The Guyana Geology and Mines Commission (GGMC) yesterday said there was no wrongdoing by board Chairman Clinton Williams in taking control of lands for which mining permits were granted to his friend and his racking up of a multi-million dollar food and drinks bill at the agency’s expense.
In a statement released last evening, the GGMC charged that recent reports on the lands transaction and the food and drinks bill in the Kaieteur News are part of an effort to tarnish the image of the board and Williams, while removing focus from actions being taken against functionaries.
The board is currently seeking to reorganise the leadership of the agency and is pursuing the sacking of Commissioner Rickford Vieira and the transfer of other division heads. However, Williams has faced criticism over the board’s advancing of a no-confidence motion against Vieira and it was exacerbated when details of the mining land transaction and his spending were publicised. Already, the Guyana Gold and Dia-mond Miners Association (GGDMA) has announced that it would boycott board meetings under his chairmanship since it has no confidence in him.
However, the GGMC statement yesterday challenged the information contained in the reports as “distorted” and “biased,” while saying it felt compelled to respond given the negative image portrayed.
“The Commission is forced to respond to ensure that the public is aware of the truth of these matters and is willing to provide evidence of same. This course of action is deemed necessary given that stakeholders of the mining sector must be assured that the Commission is acting with integrity and transparency at all times, contrary to what is being portrayed in the said articles,” it said.
Giving a brief summary of recent developments, the GGMC stated that the board in 2014 commenced a process to review the Management Systems of the Commission, in light of numerous complaints and allegations being made against critical departments.
It stated that a draft report was provided by the consultants in February, 2015, but given the change in government the finalisation of the report was placed on hold until the board was reconvened. In September, 2015, the board was resuscitated and approval was granted for the continuation of the Management Systems Review.
According to the statement, during the time that the report from the consultants was being finalised, the government initiated a Commission of Inquiry into a spate of deadly mining accidents. The findings of the Commission of Inquiry and the Management Systems Review, it said, both revealed that there were “some critical issues” that needed to be addressed, given non-performance by specific functionaries along with serious dereliction of duties and undertaking of practices which deviated from the Mining Laws and Regulations.
It was stated that given the findings that were presented, the board was forced to move and approve a motion of “No Confidence” against the culpable persons on November 23, 2015. It added that it was this action that has led to the current spate of media reports.
According to the statement, Vieira, who was on annual vacation, resumed duties on December 1, one day before he was supposed to, given the action taken by the board.
“It is alleged that he requested staff to provide the information that is currently in the media,” it noted.
Addressing the transactions where Williams took control of lands for which permits were granted to his friend Ivor English, the GGMC noted that the board, inclusive of the Chairman, “are not part of the processing of applications for Mining Permits and does not approve Mining Permits as is being posited in the article.” It said the law requires that after the relevant departments have processed the application for Mining Permits, the Commissioner signs and then submits to the Chairman to countersign to give legal effect to the document. The requirement of the Chairman’s signature is applicable for all mining properties and not limited to mining permits, it added.
According to the statement, applications for the Mining Permits were made by English in his name in 2014 and were processed and approved by the relevant Departments and the Commissioner. The Power of Attorney for the lands was done in 2015. “…Even the notion of undue influence does not hold given the fact that the applications were not made by the Chairman. For the sake of argument one may say that the Chairman may have influenced the favourable processing of the applications but this argument would not hold since it would imply that any other application can be influenced,” it added.
Further, the statement noted that the Commission processes applications for mining lands on a “first come, first serve” basis, which negates the exercising of subjectivity. The date and time, the payment of the application fees and first year rental is paid are used to determine this eligibility. As a result, it said if someone else applied for the said mining lands prior to English, then it would have been granted to that applicant.
The statement also said that the GGMC Act does not preclude members of the board from owning mining lands or having interest in mining. “In fact the Act states that the persons appointed to the Board must have the expertise and capacity in the areas of the functions of the Commission…. More importantly, the Act allows for Board Members to be owners of mining lands or to have such interest given that Section 6 (1) to 6 (4) of the Schedule deals with the issue of Conflict of Interest and how Board Members are expected to act if such situations arise,” it noted, while pointing out that that there was set precedent since previous chairpersons of the Board of Directors held interest in mining properties and there are numerous board members who currently have vested interests in mining and own mining properties.
With regard to the food and drinks bill, the GGMC stressed that it felt compelled to approve it because it concerned engagements for social events that were tied in with the workings of the commission.
“The Board of Directors had approved expense accounts for the Chairman, Commissioner and two (2) Deputy Commissioners. This was deemed necessary for two (2) reasons. First, the senior officers of the Commission often times were engaged in activities/engagements on behalf of the Commission and thus it was deemed prudent for the Commission to fund these engagements rather than the expenses being borne personally. These engagements were in the form of dinners and other social events and were for external and internal stakeholders of the sector, inclusive of management of the Commission and not necessarily for personal engagements. Second, it would be placing the senior officers of the Com-mission in a difficult moral and conflict of interest position if such engagements were funded by current and potential stakeholders of the Commission,” it said.
According to the statement, it was in these circumstances that the expense accounts and all subsequent expenses were approved by the Com-mission.