Laid back stance persists on security problems in mining

-miners at Liliendaal forum

Years of feverish negotiations between government and the local mining community over enhanced protection for the sector from an increasingly bold and ruthless criminal element is yet to pay any major dividends, according to some miners who attended the discourses on the industry during the Mining Week think-in held at the International Convention Centre at Liliendaal.

Separate discourses between this newspaper and individual miners during the Mining Week forum found

Mining officials in session at the workshop
Mining officials in session at the workshop

them pointing at what one  described as “the sameness” of government’s position as reflected in the “Mining Week 2013 Policy Statement” issued by Natural Resources and Environment Minister, Robert Persaud to mark the occasion.

Views on just how the crime situation should be tackled vary although those miners with whom this newspaper spoke appear to believe that the absence of progress in the direction of reining in criminals is largely a function of the lack of will on the part of government. “Actually, most of us have gone past the stage of simply blaming the Police Force. It goes beyond that,” one miner said.

While the statement by Persaud describes mining sector security issues as “an area of much concern” for government, a miner who says he operates in the Mazaruni/Potaro area told Stabroek Business that, by and large, such security as is felt by the miners, has to do with those  mechanisms which they themselves had built in over the years rather than any enhanced facilities that would have been provided by the authorities.

In his Mining Week presentation, Persaud alluded to the need for “security checkpoints” to be established at what he described as ‘critical chokepoints’ within the mining districts, a point which another miner told Stabroek Business, had been the subject of discussion between the miners and the security services for as long as I can remember.”

While the Minister’s statement alluded to the need for “increased police presence in mining communities, miners have pointed to what they see as the failure of the Guyana Police Force to take any steps to take a firmer grip on crime in interior areas as exemplified in the fact that the Administrative Divisions responsible for interior policing are all located  in the capital.

While miners have maintained that they would welcome a stronger police presence particularly in the remoter mining communities, the Mazaruni miner who spoke with Stabroek Business remarked that the “the police themselves might prove to be a problem” as far as criminal behaviour in

mining communities is concerned. Not only have policemen been implicated in robberies in mining communities but the government itself has conceded that instances of misconduct by policemen in mining communities give rise to justifiable concerns among miners. In his Mining Week Policy Statement, Minister Persaud alluded to the “malpractice” of “shakedowns” by “members of the Guyana Police Force and the Guyana Defence Force” though, as miners at last week’s forum observed, the statement simply limits itself to describing those practices as having “become too frequent.” One miner wondered aloud as to “exactly what the mining community must take the ‘too frequent’ remark to mean.

Meanwhile, the Minister’s Policy Statement alluded to the need for the authorities to clamp down on various other forms of illegal conduct that are reportedly prevalent in mining areas including trafficking in persons and the use of marijuana in mining communities and emerging mining areas though, according to a Guyana Geology and Mines Commission (GGMC) official “it is difficult to take official pronouncements about trafficking and marijuana seriously when “basic policing in some interior areas purely for the purpose of maintaining law and order is a major problem”.

While Minister Persaud commits his own Ministry and the Ministry of Home Affairs to initiatives that “better facilitate the security needs of the miners in the various mining districts,” on the whole, the miners with whom this newspaper spoke take the view that for the time being at least, the risks associated with criminal attacks on mining camps in some mining communities remain high and that the onus is largely on them to protect themselves and their assets in circumstances where there has been a decided lack of urgency on the part of government in meeting the security needs of the mining community.