Miners hammer gov’t

Shields: `The reality is we haven’t got anything, just press releases’

Miners yesterday slated the government for not keeping promises made to support the sector saying that the authorities are only playing politics while disseminating “false information” about concessions given to miners.

“The reality is we haven’t got anything, just press releases,” chairman of the first bi-monthly meeting of the Guyana Gold and Diamond Miners Association (GGDMA) Edward Shields told miners at the association’s North Road headquarters yesterday. “I hope you got the message, the miners have been on a merry go round for quite a while,” he said. “We ain able with this merry go round no more.”

Pointing out that despite promises, they have gotten no benefits while foreign mining companies are getting numerous concessions, the miners’ vowed action in 2015 which they have dubbed the ‘Year of Action.’

Shields said that the GGDMA is very disappointed with the situation where a lot of false information is being published about miners obtaining benefits. He said that there is a belief that the “big ones” are getting benefits and do not care anything about the small man. He declared that the GGDMA has been working extremely hard while the authorities have been “playing politics.”

He pointed to the list of concessions published by the Ministry of Natural Resources and the Environment and, citing the example of spare parts, said that while technically the government is not lying, it is only international companies that have signed an investment agreement with the government, who are getting spare parts duty-free.

Shields pointed out that the GGDMA had requested duty-free spare parts and President Donald Ramotar had also promised last year at a meeting with miners that he had no problem with reducing rentals, but they are still waiting for this promise to be kept. For other promises such as the establishment of an inter-ministerial task force, there was only one meeting and it was a similar case for other committees, Shields said. “The minister meets with us when it is convenient for him,” Shields asserted and said that on these occasions there are photographers and reporters but nothing ever happens.

As it relates to fuel, he said that the GGDMA had managed to find a cheaper source but when the quotation was submitted, they were told that there is a “fair play” policy and if they could get fuel cheaper than other dealers here, the minister would step in and raise the tax to be competitive. They were told that “if you getting it cheap, then you gotta pay more duty,” he said.

They have also not been able to tap into concessions offered for duty-free vehicles and this only came into effect on January 1 this year and not before as has been stated, he said. He also noted that it was not entirely free of duty. As it relates to other duty-free items, Shields said that they do not know anything about it and also pointed out that some concessions were in place for years and were not recent.

Number one

Shields stated that the mining sector is the number one industry in terms of earnings and employment and in this time of downturn, it should be supported.

However, he said, every time they put one step forward, the authorities are putting a block. He said that they have submitted proposals but nothing much has happened. He added that while the government gives an impression that miners are sitting on concessions, “it is totally false, they are playing games.”

“I hope it is understood that no…big miner is getting any special benefits,” he stressed. He said that with large-scale miners Troy Resources Limited and Guyana Goldfields coming on stream this year, the government is going to collect a lot of revenues. It was noted that the foreign companies are given major concessions but local miners who have supported the economy in a major way over the past years, their pleas are not being heard.

“They are just not serious,” Shields said. “They just saying something and they forget us.”

He also noted a report in yesterday’s edition of Stabroek News which he said needs a lot of explanation. Stabroek News had reported that Canadian mining company Sandspring Resources Inc has put off completing a feasibility study for its proposed large-scale gold mine at Toroparu, Upper Puruni River as a result of uncertainty in the gold market. The company has also announced that it will re-establish its small-scale mining division.

Shields said that he was not aware that large scale companies can do medium scale mining but while this is neither here nor there, what is of concern is the equipment that will be used. He said that he is positive that the equipment that they are going to us is duty-free.

They want a level playing field and transparency, he declared while noting that Guyanese miners are investing billions and not getting benefits. “All we are saying, level playing field,” he said. He said that all the ministry is doing is putting out press releases but “nothing of the sort” has actually occurred.

“The association has not collected one single cent from no fuel nothing,” he stated.

He also noted that a lottery for mining lands was cancelled and the authorities had stated that it was as a result of the recent strike by Guyana Geology and Mines Commission workers.

“Poppycock,” Shields declared. He charged that the lottery was cancelled because the areas identified were already given out. If it was indeed due to the strike, it was just a matter of logistics and could have been held next week he said. “The point is they gotta go and find new properties,” he declared.

As it relates to the Hinterland Security Committee, Shields said that it was a waste of time. He said that it cannot function unless the commissioner changes or put himself into it and senior officers are rarely present at meetings but send their subordinates. “The reality on the ground, crime is increasing,” he said.

He also related that he was informed that Ramotar will be meeting with GGDMA executives on March 5 and said that they have been promised this meeting for quite a long time. He related the numerous times, they have tried to get answers and said that apparently in politics today, word means simply w-o-r-d and there is no honour behind it. He said that he does not know if they are trying to hide the president and it is only when they meet Ramotar that there is a little movement.

It was also noted that a lot of miners are still out of the industry or are not operating at 100 percent and had the government granted the concession requested, they would have produced more.

 Breathing space

“We are just asking the concessions for a lil breathing space,” executive member Afro Alphonso said while another executive Terry Adams said that they have not benefitted so far and want a level playing field.

“We have nothing against the foreigners and the foreigners are getting everything duty-free” Alphonso said while noting that there was no outcry when prices were high and miners “carried the country.” He said that the current situation is not really balanced at all and they want a level playing field.

According to one miner, it is “a deliberate position to just keep us off.” Shields said that the authorities are giving “information which we may deem untruthful” and the miners are getting blamed. Several other issues were raised.

Executive member Dabria Marcus said that things are happening and the GGDMA is recognized as a powerful private sector lobby group and the Inter-American Development Bank is currently funding a consultancy for the association. He said that the association is there not only to discuss mining issues but for empowerment of membership and would like them to bring their thoughts outside of mining to them.

Vice-president of the association, Charlie De Freitas said that it is a merry-go-round with the government of the day and they have been getting the royal runaround for the longest time. “It’s all promises,” he said while arguing that they are getting no help from the government in this sensitive period. He noted that it is an election year both for the GGDMA executive and nationally, and said that if miners are not pleased, they have to exercise their democratic right. He added that the GGDMA is not a political organisation and cannot tell anyone who to vote for.

He noted the GGDMA’s ‘Year of Action’ theme for this year. “We need some action,” he said.

Shields urged that when they go to political meetings, let the party officials know that they are miners. “The miner needs to stand up,” he said.

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