Bringing a semblance of security to the gold mining sector

In the wake of the violent Piari robbery and the spate of deaths that followed, the Guyana Police Force, the Guyana Geology and Mines Commission (GGMC) and the Guyana Gold and Diamond Miners Association have now decided to move against the many illegal ‘shops’ that are operating in the gold-mining regions of Guyana. It appears that many of these shops are frequented by the gangs that carry out the attacks. The shops operate on an itinerant basis, springing up wherever there is a ‘gold shout’; following the miners wherever they go. It appears too, that some of them operate with the tacit approval of the mining operations themselves, though, based on the reports we have received, the continual upsurge in robberies has now created sufficient concern to cause the miners to want them to be removed.

Shops in the mining communities have long been both a valued service to the miners as well as an important commercial offshoot of the mining sector itself. Under regulations laid down by the GGMC, shops can only be established with official permission and only in specific areas, close to landings. But as is the case with the sector as a whole, limited official policing has spawned a culture of lawlessness that has seen the springing up of these shops in various undesignated areas. By closing down the illegal businesses and forcing them to put themselves in order, the sector, it seems, is seeking to make it easier to account for the presence of strangers in mining areas.

The opinion in some sections of the mining community is that the move to disband the illegal shops is at least a modest start to what must be a more comprehensive effort to bring a greater sense of order to the sector as a whole. As GGMC Board Member Edward Shields told this newspaper recently, the returns to the Guyana economy from the gold mining sector have made a compelling case for better administering the sector and providing more effective policing for mining communities.

The removal of the illegal shops is regarded as one of several steps which the authorities must take and such steps must of necessity include a stronger and more effective regime of policing in interior areas. The argument here is that the removal of the shops will be a one-off occurrence and there is no telling whether some of them may not spring up again some time after the operation to remove them has ended.

The bigger problem, of course, is that vast areas of Guyana’s mining sector are vulnerable to extra-territorial intrusion, a circumstance that has reflects itself in the proliferation of Brazilian garimperos and, in recent years, miners from Brazil who have now regularized their operations here. Open, un-policed borders also create other opportunities for bandits, one of them being access to guns, primarily from Brazil, one of the world’s leading manufacturers of handguns. According to reports, guns are sold illegally but quite openly in some mining areas so that access to weapons with which to commit robberies is not a major problem.

Mr Shields has a point. A stage has long been reached where government must begin to take far more responsibility for the protection of the mining industry and that responsibility includes the creation of a more effective policing infrastructure for the mining communities and long-overdue initiatives for better protecting our borders. Setting aside the vulnerability of miners and mining camps to attacks by armed bandits, the absence of effective policing also means that the law is sometimes laid down by the people with the greatest capacity to do, including the miners themselves. That is equally dangerous given the stories we hear about the enforcement of rough justice against transgressors and perceived transgressors.

Bringing a greater sense of order and security to mining communities which includes the securing of our borders is a costly and challenging exercise and it not the intention to suggest that this can happen overnight or simply by waving a magic wand. On the other hand, the current Chairman of the GGMC Board, Major General (rtd) Joe Singh has, over time, spoken ad nauseum about the vulnerability of the country’s borders and the need to take measures to better protect them. However, we have seen no real evidence of serious efforts on the part of the authorities to grasp the nettle of our porous borders. The lawlessness, robberies and killings that have now become so distressingly commonplace in mining areas make a compelling case for at least making a serious start to initiatives designed to bring a measure of improvement to the existing unacceptable situation.

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