Use of mechanical crushers by Rupununi miners creates controversy

The use of mechanical crushers by some small miners in the Rupununi has created a conflict with mining companies and concerns over environmental pollution.
A meeting is scheduled to be held at Aishalton, Region Nine tomorrow and the regulatory authorities and two foreign companies have been invited to attend. The Guyana Human Rights Association (GHRA) has lauded the efforts of all to reach a settlement on the matter.

A GHRA release on the matter follows:

The Guyana Human Rights Association (GHRA) is fully supportive of the initiative by the South and South Central District Toshaos Committee and the Marudi Miners’ Committee to seek a negotiated solution to the crisis created over the use of mechanical crushers by Amerindian miners on Marudi mountain in the Deep South Rupununi. The GHRA congratulates both organizations on the restraint exercised to date. The GHRA also urges the Ministry of Amerindian Affairs(MAA) and the relevant departments of the Guyana Geology & Miners Commission(GGMC) to actively support this search for a peaceful resolution of the issue.

The Toshaos’ Council issued written invitations to the MAA, the GGMC and to the Romanex and Mulgravian companies to attend a meeting to be held in Aishalton on Sunday August 9th to address the use of mechanical crushers. What response was made to the letters is unclear. However, whether or not that particular meeting takes place, the importance of positive and prompt support from the authorities for reasoned and peaceful resolution of disputes in mining areas is imperative. This is particularly the case in matters affecting livelihoods, which are prone to quickly deteriorate into retaliatory behaviour if not addressed in a timely manner, as distinct, for example, from land title or extension issues.

A meeting of the kind called for by the Toshaos is urgently required to establish the facts of the matter as a basis for taking a position on the substance of the dispute, namely the suspension of the use by Amerindian miners of mechanical crushers by GGMC following a complaint by the Mulgravian company (which holds the legal claim to the area). Mechanical crushing replaces stone-age methods of breaking rock with hammers and greatly increases miners’ productivity. At the same time the greater volume of tailings generated raises environmental concerns which cannot be ignored. The concern of the GHRA at this point is less with substance than with process, focusing on the lack of governance procedures and mechanisms at local and district levels for resolving issues.

The dispute highlights the fact that the informal understanding which governs the miners’ presence on the Marudi is unsatisfactory and always vulnerable to these periodic break-downs. A coming together of all relevant parties as proposed by the Toshaos might serve as the first step in the direction of a more formal agreement which respects both the companies legal rights to control their claim and the villagers customary rights to earn a livelihood.

The fraught relations between the Marudi miners and the mining company reflect the general absence of effective localized governance mechanisms for resolving disputes in mining districts. The range and importance of such disputes is reflected in the list of issues generated at an important community meeting held in July in Maruranawa and later incorporated into the letter to the MAA. All of these issues point to the urgency of developing community- and regional-based political mechanisms empowered to address and resolve issues generated by mining activity.

Communities have no effective voice either in addressing current issues such as pollution of water sources and the social stress that mining has brought to communities in the form of alcohol and drug use and trafficking, nor in the longer term legal issues regarding title extensions. The concept of Amerindian right to benefit from mining activities for example, is recognized in theory, by the requirement of 20% royalty payments to the Amerindian communities in which mining takes place, but no clear and accountable procedures exist to allow local communities (or mining interests) to influence the use and disbursement of these payments.

Highly centralized systems of decision-making over entirely local issues are inappropriate and aggravate rather than resolve disputes, be they environmental, livelihood, social or political. Rather than prolong centralized control, the GHRA would urge the MAA and GGMC to encourage experiments and initiatives which allow decisions to be taken at appropriate levels between mining entities and representative Toshaos ‘ bodies across the mining sector. The role of the Ministry and centralized bodies would better ensure such initiatives are governed by principles of corporate social responsibility on the one hand and clear understanding of Amerindian livelihood rights on the other, rather than taking on the decision-making function itself. Central and national could more usefully encourage decision-making at appropriate levels, promote relevant principles, develop capacity to understand and resolve disputes and to monitor respect for and implementation of agreed decisions by all parties.

As the gold industry moves into the phase of hard-rock mining, the potential for confrontation and disruption between communities and companies will rapidly increase. In equal measure the need for local capacity to resolve and mitigate contentious issues across the mining sector must also expand at an accelerated rate. For these reasons, the initiative taken by the South Central Toshaos should be supported constructively by all involved.



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