A private bauxite mining operation in the Amerindian community of Muritaro on the Demerara River, discovered by members of a “horrified” team from Norway, was shut down by the Ministry of Natural Resources late last year, since the community was one identified to benefit from the Guyana-Norway forest protection scheme.
This revelation came from Minister of Natural Resources and the Environment, Raphael Trotman yesterday, in response to questions from Pauline Sukhai, a member of the Parliamentary Committee on Natural Resources. It was the first public disclosure by the government of this occurrence.
Sukhai had been under the impression that there was an agreement between the community and the Bosai bauxite company and she questioned whether this was put on hold, since the residents had complained that the “government has stopped the agreement…”
Trotman explained that it was discovered that there was some activity late last year and it was stopped since under the agreement with Norway the village was identified as one where no mining would take place and it would benefit from this.
He said a Norwegian delegation visited Guyana and was “horrified” to find that mining was taking place in the community, since they were told under the previous administration that the village was set apart.
“Unknown to the GGMC (Guyana Geology and Mines Commission) someone seemed to have permitted some mining and it did cause some embarrassment, because as I said the Government of Norway was very concerned… over the last two or three years the village had been earmarked as one that would receive benefits from the GRIF (Guyana REDD+ Investment Fund)…,” the minister said.
According to the minister, Secretary to Bosai, Norman McLean had written a letter in protest.
Sukhai then wanted to know why Amerindian communities are being treated differently when the Low Carbon Development Strategy (LCDS) is not to “stop mining but to do mining in a sustainable way nationally.
“Why is there a condition on an Amerindian community particularly earmarked for one of the pilot monitoring? …One can probably use a community where mining, forestry and agriculture is taking place in a sustainable manner. It is an ideal pilot that can be studied, used as an experiment on how it could happen within a particular location,” she added.
Trotman said the comments are noted and some of the same arguments were advanced to the delegation from Norway, but what was of great concern was that no permit had been sought and obtained for the Muritaro operation.
“Trees were thrown down. When the team from Norway got there, there was a big bonfire…” the minister said revealing that it was done by a local contractor who entered into a private agreement with some villagers and was then selling to some officials at Bosai even though all of the officials at the company were aware that this was taking place.
“So it caused some embarrassment to Bosai; it caused some embarrassment to some members of the village but we are working to have this regularised,” the minister said.
In January of this year the government advertised for consultancy services for a finalised opt-in mechanism for indigenous communities wishing to benefit from the Guyana-Norway forest protection scheme. The advertisement had said that the Demerara River community of Muritaro would be used for the pilot study, as it had been identified by the National Toshaos Council.
The move to finalise the opt-in mechanism comes as the five-year agreement between Georgetown and Oslo has expired though there is likely to be a new agreement. The opt-in mechanism had seen prolonged delays over the need for consultation within indigenous communities. Finalising an opt-in mechanism is one of the requirements for the payment of the final tranche under the Guyana-Norway agreement.