Port Kaituma enduring blues of gold’s receding fortunes

Nothing alters the public mood at Port Kaituma like gold prices. These days, residents of the community, from housewives to businessmen, share a common condition of anxiety. Gold prices have been declining continually over the past four years and what liquidity exists spreads itself over an increasingly tight circle. Put simply, there is not enough to go around.

Port Kaituma businessman Reuben King
Port Kaituma businessman Reuben King

The residents of Port Kaituma are pretty much on their own in their doldrums. Continually declining gold prices have scattered the once fairly sizeable populations of Brazilians and Venezuelans who used to cross the respective borders into Guyana. These days, the circumstances are reversed. Last week, Stabroek Business met residents who told stories of miners who were plying their trade in the Region One sub-district of Matarkai who had grown desperate enough to take their chances mining gold in a remote corner of neighbouring Venezuela known as Polvo. Doing things by the book tends to get thrown out of the window in times like these. Other miners have gone as far away as Regions Seven and Eight.

The unequal allocation of mining lands is an issue which the Guyana Geology and Mines Commission (GGMC) is still light years away from getting around. The big miners control large tracts of lands and some of them have turned themselves into landlords by renting out modest plots to small scale hustlers. It is much the same at Port Kaituma, except that these days the GGMC is stricter in its demand that the tenants produce evidence of their agreements with their landlords. In many instances that has not been forthcoming so that work permits have not been granted. It is, these days, virtually impossible to dissuade small miners of the view that these arrangements are driven by corrupt transactions between the big players in the sector and functionaries in the GGMC.

What obtains at Port Kaituma would appear to be a hangover from Operation El Dorado, an initiative by the previous administration, which the GGMC had said was designed to enforce the mining regulations and reduce illegal mining and other illicit activities in the fact, a ruse to cut them ‘out of the loop’ as far as mining was concerned.

The road to the Port Kaituma Airstrip
The road to the Port Kaituma Airstrip

A year ago, Reuben Phillips returned to his native Port Kaituma to run R&T Trading, a supermarket set up by his family and situated in what is known as ‘the Compound.’ Phillips says he is doing no better than breaking even at this time. He is adamant that Port Kaituma’s almost totally complete dependence on the fortunes of gold will take the community nowhere. What is needed, he says, are alternatives. His own recommendation is for a large external investment that can respond meaningfully to the unemployment problems in the community.

When the issue of agriculture as an option arises, Phillips is not optimistic. Apart from the fact that there is no real market, uncertainties associated with transportation out of Port Kaituma loom large as a stumbling block.

Norville Seecharran sells beef, fish and chicken at Port Kaituma. He customarily makes the journey by boat to Georgetown then to the Municipal Abattoir and to the Meadow Bank wharf. His meat is moved to Port Kaituma in the freezing compartment of the Transport & Harbours Department ferry. Of late, he has had to cut his imports of meat by two thirds. The small miners who used to arrive at weekends from Eye Lash, Four Miles, Six Miles and other locations have ceased to do so. The big miners fly their food supplies in directly from the city.

The Port Kaituma Electricity Company’s woeful inability to meet the power needs of the community adds insult to injury. The entity provides electricity from 17:00 hrs to 09:00 hrs. It is a community of generators and the residents have learnt to live with the irritant which the noise represents. While we were there we learnt that another private company provides electricity to the residents, for which they pay a flat charge of $30,000 per month.

Infrastructure frailties extend to roads punctuated by some of the most absurd potholes. Mindful of the wear and tear on their vehicles the taxi drivers charge as much as $1,000 for the shortest drop. If you are a miner and you need to get fuel from Port Kaituma to Eye Lash that can set you back as much as $80,000 per trip. The residents are fretful over the lack of clarity in the matter of the completion the rehabilitation of the roadway between Port Kaituma and Matthews Ridge. Rehabilitation commenced at Matthews Ridge but has only gotten as far as Twenty Six Miles. The rest remains to be completed and the residents say that there are signs that the barge that services the project may be leaving.

Last week the rain was falling heavily at Port Kaituma. The downside of this is that the red loam road turns into soup. Residents say they can live with that if it means that they will get a supply of water. But that too is a headache. It appears that the pump needs a diesel turbo engine.

The drift from the coast to interior locations triggered by the earlier gold rush has left large numbers of coastal vendors ‘stuck’ at Port Kaituma.

Shonette  only  name given arrived in Port Kaituma in 2009. She runs a facility that includes a snackette and a variety store. She concedes that her future is uncertain. She faces the daunting task of rental costs of $200,000 per month. That apart, she is indebted to the Institute of Private Enterprise Development. As yet there is no sign of Christmas shoppers. For Shonette complete closure may be on the cards.

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