One of the enduring failures of PPP governance in its now 20-year tenure is its inability or unwillingness to draw appropriate lessons from missteps and to find ways of ensuring that there is no recurrence. The Plaisance debacle where the government was furtively foisting the installation of a communications tower smack in the middle of a community ground without the slightest hint of consultation with residents in the area is a stark example of such a failure and disdain for local government. It is in its interest and that of the nation that it mends its ways in the selecting of sites along the coast for the installation of these e-governance towers.
Long before Plaisance however, the events at Marudi in the Rupununi underscored multiple failings which brought to the fore troubling undertows. Events grabbed the spotlight when an enforcement team from the Guyana Geology and Mines Commission descended on the Marudi area and found a number of dredges operating there illegally. It is clear that these dredges had been there for some time and that they had been gathering gold and other precious minerals illicitly and undoubtedly with loss of revenue to the state. The enforcement of the GGMC’s mandate has been lax for many years and it is something the country can ill afford considering the booming gold sector. This is one failure of the PPP/C that has repeated itself.
It transpires that the miners were operating illegally on a concession in the name of Canadian explorer, Romanex. This particular concession has been held by a series of foreign owners for as long as 20 years in various stages of occupation from exploration to a failed promise to begin mining. Something must be desperately wrong with the allocation and evaluation systems of the GGMC relative to concessions applied for. Undoubtedly, much time, money and human resources are expended in the oftentimes disappointing search for gold. However, 20 years of occupancy without a single ounce of gold coming from the claim holder is ridiculous. There should have been a carefully planned programme approved by the GGMC with clear benchmarks for exploration and production which after a period of barrenness would have resulted in the reclaiming of the concession. More able explorers could have been recruited or the land leased to the residents of the area for other use. The Romanex example offers a good opportunity for the GGMC to review the status of other concessions with the same problem.
Meanwhile, the mining dredges and pork knockers were showing what could be recovered from their small operations on the Romanex claim. It was a lesson that should have been taken to heart by the GGMC and the Ministry of Natural Resources. Claims cannot be locked down for such long periods when small miners can benefit from injecting their own capital, extracting returns which improve their lives and those around them. There has also been a lot of talk that these illegal prospectors managed to stay a long time on the concession as they pay for the privilege. This matter should be thoroughly probed by the GGMC. Ironically, after they were accused of not having declared an ounce of gold to the Guyana Gold Board, the illegal miners were able to produce receipts for sales to the entity. This was yet another failure of the surveillance systems within the sector. The results of the investigation into the Gold Board sales have not yet been released and are eagerly anticipated.
Then it was the turn of the police to yet again embarrass the administration. Some of the illegal miners clearly intended to present a challenge to the police-escorted GGMC team which was headed into Marudi to seize illegal mining equipment. In the ensuing confrontation, a policeman was videoed inflicting licks on a woman and a child. Other law enforcers stood around with big guns doing nothing and the GGMC officers were silent. This savage behaviour was on display for all to see and exposed again within the police force a culture of brutality and unprofessionalism. Where was the force’s commitment to treating citizens firmly but with respect? In a society riddled with violence against women and children what message did this police beating send? The intended sweeping reforms to law enforcement by the Home Affairs Minister which entails the changing of the name of the police force to police service was clearly having no impact at Marudi. As we have said before the culture of impunity and non-accountability has become deeply entrenched in the force over decades. Radical changes – not yet contemplated by the recently unveiled reforms – is the only course of action.
Perhaps the most disturbing feature of the Marudi manoeuvrings is the patent discord between the Ministry of Natural Resources and the GGMC over the fate of the illegal Marudi miners. As would have been the expectation of all law-abiding citizens, charges of illegal mining, damage to the environment and others should have been brought against the miners. This was clearly the direction in which the GGMC was heading. Except that the Ministry of Natural Resources then intervened and actually began making arrangements for the illegal miners to participate in a lottery of Rupununi mining parcels. The ministry’s intervention represents a grotesque subversion of the rule of law. Those who were operating illegally must face the consequences of their actions. The GGMC is right. The miners must be charged. The Ministry of Natural Resources must desist from its attempts to reward law-breakers.
Surveying all of this, one can’t help arriving at the conclusion that government is adrift in myriad directions under the dodgy command of a multitude of would-be captains.