A source at the Guyana Geology and Mines Commission (GGMC) says that Muri Brasil Ventures Inc (MBVI) has not relinquished any of the area of south-east Guyana allocated to it for surveying under the Permission for Geological and Geophysical Surveys (PGGS) that Minister of Natural Resources Robert Persaud granted on November 7, 2012.
In a public statement in response to questions by commentator Christopher Ram about its survey acreage, MBVI had stated that the PGGS would have seen it progressively releasing acreage that had been assigned to it. Ram had questioned whether MBVI was in compliance with its commitment to release a portion at the end of the first year of the PGGS.
November 2013 marked one year since Muri would have had its PGGS but according to a source, the company has not done anything on the ground since the PGGS was approved. The hitch has apparently been MBVI’s inability to gain approval for an airstrip in south-eastern Guyana.
“I have no information that Muri Brasil Ventures Inc. has relinquished any of the area it was allocated,” said a senior functionary of the GGMC under the condition of anonymity. “They (Muri) have not done anything…how could they relinquish any areas if they have not done anything?” the source asked.
Muri in a statement on December 17, 2013 said, “Much has been made of the fact that the area covered by the PGGS is some 2 million acres. This area is for exploration not occupation or prospecting. Also the PGGS provides that the area is reduced by one quarter at the end of every year for its life of three years so that at the end of the three years only 25 percent of the original area remains.”
However, under a clause titled ‘Relinquishment’ the PGGS said, “On or before the first anniversary, the Permission-holder shall relinquish at least 25% of the said area after the first year.”
Writing in his weekly blog Chrisram.net, Ram said that by now, the company should have indicated whether it has given up at least 25 percent after the first year. “It is the duty of the Minister, as well as an obligation of the company to tell the country and the security forces the precise coordinates of the area which was given up on or before November 7, 2013,” said Ram in his blog post.
Since first reported on in Stabroek News last month, the MBVI venture has come under intense scrutiny over concerns that it was to survey in an area that had for decades not been opened up for prospecting and mining. Following the disclosure of the hitherto unannounced PGGS for MBVI, questions were asked about how the Ministry of Natural Resources had gone about soliciting interest in the area.
The ministry subsequently released to the media what it said was a copy of the advertisement. The notice inviting expressions of interest for the exploration of rare earths was however placed in a GGMC quarterly which was published on Sunday March 4, 2012 in all of the daily newspapers as a pull-out. That notice appeared to be the only public invitation and was not the manner in which such notices are placed. According to sources in the Ministry of Natural Resources, the notice only appeared in the mining quarterly, a digital edition of which was published for a while on the Ministry’s website. It did not appear in any of the dailies independent of the GGMC quarterly supplement.
The quarterly was mast-headed ‘Mining Opportunities in Guyana’ and carried within it a host of GGMC notices, including the one for rare earths which MBVI is to survey for. The supplement had as its lead story a feature on the establishment of the Ministry of Natural Resources and the Environment, followed by an overview of the mining sector.
On the second page of the supplement was a note that read: “Following complaints of unfair access to information and mining opportunities, the Ministry of Natural Resources and the Environment has taken the initiative to publicise in the media and elsewhere all relevant notices relating to mining opportunities for small, medium and large scale mining. The objective is to ensure transparency and equal access by miners and investors to our natural resources for exploration and development of Guyana.”
Among the other notices were those detailing who can apply for a medium scale permit, deadline for payment of claims, applications for expressions of interest for sand mining in the Rupununi Mining District, invitations for proposals for bauxite tenures, a lottery for special mining parcels among others. It was observed that for the month of March 2012, there were a good number of GGMC ads that appeared separate and apart from the GGMC pull-out but not the one that MBVI responded to.
According to one source in the Minister’s office, the quarterly supplement was also distributed to stakeholders in the mining sector.
Policy not set in stone
Meanwhile, the controversy continues over whether the government had changed its policy about no mining in the area and when this might have been done. When asked about this on Tuesday, Cabinet Secretary Dr. Roger Luncheon said that Government’s policy with regard to mining and exploration of the New River Triangle is not written in stone and that it could be changed in the future.
Dr. Luncheon was speaking at his last post-Cabinet meeting for the year 2013. The question that prompted the HPS’ response came in the wake of myriad disclosures of late about the Government’s policy on mining in the ecologically sensitive and biologically rich area. Mixed messages at best came from high officials with the latest in the salvo being the disallowing of an application by Muri Brasil Ventures Inc. for an airstrip by the Works Ministry. Speaking at a recent press conference Minister of Works Robeson Benn said that his Ministry’s denial of permission to MBVI to construct an airstrip was in keeping with Government’s policy on the New River Triangle area.
“Historically and I use the term guardedly I am speaking about the more recent history, specifically 2006 and 2011, we have not encouraged mining in that area,” he said. “This discouragement has indeed extended even to exploration and prospecting in addition to mining. This is how we should characterise the Government’s positions,” said Dr. Luncheon. “But I would also say that unlike those who feel that this decision reposes in some, concerns that are external to the Guyanese and their developmental thrust of this administration, there are those who feel and I want to disabuse their minds because I have absolutely no doubt that there will come a time, maybe not in my generation, when the 2006 to 2011 behaviour or considerations on this administration, will not be binding on any other administration,” he said.
“It is not cast in stone. Indeed at a personal level I am pretty certain that the Guyanese people and nation can, should and will benefit from the exploration and exploitation of those benefits and those natural resources that belong to the people of this country,” he said.
“There must be some time where those resources must be exploited for the benefit of the nation and the Guyanese people,” he said.
His clarification followed a previous statement in which he suggested that former President Bharrat Jagdeo had been in favour of mining in the area during his presidency and that this did not find favour with Cabinet members. Jagdeo has thus far not said anything publicly on this matter though some commentators have noted that any support by him for mining activity in this area would run severely counter to his local and international campaign for forest preservation.