‘rare earth’ in the South Rupununi area. In response to a first question from the GHRA whether this survey would lead to granting of prospecting licenses, we were assured that the survey carried no such implications. With respect to a second question on the geo-political implications of the survey – given the strategic nature of ‘rare earth’ – we were again assured that there were none. No mention was made of the firm Muri Brazil Venture Inc. nor the details of the Permission for Geological & Geographical Survey (PGGS).

The assurances were sufficiently categorical that, in the context of the main purpose of the meeting (requested by the Minister) the ‘rare earth’ survey issue was not felt to be of sufficient significance to be included in the GHRA post-meeting press release.

However, assuming the press revelations are correct concerning the alleged content of the contract with Muri Brazil Venture Inc., the GHRA was misled by the Minister. Indeed, if there is an assurance in the contract that applications for prospecting licenses from Muri Venture Inc. will be given priority treatment, then the GHRA would conclude that we were intentionally misled. The Minister told us nothing explicitly that was untrue, but omitted sufficient important details that we can only conclude the intention was to mislead.

The parallel between the recent Chinese trawler issue and the current ‘rare earth’ furore is striking. The Chinese company’s intent to exploit fish stocks in Guyana waters when questioned was projected as an interest in undertaking a study of fish stocks. Similarly, if the press revelations are accurate, the survey of ‘rare earth’ will assure Muri Ventures Inc. of a place at the head of the queue for acquiring licenses.

Moreover, as an essential component of all cell-phones, ‘rare earth’ is of enormous strategic value, 95% of which is currently provided by China. Complaints have been made at the World Trade Organization (WTO) that by its practice of restricting exports of ‘rare earth’, China is forcing companies trying to access it to relocate there. This fact alone renders exploration for ‘rare earth’ to be of considerable strategic significance. In addition, the territories being surveyed – bordering Brazil and Suriname over which Guyana has legal control but only a nominal governmental presence – further complicates the strategic dimension of this issue.

While welcoming the Parliamentary oversight and monitoring which has brought a clearer perspective to the ‘rare earth’ issue, we have to recognize that these after-the-fact mechanisms are not a substitute for preventive action. Had a new road intended to penetrate the New River Triangle not been challenged, when would the matter of the ‘rare earth’ survey, which was signed a year ago, have surfaced ?

The combination of mining and the environment within the current framework of the MNR&E clearly fosters abuse. Without independent and professional agencies dedicated to the vigorous protection and promotion of environmental interests, the much-needed policy debates over the merits of mining versus the environment will never take place.

Executive Committee, Guyana Human Rights Association,

December 13, 2013

 



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