Gold mining syndicates

Arising out of an aggressive lobby by small miners some of whom complained of being hostage to a regime of exploitative landlordism under which they were compelled to mine gold on lands controlled by the ‘big players’, we have witnessed, recently, the emergence of Mining Syndicates, essentially cooperatives that bring together groups of small miners to ‘work’ areas of land allocated to them by the Guyana Geology & Mines Commission.

The Ministry of Natural Resources and specifically Minister Raphael Trotman is on record as endorsing Mining Syndicates as an opportunity to allow small miners to have a bigger stake in the sector. Syndicates, the beneficiaries say, amount to a historic development given that what it does – or at least seeks to do – in seeking to break the traditional stranglehold which the ‘big players’ have had on the industry through their strategic control of the mining lands.

A lot of the initial groundwork insofar as the creation of an enabling environment for Syndicates is concerned had been assigned to Minister in the Ministry of Natural Resources Simona Broomes and as far as this newspaper is aware some mining syndicates have already been formed and the miners – many of whom we understand have, for many months in some instances, parked their equipment and had not worked for a considerable period – are now, understandably, keen to get back on the road…so to speak.

We are told, incidentally, (and this point is important in the context of ensuring good order in the sector) that some of the earlier differences that might have arisen between the Syndicates and the Guyana Gold & Diamond Miners Association (GGDMA) have been settled.

When we sat down with recently with Mr. Renford Solomon, the man who has emerged as the spokesperson for Syndicates, he sought to explain to us what appears to have been some differences between the Syndicates and the Ministry of Natural Resources/GGMC over the issue of land allocation for mining by Syndi-cates. As best as we have gleaned the Syndicates have reacted badly to the position taken by the MNRA/GGMC that land allocation to Syndi-cates would be (at least for the time being) limited to ten blocks of real estate, their argument being that prior to the advent of Syndicates there had been no evidence of an official restriction in the matter of the allocation of mining lands and that, in fact, there were cases in which individual miners were in control of mining lands amounting to much more than the ten blocks which Syndicates, comprising many miners, were being allowed. Mr. Solomon and other Syndicate-linked miners have made the point that it is, in fact, the disparity in the acreages of lands controlled by the big miners compared with the small operators that had allowed a regime of landlordism to grow and fester. They fear, they say, that continuing to place stringent limits on the lands allocated to Syndicates whilst leaving big miners in control of much larger areas, would, in effect, defeat the very purpose of creating the Syndicates, in the first place.

This newspaper has spoken with a group of about fifteen miners who are members of Syndicates and it is clear that the issue has given rise to a considerable measure of anger and frustration. They have, they said, parked their equipment and have not been earning for some time in circumstances where their debts, including their obligations to commercial banks are mounting. Members of Syndicates have met twice recently – the last occasion being on Sep-tember 7th with the Minister of Natural Resources. From what we have been told a compromise may have been reached which, as we understand it, allows for the ten-block allocation to be revisited some time down the road and which makes provision for further allocations once certain conditionalities (we are unclear as to what those are) are met.

The latest position, as related to this newspaper by Mr. Solomon is that since the September 7th meeting and the understanding that had derived therefrom the Syndicates are awaiting the signing off on a written agreement/understanding that binds both themselves and the Ministry of Natural Resources/ GGMC. One imagines that that would have to be a somewhat detailed document which not only spells out, specifically, the land allocation arrangements in the first instance but also the conditions that apply in the context of increasing the initial allocation and such other consequences as might arise from failure to comply with the terms of the initial agreement. There is, on the other hand, the entirely understandable concern – and in some instances, discernable anger – amongst the miners over the delay in resolving the issue which delay they see in terms of lost income.

What is known about Syndicates is that they are new and believed to have the potential to be a game-changer in terms of allowing more operators (and by extension, families) to secure an opportunity to earn from the sector and that they have attracted the endorsement of both the Government of Guyana and the mining sector as a whole. While we do not, for a moment, underestimate the importance of ensuring, figuratively, that is, that the I’s are dotted and the T’s crossed in relation to ensuring that critical regulations and procedures are adhered to in a sector that throws up all sorts of important sensitivities, we believe that the quicker the hurdles are crossed and a position reached that satisfies all sides and allows for the Syndicates to commence their work, the better it would be for all concerned. Contextually, we need to remind ourselves that the torturous pace at which the state decision-making bureaucracy often grinds can sometimes be decidedly inimical to taking processes forward. If there is no lack of clarity as just what action needs to be taken to get the mining syndicates up and running then what has been agreed upon should be effected with alacrity.

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