Illegal mining to be tracked by satellite – Minister

Minister of Natural Resources, Robert Persaud yesterday said that illegal mining will soon be tracked by satellite imagery and there would be instant deployments to deal with the problem.

He was speaking at the opening ceremony of mining week at the Guyana International Conference Centre.

Speaking on the question of raiding, he said that this was a continuous problem.

President Donald Ramotar (second from right) at the forum. At right is Minister of Natural Resources Robert Persaud. At left is Chairman of the Private Sector Commission, Ron Webster.
President Donald Ramotar (second from right) at the forum. At right is Minister of Natural Resources Robert Persaud. At left is Chairman of the Private Sector Commission, Ron Webster.

“This is a continuous issue and persons accused of raiding seek redress at the Courts and are granted injunctions against the Commission which is then restrained from taking any action. Our efforts to curb illegal mining are at times restricted by the abuse of recourse to the Judiciary.  During the period of the injunction the illegal mining is often continued by the raiders. In the past a reasonable time frame was granted for GGMC to respond and show “just cause” why an injunction filed should not be allowed”, the minister stated.

He said that the Ministry of Natural Resources and the Environment is working with the Chancellor of the Judiciary to address these issues facing the sector.  He also signalled that other measures would be put in place. “And yes, better monitoring and response by the GGMC staff is needed. Soon we will be using satellite imagery to track any illegal mining, and in conjunction with the Guyana Defence Force air corps will be able to have instant deployment from the centre”.

He said that given the lobby by miners for the retention of up to 50% of the value of their gold in foreign exchange and for concessions on fuel and vehicles the ministry is giving their proposals consideration.

Persaud said that his ministry was currently working with the Guyana Gold and Diamond Miners Association (GGDMA) on a number of initiatives.

“We must ensure that the costs, benefits and risks of mining are well understood by all stakeholders, and that all accept their respective roles and responsibilities…Through the collaborative efforts of the Ministry of Natural Resources and the Environment and the regulatory agency – Guyana Geology and Mines Commission (GGMC) and the miners’ bodies…  various strategic initiatives have been proposed to reduce the costs and risks of the mining sector, whilst seeking to improve the benefits to all stakeholders,” he said.

The GGDMA proposals were outlined to President Donald Ramotar during a meeting on Wednesday and then released to the public.

Speaking at yesterday’s event, Ramotar said that with mining being the biggest contributor to the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) there was a strategic plan in place to develop the sector to also be sustainable.

He called on miners to ensure best practices and urged them not to fall prey to persons seeking bribes from then since if they give in they would be just as guilty. He also urged that when they see instances of human trafficking to report it as they too have a role to play in ensuring the image of the sector is not smeared and that the perception of a “brute force and ignorance” is eliminated.

He said that he wanted to see coupling investments in the various mining disciplines such as with gold and jewellery-making and bauxite and aluminum. However he believes that cheaper energy, such as hydropower, was needed to facilitate this.

With Finance Minister, Dr Ashni Singh and the Minister of Natural Resources also in attendance at the meeting with the President last Wednesday, the GGDMA urgently requested that foreign exchange be made available to small and medium scale miners “during this crisis of falling gold prices, for them to import much needed spares and machinery, since some companies are taking advantage of the miners”. The association also noted that the availability of foreign exchange encourages miners to sell their gold to the GGB. Analysts point out that if the foreign exchange is not available, miners will resort to the parallel gold market with all of the attendant implications.

Miners on Wednesday also pressed the government on crime and said that they were very concerned about the hike in murders, violence, illegal firearms, narcotics, trafficking in persons and other activities in mining communities. The miners said that they have previously lobbied on ways to address these problems: reducing the delay in treating with firearms licence applications permits for miners to set up their own security service and work permits for non-Guyanese.

Support was also expressed for the appointment of Rickford Vieira as the substantive Commissioner of the Guyana Geology and Mines Commission (GGMC), the statement added. “GGMC needs a confirmed Commissioner to manage and give direction to the mining industry, especially in the gold and diamond sector, in this critical time of falling gold prices, rampant illegal mining and the upsurge of criminal activities in the hinterlands of Guyana. GGDMA supports the appointment” of Vieira,” the statement said.

Also restated at the meeting was the miners’ call for a subsidy on fuel for the mining industry. The GGDMA has also proposed that they be allowed to import their own fuel. The association stated that fuel accounts for 25% to 30% of the cost of production.

A waiver of taxes on the importation of 4×4’s and four-door open-back vehicles was also requested at the meeting. The miners contended that while the vehicles are deemed as luxury vehicles and attract heavy import duties they are “necessary for safe travel, over sometimes impassable roads.” The GGDMA said that the four-door vehicles also provide an additional form of security

Vice President of the Association Charles Da Silva in his address reiterated their calls. “We don’t ask much but this year we are hoping to top the production …so we are appealing to the minister and president,” he said.

Da Silva said that with the given concessions he was confident that miners will strive harder to achieve the “green gold” policy while still competing on the global market amid falling prices.

The Natural Resources Minister also noted the performance of the Extractive Industries for 2013. He said that the quantity of gold declared from January to July of this year was 23.23% more than the quantity reported for the comparative period in 2012.Diamond output for the same period has increased by 53.97% and also increasing by 17.05%. Sand also saw an increase by some 18.7%.

However bauxite production from January to July of 2013 dropped when compared to the quantity produced for the same period in 2012. Nonetheless it is expected to pass last year’s total production despite community/industrial relations stoppages.

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