Natural Resources Minister Robert Persaud yesterday put miners on notice about attempts to stymie potential investors in the industry, following the decision by Muri Brasil Ventures Inc to abandon its controversial surveying permit in the New River Triangle area.
“This may not be the only one,” Persaud told those in attendance at a special meeting of the Guyana Gold and Diamond Miners Association (GGDMA) at the Regency Hotel, where he warned that other companies in the sector may befall the same fate as Muri. “My question is who and what is next and that is what I want the sector to bear in mind. I am not trying to cause hysteria. I am not [being] an alarmist. I am being a realist,” he said, while urging those gathered against losing sight of “big issues” that could undermine the sector and its contribution to the economy.
Although President Donald Ramotar, who was the featured speaker at the meeting, used the opportunity to make his first public statement on the controversy, he only said that his administration did not ask Muri Brasil Ventures Inc to withdraw its application to do surveys.
Muri, in a statement on Saturday, announced that it made a decision to no longer pursue its geographical and geophysical survey under the Permission for Geological and Geographical Surveys (PGGS) granted by the Guyana Geology and Mines Commission (GGMC).
It claimed that while the process was legal and transparent, its decision was due to the “misinformation, prejudice and hostility” to the venture by persons and agencies fostering an adverse investment climate in Guyana.
But despite the mixed messages coming from officialdom on a policy for the use of the resources in the New River Triangle area, President Ramotar maintained that the Guyanese people must be the beneficiaries of those resources. “We did not ask [Muri Brasil Ventures Inc] to give up their land…they did so voluntarily,” the President said. He said that he maintains that “every single inch of land belongs to Guyana” and as such the country must be able to benefit from the resources therein.
Meanwhile, Persaud warned the miners present that there are those within the society that do not want to see the sector go forward.
He said that there are social and political processes that are at work to undermine and undo progress within the sector “and I want to put everyone on alert.” Persaud as minister signed the PGGS for Muri on November 7, 2012. The agreement has a clause guaranteeing the company up to 18 prospecting licences for the exploration of rare earths elements, gold, diamonds and bauxite among others.
The minister was also accused of being economical with the truth when he met the Guyana Human Rights Association and the Sectoral Committee on Natural Resources on different occasions. He reportedly said that there would be no mining to the east of the New River. The latter body is to meet the minister on the Muri agreement this month.
He said that the membership and leadership of the GGDMA have been very reticent and diplomatic in addressing the issues that “threaten the mining sector’s existence” directly.
“Reference was made to the Muri issue where by sheer political mischief and calculation we saw an opportunity undermined and frustrated,” said Persaud. He added that investors would be sceptical of putting their dollars in an environment where they would be facing “attacks and misinformation” and said that this would not inspire confidence.
“This sector is one of the more resilient sectors of the economy and perhaps there are those who see the opportunity to stall progress in the country,” he told miners.
Persaud spoke of efforts the government has made to have geological surveying done of the entire country to identify where the mineral resources of the country are located. “But in the meantime we have to depend on the work done by Prospecting Licence (PL) holders and those who were granted PGGS such as the one that was awarded in the New River area,” he noted. “Because we do not know what is there and everyone here is crying out that we should make land available where we have an understanding of the resources,” he added.
“I wanted to flag that and reiterate our commitment to the sector and as the President pointed out, work to address the difficulties but at the end of the day for us to call on the sector too to continue to expand and live up to our responsibilities,” the minister said.
When Stabroek News approached Minister Persaud for a comment on outstanding issues such as the Muri director Yucatan Reis appearing on the PPP/C campaign platform for the November 2011 elections, the minister said that he was not giving any comment to this newspaper on the Muri issue unless it apologises for content carried earlier reports on the PGGS deal.
Also speaking at the meeting, former executive secretary of the GGDMA Edward Shields called on the government to set up a joint committee to re-examine what it was that had been agreed upon for the use of the New River Triangle during the Forbes Burnham years. He said that since there is new leadership in the country the issue of what might have been agreed to post independence should be revisited in interest of the country and its people. “I think we should revisit whatever had been agreed to. We have new leadership now,” said Shields.
“We would like to have a definitive statement on that area. Can there be any development there whether it is mining, agriculture or forestry?” he asked.