Closed Area Committee revived following slide in gold receipts

Miners who have been unable to access lands to mine gold are being urged to inform the Closed Area Committee which has been reconstituted in the wake of a drastic drop in gold declarations.

In an ad in the Sunday Stabroek, the Guyana Gold and Diamond Miners Association (GGDMA) informed that the Closed Area Committee has been reconstituted and the first meeting for the year is scheduled for Friday. “The Association advises that miners who have matters outstanding to write the Chairman of the Committee, Mr. Clinton Williams, who also is the Chairman of GGMC Board of Directors, to ensure that there is closure to the outstanding issues,” the GGDMA said.

In this regard, the matters would cover previous approvals that have not been processed to date by the Guyana Geology and Mines Commission (GGMC), recommendations that have not yet been formally approved and applications received that have not been dealt with by the Closed Area Commit-tee, the GGDMA said.

Gold declarations for the first five months of the year have dropped 20% compared to the same period last year and President Donald Ramotar two Saturdays ago expressed worry at the “drastic” reduction, articulating his belief that the reduction in declarations was due to hoarding.

Edward Shields
Edward Shields

Retired Commissioner of the GGMC William Woolford, however, told Stabroek News that while the reason for the drop in declarations is anybody’s guess, he does not believe that it is due to hoarding by miners. Other reports have suggested that smuggling is to blame.

However, industry in-siders have rebuffed government’s position that miners are hoarding gold, saying instead that a drop in production is one of the major factors responsible for the decline in gold declarations which has seen Guyana losing $20 billion in foreign exchange earnings for the first five months of this year. “There is a crisis in the industry which started since last year,” GGDMA consultant Edward Shields told Stabroek News last week, citing the drop in gold prices. “I am aware of many people who closed their operation,” he said adding that some closed their operations voluntarily while others were forced to do so.

Meantime, Chairman of Region Eight Mark Crawford, said that many miners in the district have shut down operations. Region Eight is one of the premier gold-mining districts in Guyana. A lot of persons have parked their operations or downsized, he said. “Most of the lands are worked out…they need more lands. Government needs to release more lands,” he said.

The GGDMA had several times in the past urged the authorities to release more land. In a letter last year, Shields said that the GGDMA was concerned about the role of the Closed Area Committee, since, he said, it is not functioning in accordance to the association’s understanding of its initial mandate.

 

For the record

 

“For the record, the Closed Area Committee was established in February 1994; its mandate was to identify closed areas and state reserves that can be open to miners for the purpose of the location of claims, and approving applications for grants of prospecting and mining licences, prospecting permits and mining permits,” Shields said. “Following identification of these closed areas, the Closed Area Committee was further charged with implementing the exercise in accordance with the regulations signed by the Minister. The Closed Area Committee also had the responsibility to investigate and resolve any complaints arising from this exercise,” he added.

Later, the Closed Area Committee was further authorized to conduct lotteries and auctions in accordance with regulations, signed by the Minister for Mines. Over the years scheduling lotteries and holding auctions, after identifying properties from closed areas and state reserves, have been its main activities, Shields said.

He had said that since the establishment of the Ministry of Natural Resources and the Environment, the association has noted over the past few years, deviations from the known responsibilities of the Closed Area Committee that are causes for concern. These included that lotteries that were being held every quarter (4 times) per year are now being held once or twice per year, auctions that were held in conjunction with lotteries have been suspended; and as of December 2011 the decision to allow prior licensees to apply and pay rentals due, plus late payment penalties has been suspended until further notice. He also said that there was a dramatic increase in licences awarded to individuals from closed areas and state reserves.

In relation to this concern, Shields pointed out that this can only be implemented as a consequence of the authority given to the Minister under the Mining Act 136 Section (1) which allows the Minister to make regulations. By using the said regulations the Minister can award properties in closed areas and/or state reserves to any applicant.

“It is the granting of hundreds of licences under this regulation, the suspension of auctions, and the reduced number of lotteries that causes great concern to the GGDMA. The association discerns a certain amount of ambiguity since it is the perception that the Closed Area Committee is the one approving these applications; needless to say the Closed Area Committee has no such authority to the knowledge of GGDMA,” he had said while calling for a complete review of the system of closed areas, and the methodology for re-opening those areas for mining.

In response, then Chairman of the Closed Area Committee Jimmy Reece had said that identifying suitable areas for mining lotteries and auctions remain a challenge because of Amerindian land titling and extensions.

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