Bribery, extortion and Brazilian miners in Guyana

There is a dimension to Guyana’s gold-mining industry that is venal, replete with extortion, bribery and violent crime. Experienced miners allude to a “mining culture”, patterns of behaviour that differ from the standards set in business elsewhere. While, for example, those of us who know little about the ways of the interior of Guyana ‘quibble’ about the dynamics of relationships between miners and officials of the various state agencies over having extorted or handing over willingly, considerations for ‘services rendered,’ those are simply accepted procedures for getting things done in the mining sector. In our conventional legal systems such practices are against the law. In the culture of the mining sector they are a way of life. In the interior of Guyana it is the latter, mostly, that prevails.

There are official rules and regulations governing the way in which the gold mining industry should function. Those count however, only insofar as they are properly enforceable. In that regard the state has been weak and ineffective, first, because many officials responsible for policing and rules enforcement are preoccupied with benefitting from at least a modest portion of the returns from the sector in the form of their own bribes and kickbacks. Where that applies it is bound to far exceed any desire to pursue their monitoring and law-enforcement duties with any measure of diligence upheld.

Here, there are two problems. First, there is the remote and under-resourced condition of the mining areas, chiefly the lack of strong policing and mining administration structures. As one miner told this newspaper several months ago when the state officials including the police are in the mining communities, ensuring that the rules and regulations are being followed is often the last thing on their minds. We are told that this particular form of corruption usually goes way above the foot soldiers who do the groundwork in the mining regions.

The other problem, of course, is that  having long lost the battle to persuade the populace as a whole that it is even close to winning the battle against corruption, the government’s pronouncements on ensuring that the rules and regulations in the mining sector are enforced have a hollow ring to them. Few if any believe that the mining sector is not fuelled largely by irregular transactions that circumvent established rules and regulations and cater largely to those who are positioned to secure what we commonly call a piece of the action.

Up until now the government has done far more talking than doing in the matter of what it says is its quest to ensure that mining laws are followed. Of course, it has its own problems is this regard since many of its own functionaries are widely believed to be the main extortionists and bribe-takers. To stop the rot it must go after some of the very servants of the state which it controls.

The rising price of gold – at least up until recently – and the increased influx of Brazilian miners have accentuated corruption in the mining sector. The logic of this is simple. Bribery and extortion flourish more in an environment where there is, first, more to give and, secondly, more givers.

Part of the reason why the Brazilian miners have been easy pickings for shakedowns by local officials is because, in many if not most instances, they work in the sector illegally. In fact, we are told that implicit in the thinking of the illegal Brazilian miners is that paying bribes is par for the course in the local mining sector.

The Government of Guyana has made promises in the past to move to have the registration and regularisation of Brazilian miners ‘fast-tracked.’ Up until now, that has not been done. The delay has worked entirely to the advantage of those functionaries who favour the persistence of a corruption-ridden environment. The Brazilians, we presume, would much prefer to get themselves in order and rid themselves of having either to pay a bribe or to be extorted at every turn.

What appears to be the start of a process of regularising the Brazilian miners is seemingly underway. Even here, however, there is really no guarantee that the many-headed hydra of corruption would not rear its head from amidst a tangle of procedures associated with the regularisation process.

More than that, even if the authorities succeed in some measure in addressing the issue of the illegal presence of Brazilian  miners in the country’s goldfields, blatant disregard for laws, rules and regulations will persist, infringements will be concocted to facilitate extortion and the paying of bribes, corrupt relationships between state functionaries and miners will persist and what was described some years ago as the “wild west” situation in the interior is unlikely to change. That, however, is no reason for the government not to do what it can in terms of effectively addressing the status of Brazilians working in the gold-mining sector and, in effect, cutting away at a whole swathe of corrupt practices and transactions which, we are told, result from their illegal mining of gold in Guyana.


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