Muri Brasil withdraws from planned New River project

Following weeks of intense scrutiny of the propriety of it being granted permission for geographical and geophysical surveys in the New River Triangle, Muri Brasil Ventures Inc yesterday announced that it would no longer be pursuing the project, citing misinformation, prejudice and hostility.

The Ministry of Natural Resources and the En-vironment had been criticised for even considering an agreement for survey work in the New River Triangle, not only because of the rich biodiversity and ecologically sensitive characteristics of the area but also because of the border security risk it posed.

Muri Brasil Ventures Inc, in a short press statement yesterday said, “Muri Brasil Ventures Incorpo-rated would like to announce that on December 30, 2013, it made a decision to no longer pursue its geographical and geophysical survey under the PGGS granted by the Guyana Geo-logy and Mines Commis-sion to do so.

“Although the process was legal and transparent, this decision is due to the misinformation, prejudice and hostility to this proposed survey by persons and agencies which are fostering an adverse investment climate in Guyana.”

It went on to thank “all of those who supported this project and who are in support of the development of Guyana.”

Minister of Natural Re-sources and the Environ-ment Robert Persaud had signed the PGGS just over one year ago, but because Muri Brasil was awaiting an airstrip to be constructed to commence its work, no surveys have been carried out.

Minister of Works Robeson Benn speaking at a recent press conference said his ministry had denied Muri’s application to build an airstrip and said that this decision was in keeping with government policy for the New River Triangle.

Further, Muri Brasil Ventures Inc was incorporated on July 16, 2012, months after the period for submission of proposals closed on March 31, 2012. Muri Brasil Ventures Inc is a joint venture between two companies – Guyana Eco-Industrial Complex Muri Mountain, and Muri Alkalic Complex of Southeast Guyana.

Muri Brasil Ventures Inc on December 17, 2013 issued a statement outlining the steps it took to acquire the PGGS. It pointed out that it is a company registered under the Companies Act of 1991 and that its shareholders are Guyanese citizens with substantial experience in the mining industry.

The company said it responded to publication of an advertisement dated March 20, 2012, which invited proposals for exploration of rare earth elements in the area of Muri Mountain. It said that following the company’s submission of its proposal, it was given a PGGS for several types of minerals in South East Berbice on November 7, 2012.

The company also defended the clause in the PGGS which guarantees it up to 18 prospecting licences, pointing out that such a clause is normal since it is a guarantee to a company that would have invested significant sums for the survey work.

But a sticking point is the advertisement of the invitation for expressions of interest. While the ministry in a statement said that the advertisement was publicised in March 2012, what it did not say was that it was only publicised in a GGMC quarterly that appeared as a pull-out in the body of the daily newspapers. The ad did not appear in the dailies independent of the GGMC pull out. Neither Minister Persaud nor anyone from his ministry has explained this.

The arrangement be-came more mired in controversy when it was revealed that one of the principals of Muri Brasil Ventures Inc was on the political campaign

platform for the PPP/C in 2011. At a PPP/C rally in Lethem in November 2011 days before the November 28, 2011 general and regional elections, one of the Muri principals, Yucatan Reis, born in Venezuela and a naturalised Guyanese, appeared as an interpreter for the Brazilian Roraima State Governor José de Anchieta Júnior. It is apposite to note that Persaud was at the time the PPP/C Campaign Coordinator.

Muri’s other principal is Dean Hassan, formally of North American Resources Limited, another company that was involved in the mining sector.

Following weeks of silence on whether or not there was an official policy on mining in the New River Triangle area, Minister Benn gave the most definitive statement when he told the press that the denial of Muri’s application for an airstrip was in keeping with government’s policy of no mining in the New River Triangle.

At one of his press conferences, Head of the Presidential Secretariat Dr Roger Luncheon had said that former president Bharrat Jagdeo had overruled members of the Cabinet and favoured a position that mineral extractive activity could take place.

The Guyana Human Rights Association (GHRA), which has been vocal on this and other issues that impact on the environment and human wellbeing, said the Natural Resources Minister misled them during a meeting. The GHRA made the claim after it had a chance to peruse the terms and conditions of the PGGS, especially the clause guaranteeing Muri the right to apply and be granted up to 18 prospecting licences upon the satisfying of a number of conditions.

At a meeting with the GHRA in November, Minister Persaud sought to assure that there was going to be no mining east of New River. However, after these assurances were given, the agreement between the GGMC and Muri containing a clause compelling GGMC to provide a maximum of 18 prospecting licences in the said New River for a variety of minerals surfaced.

Member of the Sectoral Committee on Natural Resources Joseph Harmon said the fact that Muri has withdrawn does not alter the committee’s plans to have the minister further questioned about the deal. “The minister made certain statements and withheld facts and he has to defend himself and answer our questions,” said Harmon.

The committee will meet this month to examine the arrangements surrounding the Muri PGGS and to see whether the minister can be sanctioned for what the committee called his misleading of members when they asked him whether there was any mining in the New River Triangle area.

One observer who read Muri’s statement yesterday said the company is casting blame on the media and other stakeholders who criticized the deal, instead of on the Works Minister whose ministry denied the airstrip permission. “It appears that Muri has done this to save the minister… so that the minister wouldn’t be forced to act,” he said. “Muri should not be blaming the media, they should blame Minister Benn who denied the airstrip,” he said.

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