GGMC, GGDMA clash over enforcement of mining regulations

Shields claims pro-Amerindian discrimination; Not so, says Woolford

The Guyana Geology and Mines Commission (GGMC) and the Guyana Gold and Diamond Miners Association (GGDMA) have clashed over differences of opinion regarding the enforcement of laws and regulations in the country’s mining sector.

Executive Director of the GGDMA Edward Shields

Executive Director of the GGDMA Edward Shields has charged that there are discriminatory practices in the administration of the country’s gold mining sector, a charge that GGMC Acting Commissioner William Woolford vehemently denies.

Shields told Stabroek Business that there was evidence that the authorities were turning a blind eye to illegal mining operations including the unlawful application of mercury to the mining process by Amerindians in some communities. Eighty per cent of Amerindian mining is unlawful.“Nobody seems to have the courage to tell them that they are mining illegally. The industry is not being managed effectively,” Shields declared.

Shields declared further that he believed that the discriminatory enforcement of mining laws has little to do with the rangers who patrol the various interior mining locations and more to do with policy decisions emanating from Georgetown. “I suspect that most officers are frustrated. When they take any action they are being cut off at the knees,” Shields said.

The charge of discrimination in the monitoring of mining practices is robustly denied by Woolford who told Stabroek Business that the GGMC’s records indicate that it has an even-handed approach to inspections. The Commission is winding down a two-month monitoring exercise in the gold-mining sector during which it says that special attention is being paid to environmental issues including the use of mercury, the management of tailings ponds and the pollution of rivers. Woolford, who told Stabroek Business that he had only just returned from visits to some mining areas said that while matters regarding mining by Amerindians came to the fore the issue of discriminatory application of regulations did not arise.

GGMC Acting Commissioner William Woolford

Shields, however, is openly dismissive of Woolford’s claims of evenhandedness in the management of the sector, charging that while coastlanders are targeted for the commission of infractions a blind eye is turned to transgressions by  Amerindians. Shields said that the GGDMA was aware of no Amerindian mining areas that were being scrutinized by the GGMC.

Gold has muscled its way to the top of the pile of local foreign exchange earners, netting US$281.7 million from more than 300,000 ounces mined last year. On the other hand the industry has had to face challenges associated with a relatively sudden focus by government on stricter application of mining regulations, a move which industry sources say is linked to official concerns about the environmental bona fides of the authorities in the light of the promulgation by President Bharrat Jagdeo of a national Low Carbon Development Strategy. (LCDS)

While refuting claims of irregularities in Amerindian mining operations Woolford conceded that Amerindian mining activity was expanding. Noting that Jawalla in the Upper Mazaruni was now the largest of the Amerindian mining communities with 63 dredges he said that plans are in train to place a GGMC sub-station in the community. “We do have times when we have to visit and warn them of infractions, most of which are for muddying the water,” Woolford said.

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