The system of closed areas and re-opening lands for mining should be reviewed

Dear Editor,
The Guyana Gold and Diamond Miners Association is concerned about the role of the Guyana Geology and Mines Commission Closed Area Committee, since it is obvious that it is not functioning in accordance to the association’s understanding of its initial mandate.

For the record, the Closed Area Committee was established in February 1994; its mandate was to identify closed areas and state reserves that can be open to miners for the purpose of the location of claims, and approving applications for grants of prospecting and mining licences, prospecting permits and mining permits.

Following identification of these closed areas, the Closed Area Committee was further charged with implementing the exercise in accordance with the regulations signed by the Minister.

The Closed Area Committee also had the responsibility to investigate and resolve any complaints arising from this exercise.

Later, the Closed Area Committee was further authorized to conduct lotteries and auctions in accordance with regulations, signed by the Minister for Mines. Over the years scheduling lotteries and holding auctions, after identifying properties from closed areas and state reserves,  have been its main activities.

Following the introduction of a regulation in 2007, which states that all mining licences that are relinquished, cancelled or rescinded for one reason or another would be closed and reopened for lotteries/auctions (these closures were gazetted) the mining properties available for lottery/auction increased.

The introduction of the Amerindian Act created a situation whereby permission to renew licences in Amerindian titled lands was not being approved by GGMC unless the miner had an agreement with the Amerindian Village Council. This obviously led to a situation whereby many miners were not allowed to continue mining despite having had licences for decades. As a compromise, it was agreed that miners affected by this policy of GGMC, could voluntarily relinquish their licences, and apply to the Closed Area Committee for alternative areas. This process then became an additional task for the Closed Area Committee.

Following a review of the system, with the amount of mining lands that were closed/reserved, it was noted that many of these areas were being worked illegally, and the resources of the GGMC couldn’t prevent this illegality from taking place. As a consequence, the so-called ‘no man’s land’ became prevalent. In an effort to minimize this state of affairs, and following consultations between the Minister, GGMC and GGDMA it was agreed that any previous licensee of a property who was willing to pay all rentals due and penalties for late payment could then apply for said property. The administration of this agreement became another responsibility of the Closed Area Committee.

Since the establishment of the Ministry of Natural Resources and the Environment, the association has noted over the past few years, deviations from these known responsibilities of the Closed Area Committee that are causes for concern:

I   Lotteries that were being held every quarter (4 times) per year are now being held once or twice per year.
II  Auctions that were held in conjunction with lotteries have been suspended; there has been no auction since 2009.
III As of December 2011 the decision to allow prior licensees to apply and pay rentals due, plus late payment penalties has been suspended until further notice.

IV There has been a dramatic increase in licences awarded to individuals from closed areas and state reserves.
It is to be noted that with reference to IV, this can only be implemented as a consequence of the authority given to the Minister under the Mining Act 136 Section (1) which allows the Minister to make regulations. By using said regulations the Minister can award properties in closed areas and/or state reserves to any applicant.

It is the granting of hundreds of licences under this regulation, the suspension of auctions, and the reduced number of lotteries that causes great concern to the GGDMA. The association discerns a certain amount of ambiguity since it is the perception that the Closed Area Committee is the one approving these applications; needless to say the Closed Area Committee has no such authority to the knowledge of GGDMA.

The association submits that the initial intent of the Minister of Mines (Prime Minister Samuel Hinds) in a 1994 reference to the role of the Closed Area Committee, was that it be re-established to maintain fairness and transparency where lands in closed areas/state reserves were being opened to application from miners and persons interested in entering the mining industry.

In conclusion the association recommends a complete review of the system of closed areas, and the methodology for re-opening said areas for mining.

Yours faithfully,
Edward Shields
GGDMA Management Consultant

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