Gov’t moving to cap mining leases

Government is moving to limit the number of mining properties a miner can hold—a move the Guyana Gold and Diamond Miners Association (GGDMA) says is “disastrous” and will gradually destroy the industry.

In advertisements in two dailies yesterday, the GGDMA said that government continues its drive “to miniaturize” the small and medium-scale gold and diamond mining industry. “There is a new drive to take away claims, prospecting/mining permits, etc. from Guyanese miners to make the areas available to foreign investors, especially those from a new found friendly country, who [have] so graciously undertaken to identify out mineral reserves, including uranium,” the association said, in an apparent reference to Iran.

Prime Minister Samuel Hinds, in an ad appearing today, described the GGDMA ad as “full of misperceptions, misunderstandings and misinformation and (which) is seeking to stop any change and consciously or not, advancing the agenda of the larger miners whilst recruiting the smaller miners as so many foot-soldiers.” Hinds, who holds the ministerial portfolio for mining, confirmed that government is moving to limit the number of leases a miner can hold.

Stabroek News was unable to reach Executive Secretary of the GGDMA, Edward Shields for comment yesterday but a source said that proposals to “cap” the number of mining permits any one miner can hold, is being strenuously opposed. The Special Land Use Committee (SLUC), comprising industry and government representatives, set up to look into the issues being faced as the administration moves to tighten regulations in the light of forest preservation commitments, is close to completing its work, the source said.

Earlier this year, miners vehemently objected to proposals that they would have to give six months notice before mining, protesting and holding rallies in several mining-dependant communities. At a February meeting with President Bharrat Jagdeo, they were told that while they still have to give notice of their intention to mine, they will be given an initial three hectares where they can begin operations before permission is granted for them to work other areas. Jagdeo then extended the term of the SLUC to continue deliberations on several issues.

Yesterday, the source told this newspaper that nothing much had changed and miners are again becoming concerned. In the ad, the GGDMA said that there is no need to restrict how many claims, prospecting or mining permits a Guyanese miner could own, “as is presently dictated” since millions of acres of rich mineral lands are available for allocation, including within the Guyana Geology and Mines Com-mission’s (GGMC) many “closed” areas.

Further, the association said, much of the content of the official SLUC report sent to Jagdeo, “does not reflect the true agreement which was reached between the GGDMA and the said government officials during the SLUC meetings….” Accord-ing to the ad, government officials continue to say that ‘mining will continue’ but “in that often mentioned statement they left out ‘with 100 miners or less instead of the present 10,000 miners.” It also said that the SLUC report still includes the “highly disturbing” six months ‘wait,’ which according to the association, does not give the miner the right to move to another part of the 1,200-acre if the two seven acres areas prove uneconomical to mine “unless he finds and begs the minister to allow him to move and mine in another part of the 1200 acre mining permit area.”

However, Hinds said that contrary to the ads, government continues to work for “the steady and sustained development” of the small and medium scale gold and diamond mining industry. He said the government has been recognizing and applauding the contribution of small and medium scale mining to the economy and has always been concerned about the well-being of all in the mining industry and the families that they support. “It is the misunderstandings, the misinformation, the resistance to change for purposes of development, which is inherent in these paid advertisements, and which, if they succeed, will not so gradually destroy small and medium scale gold mining by closing the minds of unsuspecting miners to any advances,” the Prime Minister contended.

He said the small and medium scale mining sector encompasses miners who would recover from 10 to 20,000 ounces per year and within such a wide range, there would be different, differing, and conflicting interests, concerns, attitudes and behaviour. According to Hinds, larger miners have disproportionately been members and officers of the GGDMA and various attempts have been made to organise the smaller miners into a different organisation. He said that the government, whilst keeping its doors open to any organisation, “has not only refrained from exploiting differences, but has sought to maintain harmony between all small, medium and large, as well as local and foreign – both for their mutual development and the development of all Guyana and all Guyanese.”

The Prime Minister said that it is in seeking harmony that the government has received protests about “some people holding all the readily-accessible and attractive lands and no land being available for them to work on their own terms.” He said records confirm that a few tens of people each hold hundreds of leases at small and medium scale levels, with one or two persons holding over 40 square miles at small and medium scale levels. “There is a real concern and danger in the current skewed holdings of small and medium scale mining leases. The government has made known to the GGDMA, its proposals to put practical limits on the number of leases, at each scale, which a miner, may hold at prospecting stage, at any one time,” the Prime Minister said.

He stressed that government must deal with the problems surrounding the concentration of mining properties in the hands of some large miners and the charge that smaller miners are thrown out of position when the ‘happen’ on something good. For harmony and the good of everyone, there is need to restrict the number of leases that anyone can hold and to codify the rights of a miner taking a position on another miner’s lease, he added.

Additionally, he said that while government recognises the contribution of a number of Guyanese miners holding a large number of leases, in pursuing and attracting foreign investors, government must express its concern that certain attacks in the GGDMA advertisement “seem to be motivated by some larger miners wanting to be the only ‘route’ through which foreign companies are to get to mining lands in Guyana. The government’s proposed limits on individual holdings, seek to allow development of a number of such Joint Venture partnerships, but hold short of making a few large miners virtually the only door through which foreign companies are to get into mining in Guyana.”

Meanwhile, the GGDMA urged that the government allow the GGMC to further develop the small and medium scale industry and to make “excavator pools” available, exclusively to help the small miners to mine in an acceptable manner. The association also called on the GGMC to employ exploration crews to do widespread exploration especially in some of their closed accessible areas and make those results and areas available to the smaller miners.

The GGDMA also called on Norway to “cease assisting in the financial destruction of the small and medium scale miners and the many thousands of poor people especially the interior residents who occupy villages like Bartica, Mahdia, Port Kaituma, Issano, Kurupung, Imbaimadai, Kamarang and scores of other areas, who rely almost totally on mining for their better economic survival.” The GGDMA said that at the meeting with Jagdeo, he responded when asked, that no money from the Norway forest preservation agreement or from the Low Carbon Development Strategy programme will be made available to assist in mining as all the money has to be used in other areas. “So no money will go to cushion any disruption caused by the miniaturizing of the mining industry and the loss of thousands of jobs.”

The Prime Minister said that the charge that none of the Norwegian money will go to miners and mining will be seen to be pointless when the application of the funds to adaptation and training of Guyanese for a ‘green future’ is thought through. Miners and their families will benefit, he said.

The GGDMA, additionally, called on Norway to exempt from the agreement, a small total of an accumulated four percent of the entire forested area equal to 1.5 million acres at a yearly infinitesimal mining rate of 10,000 acres of 0.256% of the forested area for mining by small and medium scale miners “in almost the same way that 14% of the forest was exempted for the Amerindian settlements” from the said agreement. The association said that the refusal to exempt the 4% of the entire forested interior of 39 million acres could only mean that the small and medium scale gold and diamond mining industry is “destined to be gradually destroyed.” It added that little do the thousands of small miners know that they are considered to be a “nuisance” as “people in authority would like to see only between 50 and 100 miners in the gold and diamond mining industry.”

Hinds said that the sector has been evolving and must continue to do so steadily as there is no future in standing still. “To freeze the sector as it was in the past, with equipment, methods and numbers of the past, for which some paid advertisements have called, is the surest way to end small and medium scale mining. With the increased size and capitalization of the small and medium scale sector, the day-to-day thinking of early pork-knockers is not viable–small and medium scale miners with hire-purchase payments to meet, must be looking forward six months or more,” he said.

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