The Guyana Gold and Diamond Miners Association (GGDMA) has come out in support of miner Suresh Ramkissoon saying his operation at Isseneru, Middle Mazaruni is lawful and legal gold miners must be allowed to operate and not be bullied by “greedy village councils”.
In a statement, the association said that the operation was legal and in an area downstream from Isseneru Village. “The GGDMA supports all legal mining operations and will continue to do so. Miners must not be bullied by greedy village councils,” the statement asserted.
The Ministry of the Presidency has said that the High Court recently granted an injunction restraining Ramkissoon from mining or attempting to mine on any part of Isseneru’s titled land. Minister of Governance with responsibility for the natural resources sector Raphael Trotman had also issued an order for the miner to halt his operations.
Ramkissoon, in a letter to Stabroek News, has said that he cannot understand the reason for the situation. He said that he would have paid $6.5 million over a period to the village council of Isseneru for various purposes. According to the miner, he started his operation at a point about 400 yards above where the dredge is presently located at the beginning of April this year and was granted permission by a village official.
In a statement on Friday, the GGDMA denied that the mining operation was issued a cease-order by the Guyana Geology and Mines Commission (GGMC) and the Department of Natural Resources and the Environment. “The miner, who has been operating in the area legally and uninterrupted for several years, volunteered to reduce his operations to allow for an impartial inspection to be carried out by the GGMC. This was done. No fault was found. The miner was cleared of all accusations of impropriety and he was allowed to resume his operations,” the statement said.
According to the Association, Ramkissoon has donated to the Isseneru Village council over 32 ounces of gold since he began working downstream from the village earlier this year. “This was after a discussion with the council and a demand for payment of a 12% tribute. Despite not having any legal right to collect such tribute,” it said.
The GGDMA alleged that the village and the miner also had a previous arrangement where he was granted permission to operate the same river dredge on village lands in the village buffer zone in exchange for a 12% tribute. “This deal was negotiated and put in place by the village council which collected the tribute. The GGMC subsequently stopped this arrangement as it is illegal to mine in the buffer zone. The current/new arrangement for the tribute for the river dredge was an additional agreement based more on previous partnerships rather than in a legal right to demand tribute for lands which are not within the village’s title,” it asserted.
The statement said that the GGDMA recognizes that the council is not entitled to collect tribute for lands that are not within their boundaries, and the Mazaruni River is not part of any village’s land. “Permission to operate in this river is the sole jurisdiction of the state and its agent the GGMC. One would have expected that this would have been made clear by the ruling in October this year by the Honourable Chief Justice. That matter involved a similar issue with Jawalla village and it was ruled ‘that by virtue of Section 22 (2) (a) of the Amerindian Act 1953, which was applicable in 1991 when the plaintiff applicant received title, ‘the rivers and all lands sixty-six feet landwards from the mean low water marks’ were exempted from the title of the village’,” the statement said.
The GGDMA declared that Ramkissoon is within his legal right to operate a legitimate, certified and regularly inspected operation. It said that as recent as last Wednesday, the river dredge was inspected by officials of the GGMC and no violation was found.
“Miners cannot be subject to arbitrary double tribute systems and the whims of greedy village councils who have no right to bully and intimidate legitimate operators. The GGDMA condemns this sort of bullyism and calls on the Department of Natural Resources and the Environment and Ministry of Amerindian Affairs to recognize that this is not a “helpless” village council, rather it is a council that has misled them about the facts. While it is within the village’s purview to object to any operation that endangers their village, this clause is being used in an ad hoc manner, even where there are no credible threats, as coercion to bully miners into paying tribute or other donations,” the GGDMA asserted.
It also denied that the dredge was mining in lands near the school and health centre and upstream from the village. “The dragga has been mining downstream, and unless the village is subject to special laws of nature the water will not reverse its flow upstream. The truth can be verified by the GGMC and from the report of the investigative team,” the association said.