No clear government policy has yet been articulated as it relates to possible activities at the New River Triangle in southern Guyana.
There have been calls for government to clarify its position after the debacle involving Muri Brasil Ventures Inc, which wanted to search for rare earths in the area and the mixed messages coming from officialdom on a policy for the use of the resources in the New River Triangle area.
Minister of Natural Resources and the Environment Robert Persaud did not immediately respond to queries from Stabroek News yesterday while Commissioner of the Guyana Geology and Mines Commission (GGMC) Rickford Vieira said that there is “no policy on mining in general” and nothing has come to him as it relates to the New River Triangle.
“I am not aware that any policy position has been articulated,” spokesman for the main opposition coalition APNU Joe Harmon told Stabroek News when contacted. As it relates to the use of the New River Triangle, he was supportive of “non-invasive” activities such as surveys and research. “I believe we need to have a sense of the state of affairs in our country,” he said while noting that leaving the area untouched would be denying an opportunity for anything that could be done there.
However, as it relates to extractive activities, Harmon said that there needs to be a transparent process, where the stakeholders are involved and there are wide consultations. The natural resources of the country should not be given out in a way that is not transparent, he said. “I think that the process should be transparent.”
The National Assembly and other stakeholders should be involved, he noted. “They should have at least some say in the way our natural resources should be distributed,” he said while pointing out that the resources are finite and future generations have to be considered.
In terms of a policy for rare earths, Harmon noted that it is another natural resource. “The more expensive the natural resource, it means the more scrutiny we ought to have over it,” he said. Secret deals are not the way to go, Harmon asserted, saying that the nation should have some notice of any transaction that could happen and the way it will be proceeded with.
There had been mixed messages from officialdom on a policy for the use of the resources in the New River Triangle area. In January, Muri, following weeks of intense scrutiny of the propriety of it being granted permission for geographical and geophysical surveys in the New River Triangle, announced that it would no longer be pursuing the project, citing misinformation, prejudice and hostility. It had been granted permissions to survey for rare earth elements, bauxite, limestone, nephelene, syenite, gold, and diamond and granite stones.
The Ministry of Natural Resources and the Environment 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.
Prior to the pullout and following weeks of silence on whether or not there was an official policy on mining in the New River Triangle area, Minister of Transport Robeson 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.
Prior to that 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.
There was more controversy over answers given by Persaud. 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 Muri 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.
At a meeting last month, former executive secretary of the Guyana Gold and Diamond Miners Association 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 had asked.