Residents of Coomacka Mines, Region 10 are demanding preference over Lindeners for the extraction and sale of scrap metal from the area but senior officials from the custodial body are accusing them of overstepping their boundaries and vandalizing state property.
Coomacka Mines is a small community up the Demerara River about half an hour’s drive from Linden, Region 10. The community started during the glory days of bauxite mining in the region but with the changing fortunes of the industry and cessation of mining operations in the area, residents were forced to find other means to secure their livelihoods. While some persons turned to logging, the majority migrated and others were left without a fixed source of income.
The population currently comprises mainly single-parent women who must earn to provide for their children. “Where we gon goh, is right here we got to stay and so right here we got to earn a living,” one woman said. She was accompanied by about 40 families who had already dug several feet into the earth to extract the metal. The group was accompanied by Regional Councillor Naomi Xavier who had invited Regional Chairman Kuice Sharma Solomon and Regional Vice Chairman Byron Lewis to the site to discuss the community’s grievances.
Preference for Lindeners
The group explained that giving Lindeners preference over them to retrieve the metal deprives them of a means of earning an honest dollar. They said officials and security attached to the Linmine Secretariat had seized the pieces of metal they had dug up and stockpiled for sale. “Deh saying that we operating illegally and deh got all sorts a people coming in here fetching out the scrap iron and we ain’t getting no work nor no benefits from this like other areas benefited,” one resident complained.
Residents also said that they were accused of vandalism and theft of metals and other materials owned by the Secretariat, a claim they firmly deny. “We usually ensure that whatever we do that we don’t trouble them building nor any of the thing that belongs to the company, is deh own set up does go on and they does turn deh blame on we,” they contended.
At the time of Stabroek News’ visit, children, some as young as seven-years old, and women – the oldest in her late sixties – were braving the sweltering heat to meet their target of at least two tons of metal which would give them over $50,000 to divide among them. The RDC chairman was visibly moved at the sight of the small group of women and children armed with spades, axes and other digging tools. “What we are seeing here is very touching. To see these women bringing out their small children and their little lunch bag to dig to earn a little cash at the end of the day says a lot,” Solomon said.
At the same time, he made it clear that he would not condone any illegal action but suggested that the relevant authorities put in place measures that would ensure that the residents who build and continue to live at Coomacka benefit from the removal of scrap iron from the area. He also said he was concerned that persons from Linden were being given preference to remove the metal from Coomacka.
“Arrangements were made for the removal of scrap iron from Coomacka and the Three Friends area outside of the people who directly live here and other people getting the benefit that these people should have been getting as their patrimony,” Solomon noted, adding that he was convinced that the residents who have been working in a group were not guilty of removing items from or on Linmine owned structures.
He also said that the RDC was prepared to support residents’ call that they benefit from the scrap iron drive in their community alluding to the fact that when an old dragline was removed from Ituni an agreement was made that will see the community benefiting from $4 million. “The same arrangements could be made for these people here,” he said, noting that a similar dragline was being cut up and removed from Coomacka though none of its residents had been employed in this task.
When this newspaper contacted Andrew Forsythe, the acting CEO at the Linmine Secretariat, on the issue he levelled several accusations against the residents. Forsythe noted that government has not lifted the ban on scrap metal but consideration was given to some persons who had invested in the business. He noted that while the Secretariat had turned a blind eye to residents who had been digging up the metal, eventually it was forced to contact the police.
According to Forsythe, residents had started stripping zinc sheets from the company’s buildings and had burnt large tyres belonging to the company to retrieve the rims to sell as scrap metal. He also accused them of removing lights and other items from the company’s property including the old Arrow-cane workshop which the company had reserved for a potential Brazilian investor.
“They gon dig and dig now and that will soon finish. That building they stripping we holding for a Brazilian investor who is coming to put up a concrete pole factory here and that alone will create a lot of jobs for them and they not seeing the bigger picture,” he explained.
However, residents and buyers remain adamant that the allegations of theft and other illegal acts were false. Instead, they opined that something is amiss at the old Linmine company and they had been accused of removing items before the items had actually been found missing. Residents’ suspicions matched those of buyer Gee (only name given) who said a senior Linmine official had confronted him and alleged that residents had been removing zinc sheets for sale.
“I was in the company of another buyer when we were approached by (name given) stating that the residents removed zinc sheets from Arrow-cane when I had just left there and all the sheets were intact and the residents had left,” Gee said. He noted that when he returned to the area the next morning the zinc sheets had indeed been removed from the buildings. “Something doesn’t smell right about that because I could tell you I have a very close relationship with those people and they didn’t and don’t remove anything that they shouldn’t,” he added.
Gee was adamant that he only buys scrap metal that had been dug up from the earth. He told this newspaper that he “feels the struggle” of the group and is willing to support them.