Militant small miners say allocation of lands still favours big players

Some of the Syndicate members meeting at the Girl Guides Pavilion on Tuesday.

Just over a week after Natural Resources Minister Raphael Trotman had ‘talked up’ gold-mining syndicates as a potential economic breakthrough for “hundreds of Guyanese men and women,” representatives of nine of the fifteen syndicates already created are demanding a meeting with President David Granger in an effort to break what they say has been a frustrating logjam relating to the distribution of land to syndicates.

The Ministry of Natural Resources has since said that it will be meeting with the syndicates and two other mining groups on September 7 on their grievances.

In stark contrast to gatherings of just months ago of an upbeat group of small miners buoyed by the prospect of being collectively allocated long-awaited mining lands, around fifteen members of nine syndicates gathered at the Girl Guides Pavilion on Tuesday vented their spleen on the Ministry of Natural Resources over what they say has been the imposition of unprecedented limits on lands available to mining syndicates in circumstances where individual large-scale miners control much larger tracts of mining lands. Following several random interjections which threatened to push the meeting out of control the syndicate members told Stabroek Business that they felt that it would require a meeting with President Granger to resolve their concerns.

What now appears to be an unexpected transformation in demeanour by the syndicate members comes just days after Trotman had said in an August 20 keynote address to mark the Guyana Geology & Mines Commission’s Annual Awards Ceremony that through the mining syndicates initiative, government is seeking to ensure that “Guyanese men and women who were either denied access to lands or came under the harsh conditions of a `landlord’ can now band together in a cooperative way and access lands and the synergies and economies that evolve from working together.” He disclosed that fifteen syndicates will be given, “in the first instance, 12,000 acres of land each to give a combined area land of 180,000 acres of (mining) land.” That, however, appeared not to register with the miners some of whom told this newspaper that they felt that they were being frustrated by the Ministry.

At last Tuesday’s meeting, the irate syndicate members were saying that up to this time no syndicate has been assigned any mining lands. They asserted that Trotman’s disclosure regarding land allocation notwithstanding, the available evidence still points to control of the mining sector by individuals described by one miner as “the big players.” One member of the Konawaruk Syndicate was bemoaning the fact that more than six months after the group had properly applied for mining blocks, approval was yet to be given for mining to go ahead, a circumstance which he says is a function of the intervention by one of the country’s most high-profile businessmen who had previously secured the area at an auction but had forfeited the area on account of his failure to pay for the property. The Konawaruk syndicate member told Stabroek Business that ever since the group had prospected the area and found evidence of gold deposits, the businessman had sought to enforce a claim to the land through what he described as “harassment.”

Several of the miners who had gathered at the Girl Guides Pavilion on Tuesday were women who, over time, had been unable to secure mining claims of their own and who said that they were banking on syndicates to provide them with a long-awaited firm foothold in the sector. In the course of the discourse regarding the way forward the women could be heard recounting the sacrifices that they had made over the years. Some said that in recent months they had poured all of their energies into the creation of syndicates in the expectation that it had the potential to bring a change to their fortunes

At the Sunday August 20 event, Trotman had wondered aloud over what he described as “the agitation of the syndicates for more land when they have not yet begun to mine any lands”. He said that he had been assured that the Guyana Geology and Mines Commission (GGMC) “is working assiduously to ensure that by the end of the month the lands will be available for distribution” and that he was awaiting the opportunity to sign a “special order” to this effect. That, however, does not appear to satisfy the miners who said that their concern centred around the fact that the GGMC had placed limits on the extent of the lands to be allocated to syndicates in circumstances where such limits did not apply to individual “big miners” operating in the sector.

 

What is clear is that in recent months there has been a radical transformation in the mood of the syndicate members from heaping praise on the government for moving to change the paradigm of what they say was the stranglehold of the big miners to one in which mining land allocation would be done on a more egalitarian basis, to joining with the Guyana Gold and Diamond Miners Association (GGDMA), the umbrella organisation for the major players in the sector to boycott this year’s Mining Week celebrations. On Tuesday, the syndicate members meeting in Georgetown were threatening to bring their protest to the capital if their concerns, high among which is the cap placed on the allocation of land to syndicates, were not addressed. The miners say that while syndicates were being restricted to ten  mining blocks it is common practice for some single miners to possess upwards of twenty  blocks, a circumstance which they say is due to corruption-driven prejudices that still exist within the GGMC.

During the more subdued interludes the miners were reflecting on the liabilities that they had built up over time including monies owing to commercial banks, the Guyana Power & Light Company and their various other creditors. Some miners were also complaining about having to cope with costs associated with the vandalising of dredges which had been parked for several months.

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