The GGDMA, syndicates and the gold mining sector

It is quite obvious from the tone of the statement issued by the Guyana Gold and Diamond Miners Association (GGDMA) earlier this week that the relationship between the miners’ body and the political administration is growing worse. The association has stated pointedly in its lengthy February 28 press release that the emergence of the mining syndicates initiative with Minister Simona Broomes at the helm “is a tactic to divide and rule the miners… a move directly geared at fracturing the small and medium scale mining industry by taking advantage of the crabs in a barrel mentality that unfortunately exists in the industry and thereby gaining control over a chunk of a certain scale of miners to support current and future agendas. All of this, of course, is against the backdrop of an earlier protest threat issued by the GGDMA but which is yet to materialize.

The first thing that should be said (given what by the Finance Minister’s own repeated admission is the extent to which the economy depends on small and medium-scale miners) is that we can really ill-afford a major falling out between the government and the GGDMA. That is to say that our circumstances can ill afford the kind of posturing and grandstanding that these kinds of falling-outs generally bring and that unquestionably the best course of action is for both sides to quickly assume an accommodating posture convivial to the resolution of their differences.

The problem here, is course, is that the GGDMA has now become increasingly strident in both the tone and content of its public utterances, its Tuesday media release openly accusing the government of utilizing the syndicate initiative as a Trojan horse for what it describes as “current and future agendas.” The problem here, of course, is that that sort language is almost certain to be inimical to what the diplomats would call the creation of a convivial environment which is exactly what happened in the instance of the recent public exchange between the government and the Private Sector Commission.

In the meantime, government has been promoting the idea of syndicates with a certain vigor to both coastal and non-coastal audiences, the appearance at ‘syndicate meetings’ of contingents from places like Albouystown and parts of Berbice creating the impression that the idea of syndicates seeks to target an audience that goes beyond traditional miners. That would appear to be consistent with the ‘philosophy’ of syndicates as articulated by Minister Broomes who says that the government is treating this initiative as an opportunity for Guyanese that goes beyond traditional miners without fixed mining lands at their disposal.

Whatever else is said of syndicates, the available evidence suggests that the offer of allocation of lands for mining is being met with a considerable degree of enthusiasm by small miners (the issue of what constitutes small and what doesn’t has also become a matter of contention) who claim to have spent many years literally squatting on areas of land over which they have no control and being unceremoniously removed once it has been determined that the particular area has either yielded or showed signs of significant gold deposits.

Interestingly, while the GGDMA says that syndicates are, in effect, a divide and rule mechanism aimed at “fracturing the medium-scale mining industry” it concedes, simultaneously, to the existence of “the crabs in a barrel mentality that unfortunately exists in the industry.” This, of course, begs the question as to whether the divisions in the sector did not long predate the advent of the syndicate initiative.

All of this, of course, is superseded by two important issues. The first of these is the need for the healing of such differences as might exist between the Government of Guyana and the GGDMA at this time given the extent of the importance of a healthy relationship between the two for the state of health of the country’s economy as a whole. On both sides there is really little room for grandstanding since in the final analysis it is the nation’s economy that will be the victim of any worsening of the relationship, particularly if it plummets to a level where gold production is seriously affected. The second point to be made, of course, is that if the syndicate initiative is intended to broaden the parameters of the gold-mining sector to ensure enhanced job-creation and increased earning power for Guyanese and if, as we are told, it provides investment opportunities for individuals and groups who, hitherto, did not have that opportunity, then there is really no reason why it should not be allowed to coexist alongside the more established miners comprising the GGDMA.

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