Chartered Accountant and Attorney at Law Christopher Ram believes that with the on-going debate about the Muri Brasil Ventures Inc. survey agreement for the south east of Guyana, Parliament may be the only clear voice in the wilderness and wants its members to debate the issue as a matter of urgency.
This, he wrote in his column which appeared on his blog, Chrisram.net. In the piece dated December 24, 2013, Ram analysed statements from the various stakeholders on the issue and called officials out on their positions taken.
“Many of the contributors, using information which seem to have their origin in official sources, went out of their way to defend the Minister, avoiding any reference to the Minister’s clearly misleading statement to a parliamentary committee that the ‘position of the government at this point in time is not to permit mining in that specific area…’ more than a year after he had guaranteed to Muri 18 licences in the area. With such gratuitous support and defence of his exposed flank, the Minister followed the road of discretion and has so far said nothing further on the matter,” said Ram.
He recalled that Khemraj Ramjattan of the Alliance for Change and Joe Harmon of APNU were adamant and categorical that the permission was tainted and that the Minister deceived the parliamentary committee and the permission ought to be rescinded.
“The company in its statement said that…This area is for exploration not occupation or prospecting. Also the PGGS provides that the area is reduced by one quarter at the end of every year for its life of three years so that at the end of the three years only 25 percent of the original area remains. That is incorrect,” stated Ram.
“Here is what the Permission states under a clause Relinquishment: ‘On or before the first anniversary, the Permission-holder shall relinquish at least 25% of the said area after the first year’,” he wrote. “There is no commitment for any other year and only that the permission is for a period of thirty-six months. Where then is the math that 25% will remain after three years?” he said.
Ram said that unless the company has been given some private assurances by the Minister, after three years the concession goes under the Clause that states there shall be no extension or renewal of the terms and conditions of this Permission.
“By now, the company should have indicated whether it has given up“ at least 25% of the said area after the first year,” said Ram.
He said that it is the duty of the Minister, as well as an obligation of the company to tell the country and the security forces the precise coordinates of the area which was given up on or before November 7, 2013. “The company states that the area for a prospecting licence is an average of 12,000 acres so that 18 prospecting licences will extend over about 216,000 acres. This is and was no doubt meant to mislead,” said Ram. He noted that Section 33 of the Mining Act clearly states that a prospecting licence may be issued over several parcels, which are themselves subject to two extensions. “There is no limit on the number of parcels over which a licence can be issued. MURI’s shareholders and directors are Guyanese citizens and have substantial experience in the mining industry,” he said.
Ram questioned under whose authority is it building an airstrip to facilitate the aerial part of its surveys. “Perhaps the company would be good enough to state which clause in the Permission gives it a right to construct an airstrip,” said Ram.
He said too that the Minister must inform the nation how much it would cost to have the Guyana Revenue Authority, the Police and the Guyana Defence Force to superintend the airstrip near the border with Brazil.
Ram critiqued President of the Georgetown Chamber of Commerce and Industry (GCCI) Clinton Urling for the position he took with regard to the security implication of developing the New River Triangle and the timing of a letter he sent to media houses which coincided with the date of a Chamber meeting.
“Interestingly Mr. Urling, President of the Georgetown Chamber of Commerce, addressed a letter to the press under his name on the very day on which the Chamber met and discussed the Muri Permission, Ram said. He noted that prior to the meeting, Urling had been cautioned in an email sent to him by a member drawing attention to some negative implications in the newspapers on the day of the meeting. “While public officials are entitled to their personal opinions, the timing of Mr. Urling’s letter seemed improper, conveying the impression that it was intended to forestall any wider discussion within the Chamber,” he said.
“Mr. Urling’s attention having been specifically drawn to the security implications of mining operations three hundred yards from the Guyana-Brazil border proceeded to dismiss this publicly as a non-starter,” said Ram.
Ram said that retired Major General of the GDF Joe Singh in his statement to the press “tried his best to be careful, not to step on the government’s toe.”
“Now serving the Government on the civilian side, Mr. Singh takes a different view, asserting that…it is the government, not the GDF, that is the determinant as to whether or not extractive activities will or will not be permitted,” said Ram. “The problem with this statement is that no one was challenging the right of the government to determine whether or not mining activities are permitted. That goes without saying. The concerns, other than the Minister’s deception, are about security and the environment, on both of which Mr. Singh is widely considered an expert,” he said.
Ram stated that few people appreciate more than Singh does the scale of illegal activities carried out across Guyana’s borders by Brazilians. “Few people have as wide a working knowledge of the fragility of the eco-system and the dangers and destruction which mining and logging to the environment,” he said. “On the environmental risks involved, Guyanese would have liked Mr. Singh to express his, rather than [former President Bharrat] Jagdeo’s views,” he said.
Ram is of the view that Singh overlooked the constitutional amendments made in 2001 in relation to the role of the Security Forces under Guyana’s reformed Constitution. “They impose on the Security Forces much wider obligations than those identified by Mr. Singh,” he said.
Ram turned his attention to a recent column by former Speaker of the National Assembly Ralph Ramkarran for being “nonchalant” about the security concern development in the New River Triangle posed. “What makes Mr. Ramkarran’s statement particularly surprising is that he has been involved in border issues as a member of the National Border Commission,” said Ram.
Ram said that none of Muri’s supporters have addressed the cost-benefit of the project to Guyana. “It now seems that the PPP/C is ending its flirtation with the LCDS under which the country could have received US$250 million,” he said, pointing out that all MURI is required to pay over the three years for exclusive access to 2,200,000 acres is US$85,000. “Has anyone done a projection of the actual and opportunity cost to the Government and do they know whether the Minister has provided Cabinet with such a report? In the interest of transparency, Mr. Robert Persaud has a duty to provide taxpayers with such information,” Ram said.
He said that Muri represents not only a security threat, but also an erosion of Guyana’s border and the possibility of substantial expenditure in return for US$85,000. “What makes these risks more serious is the opacity of the deal entered into but scarcely acknowledged by the Minister, the silence of the Security Forces on their duties under Article 197 A of the constitution and the self-serving and orchestrated defence of the deal,” he said. “The only body with the authority to have a thorough examination of this deal is the National Assembly. It must have this done as a matter of urgent national interest,” he concluded.