The Ministry of Natural Resources and the Environment has written to indigenous communities advising them that no mining-related road construction must take place within the Parabara, South Rupununi area, the Guyana Human Rights Association (GHRA) has said.
The GHRA met with Minister Robert Persaud and other ministry officials on Thursday and discussed a number of issues including the Parabara road. In a statement, the GHRA said that the ministry has written the respective indigenous communities advising them that no mining-related road construction must take place within the Parabara, South Rupununi, location.
“With respect to the new road aimed at penetrating the New River Triangle, the GHRA was furnished with a copy of a letter dated December 4th directed to the Toshao of Masekanari, Paul Chekema, to the effect that “the Ministry has not granted permission or awarded any license for mining operations in the area. As such, there should be no road construction taking place in the area as an aspect of mining operations.” The Ministry stated that machinery had been assembled for road construction but work had not yet begun,” the statement said.
Parabara, a mixed Wapishana/Wai-Wai community does not fall under the jurisdiction of Masekenari, which is a long distance away and has been designated a community owned protected area. Masekenari has title to its land while Parabara is seeking title.
Reports about the road have prompted concern since it would be located in one of Guyana’s most pristine and biodiversity rich areas in the Upper Takutu/Upper Essequibo region. The Ministry of Natural Resources and the Environment has acknowledged that it had received reports of the new road and announced a probe but has not released details.
Four areas of concern
The GHRA said that during the meeting with the ministry officials, it indicated four areas of concern: the Parabara road; problems of joint logging and mining activities in the Upper Berbice region; lack of monitoring capacity on the part of GGMC and river mining.
In relation to logging and mining concession in the Upper Berbice, the statement said that large foreign conglomerates, holders of dual mining and logging concessions in the Upper Berbice region are accelerating their operations – regardless of permissions, environmental consequences or acceptable labour practices.
“Encouraged by the companies, small loggers are re-entering concessions already logged by the legal owners in compliance with the rules and guidelines of the Guyana Forestry Commission (GFC). Not only is this practice illegal, it undermines the efforts by the legal owners to obtain certification required to export logs. The anticipated scale of these operations by the foreign companies can be gleaned by the giant pontoons capable of carrying in excess of 800 logs at any one time, being constructed by the involved Chinese companies,” the GHRA said.
“Moreover, small loggers are obtaining identification tags from GFC for designated species in designated areas, then cutting in non-designated areas and putting the tags on them. Buffer zones intended to protect the rivers from mining pollution are being logged to the ridge line and rendered useless,” the statement said adding that the combined mining and logging permits are proving to be pernicious. “Loggers are finding that mining concessions have been issued on their logging concessions of which they are unaware and which prevent them getting certification,” the GHRA noted.
Lack of capacity
The body also expressed concern about the lack of capacity of the Guyana Geology and Mines Commission (GGMC) to monitor mining operations. It noted that routine administrative duties cover matters such as ensuring valid licences and work-permits are in place and checking the Daily Production Report Books which all work-sites are supposed to maintain up-to-date. “Much of their work takes place on-site. This frequently means trekking to remote, dangerous, malaria-ridden areas and dealing with people who would prefer to bribe rather than cooperate with them. Moreover, Public Service bureaucracy in remote regions is sparse. Individual officers require extra-ordinary commitment to duty to enforce regulations even when dealing with small –scale mining operations, with clear-cut rules and practices,” the statement said.
The GHRA said that with respect to large foreign companies operating in remote areas of Upper Berbice, the capacity of GGMC to effectively monitor and enforce agreements is virtually nil. “Whether they abide by agreements cannot be ascertained until after the fact; whether they harvest or buy in logs is difficult to determine; what volume of timber is harvested can be effectively disguised,” it said.
“A fundamental question arising from this situation is why permits are granted for enormous concessions in areas over which neither the relevant Ministry, nor the Government as a whole can exercise effective governance. Moreover, their contribution to the national economy is negligible. A moratorium on logging and mining permits is urgently needed to bring this draining of valuable resources to an end until a policy can be elaborated which ensures Guyanese resour-ces are fuelling Guyanese development,” the body added.
The GHRA also noted that advocates looking for an outright ban on river mining continue to be disappointed. “The absence of policies to protect fresh water resources – the most valuable long-term natural resource Guyana possesses – is short-sighted. Without a ban on river mining, fresh water and associated wildlife and fish stocks will continue to be destroyed,” the body said.
Meanwhile, the human rights body welcomed the decision to set in train a process aimed at Guyana becoming a member of the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI). The statement noted that the EITI is an international mechanism encouraging transparency with respect to revenue transfers in countries engaged in extractive industries. Member countries commit to production of an annual country report by the government, which is independently verified by the international body.
The statement said that the GHRA was provided with a copy of the advertisement shortly to be issued in the press calling for consultants to undertake a study of the scope and form the EITI process should take in Guyana. “Membership of EITI takes the form of devising a national mechanism comprising representatives of the Government, extractive industries and civil society which will be responsible for producing a detailed annual Report, indicating the sources of all revenues from extractive operations in Guyana and the benefits to the society derived from the application of these revenues. The report would be evaluated by an independent EITI verification process,” the statement noted.
It added that the GHRA expressed its willingness to collaborate in bringing this initiative to fruition in Guyana.