Minister of Natural Re-sources and the Environment Robert Persaud yesterday denied promising parcels of land for persons who have been illegally mining at Marudi Mountain, in Region Nine, and dismissed claims that charges have not been laid against them in order to score political points with Rupununi residents.
“I think there was some level of misconception about the special lottery,” Persaud told a press conference. The objective of the lottery, now scheduled for April 26, he said, is to provide land to persons who do not have and to assist authorities in curbing illegal mining.
“Any Guyanese, any legitimate individual, once they have satisfied the criteria for participating can participate,” he said, while emphasising that the process is not an “exclusionary process” or an “exclusive” one but one that allows participation to anyone from the mining districts.
Miners who are not already concession holders would be eligible to participate in the lottery, where five 100-acre blocks, in each of the six mining communities will be up for grabs as long as they meet criteria set by the Guyana Geology and Mines Commission (GGMC), such as citizenship and ownership of mining equipment.
The Rupununi Miners Association (RMA) had on Saturday urged the minister to honour a promise to allot parcels in a special land lottery to persons mining illegally at Marudi. “We are calling on the honourable minister to settle the Marudi issues once and for all to return to normalcy to Marudi and Region Nine,” President of the RMA Sugreem Singh said, while saying they would hold Persaud “accountable” for delivering on a promise he made after meeting with the RMA.
In response to Singh’s claim that Persaud had reneged on promises made to allocate lands separate from the lottery to them, Persaud said “The commitment that we have made to that grouping or to any other grouping is that once lands are available through the legal and proper means of its disposal… they or any other Guyanese can participate and that was what was said in this regard.”
In late February, the GGMC found dredges operating illegally in a concession that had been assigned to Romanex at Marudi and after issuing the relevant notices to the miners, it began preparing to bring charges against the illegal operators. However, days later, the Ministry of Natural Resources began meeting with some of the same illegal miners through the RMA, during which there were discussions about a lottery of mining parcels for them.
Persaud yesterday dismissed criticism by some members of the public who have said that the GGMC was dragging its foot on the laying of charges against the miners in order for the government to score political points with Rupununi residents. “I am not sure how that conclusion could be drawn because the instructions and directions given is ‘wherever instances of illegal mining is taking place, GGMC has to do its job’… as minister, I have never said go light on this area or try to capitalise, let’s play politics there. That accusation is baseless,” he said.
GGMC acting Commis-sioner acting Rickford Vieira and Legal Officer Rosemary Benjamin-Noble explained that once the illegal miners would have fulfilled legal obligations on the illegal mining charges, they were free to do legitimate business with the agency and can participate in the lottery.
“It is not to reward illegality or lawlessness. That has never been the genesis… it is to bring some level of regularisation… we don’t want mining to be the exclusive forte of some, we want Guyanese to access and develop these resources,” Persaud said, while adding that he wants the issue resolved at the earliest to “bring some level of closure.” He added that the names of the illegal miners will be published. “Like you, I want the matter to come to some level of closure. We have an obligation to make it proper,” he said.