Police, stakeholders to move against illegal ‘shops’

- in bid to reduce robberies in mining communities

Illegal ‘shops’ situated near mining camps in Guyana’s interior gold-mining areas are being targeted for removal as part of a move by the Guyana Police Force, the Guyana Geology and Mines Commission (GGMC) and the Guyana Gold and Diamond Miners Association (GGDMA) to tackle the rising number of violent robberies in the sector.

GGDMA Consultant and GGMC Board Member, Edward Shields told Stabroek Business in an interview earlier this week that he believed all three agencies are now ready to act together to control the illegal and arbitrary culture that attends the setting up of these ‘shops’ in mining communities.

Edward Shields

“The first point that should be made is that these operations are illegal. The establishment of shops in mining communities falls under the jurisdiction of the GGMC, apart from which the landings in the mining communities are the designated areas for the setting up of shops, having received permission (a ‘BP’) from the GGMC.

Shields told Stabroek Business that the ‘shops’ that will now be targeted for removal are not permanent structures but itinerant operations that tend to “follow gold shouts” so that they are never far away from a mining area. “The fact is that many of these shops offer mainly liquor and, in some cases, drugs for sale. They have the effect of harbouring idle men whose presence in mining areas cannot sometimes be accounted for. It is widely believed that some of them, in one manner or another, are associated with some of the robberies that take place.”

Shields said the stakeholders in the industry wanted to make a distinction between these illegal ‘shops’ and legal businesses since it was not the intention “to put people who are operating legally out of business. The idea is to have the shops legalize themselves and operate from the landings so that from one moment to the next they can be accounted for. It is important that it be understood that this is not an attack against legitimate businesses,” Shields said.

Lucrative but dangerous: An interior mining outfit

But the now retired head of the GGDMA also told Stabroek Business that some claim holders may have only themselves to blame for the proliferation of the illegal ‘shops’ since they encourage them. “Perhaps there is now a greater anxiety to have the situation regularized because of the spate of robberies but the truth is that there have been instances in which miners have actually encouraged the setting up of these shops.

Shields had told Stabroek Business in the past that the incidence of violent crime in Guyana’s gold-mining communities threatens the viability of the industry and that the authorities have a responsibility to do more to protect investors in the sector. “The GGMC and the GGDMA have been ready, for years, to get rid of those illegal operations and I believe that we have now received a definitive signal from the police that they too are ready,” Shields said.

Shields said that while claim holders were allowed to set up canteens to serve their own operations, they were not allowed to establish substantive shops.

Asked to express his views on the recent Piari robbery, Shields said that while he was subject to correction he was not aware that there was a landing there. “If that is in fact the case it raises questions as to the presence of a ‘shop’ in the area.”

Shields was not prepared to confirm or deny that the men who perpetrated the Piari robbery were actually recognized in the area several days before the incident and that some miners actually packed up and left carrying their gold with them once they became aware of the presence of the men.

Shields told Stabroek Business he “agreed with the view” that failure to effectively police the country’s borders had resulted in a proliferation of weapons that had made robberies in the mining communities easier to perpetrate. He said he had heard stories of “people from outside of Guyana” going through mining areas with sacks containing various types of guns for sale.

Brazil is the second-largest producer of small arms in the western hemisphere, behind the United States and it is believed that many if not most of the weapons used in robberies that occur in Guyana’s mining communities originate across the border in Brazil.

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