Ineffective interior security and the gold-mining industry

Evidence of this shortcoming is overwhelming. Interior mining operations dare not drop their guard for fear of attacks by groups of armed brigands; brutal killings that invariably arise out of one type of dispute or another are now a virtual everyday occurrence; instances of ‘rough justice’ arising out of allegations of theft by employees of mining operations are frequent; and cases of alleged police-related shakedowns against gold miners have been recounted by miners. These occurrences, as much as the government’s lack of any meaningful response, speak for themselves.

For all the hype and hoopla associated with the contribution that gold continues to make to the economy, the observation made by Prime Minister Samuel Hinds some years ago about the “wild west” environment that applies in the gold-bearing areas still applies – these days, in considerably greater measure. It is as if the authorities are either unaware or unmindful of the nexus between the benefits that derive from the returns from the gold industry and ensuring the continuity of those benefits by properly protecting the industry.

In the absence of any meaningful official action, the mining community has implemented its own security arrangements. One can hardly blame the miners for looking out for their lives and their interests, though some of those security arrangements are not officially sanctioned in so far as they are administered with illegal weapons which, from all reports, flow freely across our borders. All of this serves as evidence of the failure of the state to secure territory and effectively enforce law and order within the country’s borders.

Some months ago it had been announced that the police were about to launch an operation to regularize illegal shops operating at mining locations, the stated reason being that some of these establishments serve as hideouts for potential criminals. We are told that those establishments still exist at their original locations, though no reason has been given as to why they have not all been relocated as promised.

Perhaps the greatest irony in the security crisis afflicting the gold-bearing areas of the country is the continued location of the Guyana Police Force’s E and F Division in Georgetown, a point that has arisen time and again in discourses between miners and the Guyana Police Force, and a circumstance that obviously makes a nonsense of such claims as the government might make that it is doing its best to secure the interior. The simple fact is that both local and foreign investments in the gold-mining sector provide more than sufficient justification for corresponding investments in interior security.

The challenge will grow more formidable in the period ahead. Since the indications are that local and foreign investments in the sector, particularly large-scale Canadian investments could double current returns from the industry in as little as a year or two, there will be need for even more security.  No one doubts that improving interior security would amount to a major long-term investment, but there has been more than sufficient dilatoriness on the part of the government over the years in circumstances where it continues to make noises about the contribution that gold makes to the country’s economy. More than that, the question surely arises as to whether when account is taken of value for money, far less worthwhile projects than interior security have not attracted hugely disproportionate amounts of official spending.

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