Policing the mining sector

The marked increase in the number of violent incidents in mining communities in recent months, some of which have resulted in deaths and serious injuries, is the latest challenge facing the sector; and it is a serious one. While police reports on the various incidents have tended to be sketchy, one senses that the recent success of the gold sector – the result of increased mineral yield and higher world market prices – has resulted in a greater focus on the industry by criminal elements bent on securing some of the returns for themselves.

Some miners have already expressed the view that what we are witnessing is a calculated move by criminals to shift focus of armed robberies away from the more tedious and, in some senses, riskier urban coastal targets, to the richer ‘pickings’ to be had from targeting the mining sector. Mining communities are of course, located in remote areas of the country and are far less well policed. In fact, President of the Guyana Gold and Diamond Miners Association (GGDMA) Frederick Mc Wilfred told this newspaper in an interview earlier this week that the logistics of getting the police to the scene of even the most serious incident are so tedious the people often refuse to bother.

It is an environment that pits dangerous and determined criminals against miners and their employees who are under no illusions that their lives as much as their valuables are at risk. Raids on mining camps and attacks against individuals apart, some of these incidents may well be the result of carefully planned ‘inside jobs,’ individual greed or feuds of one kind or another, any or all of which can lead to violent confrontations particularly in those cases where the absence of effective policing or – in some cases – no policing at all removes restraint and reduces the option of settling issues without resort to violence.

Both individual miners and the GGDMA are on record as calling for more effective policing in the mining sector since, at the moment, the owners or managers have little choice but to depend entirely on their own security arrangements. The other problem of course, is that in such a tense, volatile and lawless environment we could inevitably witness a descent into a kind of ‘cowboy justice’ where those who perceive themselves as lacking any official protection, consider it their right to enforce their own particular brand of justice.

The situation bodes ill for the mining sector at a time when the returns from gold, particularly, are significant and are contributing meaningfully both to the national economy and to employment. No less significant is the considerably heightened risk to the lives of those persons who ply their trade in the mining sector.

One of the potential benefits of the windfall which the gold mining sector is currently experiencing, is the opportunity for investing in roads and other infrastructure that support the sector as well as for developing the gold-yielding communities, underdeveloped as they are at this time. If, however, the industry is to maintain the stability that is critical to its continued growth, the question of security must also be placed high on the list of priorities. Such security measures cannot – for obvious reasons – be left entirely to the miners themselves. Some of the returns from mining must be ploughed back into the creation of a more reliable security regime that is, a more prominent, better equipped police presence that includes strategic patrolling and monitoring exercises in and around mining communities and efficient communication systems that allow for regular and reliable contact between mining camps and law enforcers.

Unquestionably, the creation of a security regime that offers better protection to the mining sector will require both careful planning and a significant financial investment and will have to be developed incrementally. What the recent violent incidents portend, however, is that the consequences of delaying the start of action designed to better secure the mining communities may well turn out to be far costlier than what it would take to halt what may well be a drift towards uncontrollable lawlessness.

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