Even as mining syndicates’ representatives yesterday vowed to “continue protesting and making noise” until they get what they need, Minister of Natural Resources Raphael Trotman says he has finally gotten the advice he needs to map the way forward.
Two days of picketing outside of the headquarters of the Guyana Geology and Mines Commission (GGMC) have not so far won the syndicates a hearing from the Ministry of Natural Resources or the GGMC.
Speaking yesterday to Stabroek News, President of the Karrau Mining Syndicate Judith Blair said the amalgamation of syndicates that have gathered are not going to cede. “We are not moving and we are not going to be quiet until we get what we need and what we need is land. We need people like [Newell] Dennison (Head of the GGMC) and Donald Singh and all of those big boys sitting in their office and trying to tell us what we are going through to come out and go to the back-dam and through the trail and see what we are fighting for. See how hard we have to toil to survive and live to provide for our families,” Blair said, from the front of the picket line.
The chant of “Syndicates are here to stay! We want land,” filled the air yesterday as several dozen persons turned up again for the second consecutive day to highlight their plight.
Even though the groups or their representatives have not been contacted by the authorities, Blair said they were not expecting anyone to address them on Tuesday or yesterday but would remain steadfast in their efforts to let the public know what they are going through.
…We are still giving them some time hoping that they will eventually say something or call us but we didn’t expect them to come out. They have until Monday,” she asserted.
Blair reiterated that the groups’ main concern is the amount of time it takes to process their applications. She also highlighted that during the time their applications are being processed, persons usually raid the lands, which the GGMC usually turns a blind eye to.
“They are other issues like when we spoke about when we file complaints we don’t even get the wardens to go in the same time. Sometimes we never get them to go because they [GGMC] are always crying about not having people. We are paying 5% tax which should help us in respect to these wardens, road construction and access to different areas but we are not getting anything from the 5%,” the woman said.
While Minister of Natural Resources Trotman has not formally met the groups as yet, last week he had told Stabroek News that he was appealing for patience from the miners.
“The core message is patience because we have to look at all the considerations; social environmental… etcetera,” Trotman told Stabroek News.
“At the end of the day, we are committed to ensuring small miners and those who band themselves into syndicates, get adequate land and we ask that they be patient with us,” he added.
Trotman explained that while he understands the miner’s eagerness to begin working the land for gold and other minerals, there was a process to follow to ensure that environmental and other laws are not broken and to work out how the areas allocated would be distributed.
Trotman explained that syndicated mining was not catered for in Guyana’s laws but through an initiative his junior minister, Simona Broomes, the idea was given the go ahead.
That is because, given Broomes’ firsthand experience in the mining industry, she recognized the on the ground needs of the miners and some had proposed the setting up of groups, lobbying government for land they knew existed and was not being worked, and getting permission and titles to work those lands.
An advantage of syndicates also, Trotman pointed out, was that the groups would foster the banding together of persons which would see them working side by side for a common goal of developing the mining sector, even as they elevated their own socio economical statuses.
But working out the intricacies of how the syndicates would work seemed to be where the initiative hit a snag as a series of unforeseen hiccups was experienced.
“I believe that given the novelty of this and also given government’s commitment in encouraging small miners and encouraging them banding together in syndicates so to speak, it may take a little longer than the normal process…The laws themselves do not cater for syndicates. It is a good initiative but the laws caters for small scale individual miners, medium and the very large scale. So I think there is some degree of sorting out. The other thing is if the land is in an area called a closed area.
“There was some sorting out because of the newness… We expected the entire process to be a few months. We didn’t expect it to take so long. I must accept some responsibility for GGMC’s not getting there. But two weeks ago the GGMC’s manager of lands said to me that she will get the paperwork to me and she is quite capable and competent. I don’t believe right now I should be forcing her to give me something as she is not quite comfortable that she has everything in place,” he added. Trotman yesterday told Stabroek News that he now has the advice that he was seeking.
Trotman informed that the initiative was birthed last year and received two applications. They came from the Karrau and Central Mahdia Mining syndicates. By the end of last year, he said, he made a special order giving the permission for the land and sent it to the GGMC to complete.
The paperwork was completed two weeks ago for the said groups but Trotman pointed out that work had already begun at Karrau.
“Some mining is taking place at Karrau and that is certified. There are no if ands or buts about that,” Trotman said.
An official in the mining sector, who requested anonymity, informed that that Karrau’s syndicate comprises several miners from Bartica and the hinterland community it is named for.
He believes government should keep a constant review of the syndicates to ensure that the lands are not just taken by persons and then leased back to large scale miners.
This newspaper understands that the Mahdia Central Syndicate has internal problems with many persons complaining that since the initial setting up of the group there has been “a falling out” over members wanting to be the main representatives. The main representatives registered the syndicate in their name and now do not want the other members to be allocated lands given to the syndicate.
Since the two syndicates applied last year, Minister Broomes has held several outreaches and this saw an additional 10 groups; thus bringing the total number of syndicates on file to 12.
Trotman said that given the rapidity of the growth, a decision was made to cap the number to 20 in total for the period now to 2020. “There are only six mining districts in Guyana, the idea was originally to put two in each mining districts. We have now stretched it to 20 because of others. While we are bringing together the syndicate initiative there are still persons who do not wish to be part of syndicates and who we have to cater for. Last year we gave 235 miners a block of land each. Then there are the bigger miners too.
“In addition, there is health and safety and environmental factors to look at.”
Trotman said that the current 12 syndicates were told of the capping decision and given a general update on all aspects of their applications and concerns at a meeting held in March of this year. He said he felt that after the meeting the miners had clarity on the processes and challenges and were satisfied with moves being made. As such he was surprised by the number of complaints being raised.
“…I believe, that given the novelty of this, and also given government’s commitment in encouraging small miners, and encouraging them banding together in syndicates so to speak, it may take a little longer than the normal process. I made the orders approving the lands, GGMC has to work out how they will sort the lands,” he said.
“… Minister Broomes came up with this initiative and I asked her to produce the framework and I am expecting that at the next ministerial conference, we can make a presentation. At the meeting that we had in March where we gathered all the representatives all these things were explained. Several things were quite laid out… it was clear too that not the land you ask for there was a guarantee you would get that piece and you may not even get the size but we would make every effort that every syndicate gets lands…The delay is regretted but at the same time we wish to do this in a structural and orderly way.”
He said that detailed review and processing were needed before permissions could be granted and gave an example of the Parish Peak Syndicate that applied for a whopping 75,000 acres of land near the New River area in Berbice.
He said he did not know about the sensitivity of the environment and asked that a report on it be made before he gave the go ahead. It was found, he said, that were mining to be allowed, the potential of polluting the water system for a vast area was high.
“They applied for 75,000 acres in not in the closed but reserved area of Guyana… A good example came about for the application for 75,000 acres in Parish Peak .Because had I gone and signed off, not realizing that the headwaters of the Demerara River is right there, and also the Panthera project where there is mapping of the movement of the jaguar and there are cameras in the area and so on,…what [would have happened)? There are a number of things happening that I was not aware of until the EPA and protected areas commission came in,” he posited.
“I may want to say ‘Look lands, go mine on it but then there are environmental or other wildlife initiatives ongoing. Because the area has been preserved from mining for so many years, wildlife has started flourishing there. It is an area for the study of the jaguar and the Harpy eagle. All of this came out in a recent report.”
However, Trotman assured miners that all hope was not lost and government would ensure that they got lands to work.
“The core message is patience because we have to look at all the considerations: social, environmental etcetera. We want to make sure that you have equipment. I can give you land and it ends up in the hands of the large miner and you can’t work. We want to assure that things are done according to law and the environmental impact is assessed properly and we have mitigating things in place if needed.
We want to make sure that the land is available we want to make sure the land we are giving you isn’t mined out lands and have good prospects for minerals. Because this is so new, and in a sense has the ability to transform the mining sector to speak, it was felt also that Cabinet should be briefed and give its general blessings,” he added.