Stakeholders say bauxite-rich Block 37, which was recently withdrawn from Chinese company Bosai, should not be granted for exploitation until an investment plan affording maximum benefits for Guyanese is submitted.
During the recently concluded 2014 budget debate, Natural Resources Minis-ter Robert Persaud told the National Assembly that government has decided to retain Block 37 as opposed to granting Bosai Minerals Group Guyana Inc. (BMGGI) the deposit’s concession contract, as per previous intent.
The minister said the decision was taken after Bosai adjusted its business plan and investment proposal. Talks of granting Bosai the concession started as far back as 2007 when then President Bharat Jagdeo had said the mineral-rich deposit would be granted to the company with intentions to develop Block 37, and not just extract its resources. The awarding of the concession to Bosai had been opposed by various stakeholders.
“In the original proposal for Bosai, the plan was for us, for Guyana, that we were going to make the Block 37 available which contains significant deposit but because of the changed business plan and investment proposal by Bosai we decided that we will not proceed in allocating the company the Block 37 concession…,” Persaud said.
Block 37, located near Milly’s Hideout, Linden, is among Guyana’s richest bauxite deposits and is believed to contain massive tonnage of Refractory A-grade Super Calcined (RASC).
A Partnership for National Unity (APNU) MP Dr Rupert Roopnaraine told Stabroek News that the profit pros-pects the deposit holds prompted him to oppose government’s signalled intention to grant Bosai the licence to extract Block 37’s resources. His opposition to the idea, he said, was registered during the budget debate last year. “It should not be given away,” he warned, “because of the profitability of the deposits contained there.”
Roopnaraine, who sits on the National Assem-bly’s Natural Resources Committee, added that whatever agreement sees Block 37 granted to Bosai, or any other mining firm, must include plans to facilitate substantial development projects aimed at offering benefits to Guyanese, particularly those residing in the surrounding areas.
Bosai, which seems the most favoured company, must effect significant changes to its work plan, Roopnaraine told this newspaper, before government agrees to award it the licence to extract Block 37’s resources.
President of the Guyana Trades Union Congress (GTUC) Lincoln Lewis, in statements to this newspaper during an interview, agreed with Roopnarine, but added that government needs to re-examine the way bauxite and other minerals are extracted so as to optimise profits garnered from making “holes in the ground.” Massive amounts of sand are removed to get to bauxite, Lewis noted, and he suggested that the sand can be exported to islands in the Caribbean, several of which are badly in need for the purpose of replenishing their eroded beaches.
He also said that bauxite mining necessitates the removal of a substantial amount of forest. Lewis suggested that the trees removed can be processed and sold for a profit. Lewis also said government should look to see if Block 37 contains other minerals which can also be extracted.
“We cannot continue to mine bauxite in isolation. We must start to look at the total package… the times when we used to just drag out bauxite and gold are past. We must now look beyond that,” he said.
Lewis also offered that Block 37, or any other mineral deposit for that matter, should never be owned by any private company. Whether for the purpose of mining gold or bauxite, he cautioned, private companies should only be granted license to extract resources.
The land on which these deposits are located must be state land before and after private companies have completed the extraction of the resources they were after, Lewis said.
No input of region
Meanwhile, Chairman of Region 10 Sharma Solomon says he is concerned government’s plans to develop Block 37 does not include the input of regional officials.
Block 37 is located in Region 10 and so the residents of the region are the largest stakeholders in whatever extraction will eventually take place when the concession is granted. According to Solomon, Region 10 must be included in the decision to grant the license for the concession. He said that regional officials are familiar with the needs of residents and would therefore be able to make insightful suggestions towards the granting of the licence to develop the deposit.
In 2007, government was seeking information from Bosai about its plans for development in Block 37. According to Jagdeo, government wanted to see the development of an alumina refinery or an aluminum processing plant, which would provide jobs for those residing in the vicinity of the Block. Further, he wanted assurances that employees would not lose their jobs as a result of a move to downsize or shut down.
Bill Holrody, director of international development at Bosai, had said that: “One of the reasons that Bosai wants to invest in Linden is that we have plans to build an alumina refinery and an aluminium smelter, in two phases. These development plans have been summarized to the government and this is why Block 37 is so very important to our long term plans.” This investment was to cost about US$1 billion.
By 2012, government’s intention to grant Bosai the concession was clear but Persaud’s speech made it clear that this is no longer the case. Although Persaud told the National Assembly that Bosai altered its investment proposal and business plan due to existing market conditions, he did not detail the specifics of the amended plans.
Efforts to ascertain these details from the Natural Resources Minister afterward were fruitless as he was abroad. Bosai’s company’s General Secretary Norman McLean is also out of the country and was unable to return calls made to him.
Stabroek News has been calling Bosai’s Vice General Manager Robert Shang, but for two days the newspaper has been told that he was either out of the office, at lunch, or in a meeting. An email was also sent but Shang is yet to respond to this as well.