Toshao of Arau, Jackson Joseph said that the four Brazilian miners who were killed when a pit caved in at Arau Backdam last month had started working there about two weeks prior to the accident with the permission of the village council.
He said that for several years before, the Brazilians had been working in a nearby concession owned by a miner from the coast. On September 26, Taigo Nunes Pinto, Ronaldo Da Silva Sousa, Joao Nelson Pinto Mands and Joao Gonsalves Martin died when the pit they were working in caved in. Another miner, Jose Roberto Diaz, who was injured, was flown out of the area.
Subsequently, Minister of Natural Resources and the Environment Robert Persaud said that the miners were “illegal” and the Guyana Geology and Mines Commission (GGMC) had warned about illegal operations in the area just three weeks before the tragedy. Persaud had said that since Arau is an Amerindian village, the GGMC does not have an authority in the area; rather, mining operations fall under the purview of the village council. Nevertheless, it was his hope that villages are equipped with the proper tools and training mechanisms to effectively monitor mining operations.
Last week, Jackson told Stabroek News that the Brazilians had only worked there for a short time before the incident. The dredge they operated was registered in the name of a woman, he said. “They din work long there really,” Jackson related. The village leader said that the community will be requiring that all dredges and operators be registered with the GGMC. He related that he has given operators up to December to get their documents in order. “Before this year end all the documents must be in order” including work permits, he said.
Persaud had stated that health and safety and ensuring that legal operations are set up and that the necessary permits were sought out by all persons inclined to set up an operation were the major issues with monitoring the sector. He noted that he was disappointed that the four illegal Brazilians “did not see fit to have their status recognised”. The minister said that in the light of incidents that have occurred in the past, the ministry has submitted a proposal that would see a special mining permit granted for titled Amerindian lands.
Persaud noted that this proposal was in the beginning stages as any development would have to happen with all stakeholders being on board, including the Toshaos Council.
Persaud had noted that the deaths of the four illegal miners shed light on the various deficiencies in health and safety within the sector and that the “aim is to reduce deaths and eliminate them all together,” which is why monitoring had to be a more effectively used tool. He said that many small time operations do not have the correct equipment and sometimes “induced failures” would occur. He explained that miners would dig deep and allow the top to cave in and then pump out the hole.
GGMC Commissioner Rickford Vieira had stated that the dredge owner, Wendy Barbosa, would face multiple changes. He did not say what would most likely be the outcome only noting that she would have to pay fines.