Ministry surprised by miners criticism

Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Natural Resources and the Environment Joslyn McKenzie says that government continues to be supportive of the mining sector and finds recent comments by the miners’ reps – who had lambasted government for not keeping promises – “surprising.”

In a letter sent to the Guyana Gold and Diamond Miners Association (GGDMA) and copied to media houses, McKenzie said that the ministry “notes with interest and consternation” an article in the Stabroek News headlined “Miners hammer Gov’t -Shields: `The reality is we haven’t got anything, just press releases.” According to McKenzie, there seems to be a prevailing sense of misunderstanding and/or miscommunication on the part of the GGDMA.

Stabroek News reported on Friday that miners at the GGDMA’s bi-monthly on Thursday, had slated the government for not keeping promises made to support the sector. They had said 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 meeting Edward Shields had said.

McKenzie, in his letter, addressed the issue of a fuel licence and waiver of taxes on fuel importation for miners and said that a fuel importation licence was granted in 2013 to the GGDMA in order to facilitate cheaper imports. He said that in addition, at the request of the association, government approved the waiver of 10% of the applicable tariff on imported diesel fuel under the said licence.

“It should be noted that the Guyana Revenue Authority and Guyana Energy Agency also provided extensive guidance to the Association on the advancement of their proposed operation. To date we are still awaiting a response from the Association who has requested permission to use local dealers in the interim whilst they develop storage facilities,” he wrote.

Shields had said that the authorities have put up stumbling blocks. 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 had said. Further, miners were told that in terms of getting storage facilities, they had requested that they be allowed to use a barge in the interim, but got no response on this.

As it relates to duty-free concessions, McKenzie said that notwithstanding that All-Terrain Vehicles (ATV), Excavators, Bulldozers and other machinery that small and medium scale operations continue to benefit from duty-free concessions granted to miners, government working with the GGDMA approved the granting of waivers for double-cab pickups to various categories of miners based on their production levels. “As indicated by the GGDMA the approval was granted effective from January 2015 and the Association has been invited to review and sign the Agreement to commence the process,” he said.

As it relates to duty-free waivers on spares, the Permanent Secretary said that government is working with miners on this and to date, approval has been granted on the waiver of tariffs and duties on matting that the GGMDA pointed out was pivotal to their operation. “The list of suppliers recommended by the GGDMA was approved for tax waivers on the importation, and we are advised that to date, a number of transactions have been processed,” he said.

On hinterland security, McKenzie stated that the MNRE facilitated meetings between the Minister of Home Affairs, the Guyana Police Force (GPF) and GGDMA with the understanding of the security concerns and constraints facing the sector and established a working relationship between GGDMA and the police. “In addition, we are advised that a Committee was created to address security matters. However, if the mechanisms implemented to address security concerns prove to be inadequate then we are sure that when the Association reaches with Head of the GPF and the Hon. Minister the situation will be addressed,” he said.

Miners had complained that despite raising their concerns at the meetings of the committee, nothing had happened as senior officers rarely attend these meetings and only send subordinates.

McKenzie said that government wishes to reiterate its support for the mining sector and will continue to work earnestly and assiduously to ensure that the industry remains viable and sustainable. “In this regard, the Ministry finds the recent comments by the Association surprising after there would have been numerous engagements and deliberations on these very same matters,” he said.

He also noted that a meeting has been arranged for March 5 at 1pm with President Donald Ramotar to further these discussions.

Shields had charged that numerous promises made have not been kept and every time miners put one step forward, the authorities are putting a block. 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.

The GGDMA rep had said that the association is very disappointed with the situation where a lot of false information is being published about miners obtaining benefits. Miners also 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.

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