The creation of the Mahdia-Konwaruk Small Miners Forest and Agricultural Producers Association would appear to be part of the latest trek on what has been an intrepid journey by itinerant men and women whom, for years, have fought with little success to secure land in hinterland regions to ply their respective trades.
The association, its rules say, was formed, “to enable its members to work legally and in accordance with stipulations of the Guyana Forestry Commission and the Guyana Geology and Mines Commission. The lack of any real success in realizing what is by far the most important objective has engendered an entirely uncontrived cynicism among small miners. The laws of the interior favour the big operators in the various sectors, they say, but after years of struggle they feel they have no option but to soldier on.
On Tuesday, Stabroek Business met with seven members of the association, all miners and all of whom claim to feel like outcasts, compelled to lead itinerant lives in their quest to make a living. Their
concern, they say, is what they believe is the historical unfairness in the allocation of mining land, a circumstance which they say has created an unbearable “dog-eat-dog” environment in which the lesser players end up the losers.
The group with whom this newspaper met appeared to acknowledge the leadership of Arthur Thorne, who is the current chair of the steering committee. Thorne is an animated and garrulous man, whose firm position is that the political administration has a responsibility to begin to tip the scales in the mining sector much more in favour of the smaller operators.
The concerns go beyond access to mining lands. Some of the followers (there does not appear to be a universal membership structure at this time) range from small independent operators to employees of large mining firms. On Tuesday, one of their number still appeared to be bitter about a tractor accident in which he sustained a serious injury. Despite his strenuous efforts, he insists that he has been nowhere near adequately compensated beyond a relatively modest payout. Others of the group also painted a picture of tough and heartless owners who are unmindful of the risks their employees must take to bring them the gold.
Treasurer of the steering committee is Olga Fredericks, a quietly militant woman who, apart from having a shared concern over the need for more mining lands for small miners is also troubled about the proliferation of trafficking in women and girls.
The estimate that the association currently has around 20,000 adherents (which, if true, would make it the single largest organized work force in Guyana) is, in all likelihood, a figment of the fertile imagination of Mr Thorne. That, at least, is the view of most of his colleagues. Thorne says the association is preparing to undertake a fresh initiative which he hopes will lead to the group engaging President David Granger on the issue of land allocation.
There is a seeming lack of widespread organization amongst the miners across the various mining regions, but there appears to be clarity of thinking on the matter of their objectives. Thorne says the group wants “fairness and a level playing field for small miners in the mining industry” and he clearly believes that the number of miners who share his view are an adequate counterweight to the power of the larger miners. From within the group, however, comes a more cautionary tone, born it seems of a belief that the bigger miners apart, the conventions associated with adjudicating issues in the mining sector do not favour small miners.
Amidst the enthusiasm associated with broadening the base of the association there appears to be a lack of appreciation for the formidable status quo that characterizes the gold mining industry. Others, though, are of the view that righting what are perceived to be wrongs in the mining sector could be an onerous task. Even with right on your side, they say, justice is by no means guaranteed. That, they say, is the reason why they want to meet with the President.