The government, through the Ministry of Natural Resources, yesterday announced that as an “act of goodwill” charges will not be pursued against the 20 persons arrested last weekend for alleged illegal mining in the Kaieteur National Park (KNP) in Region Eight.
The Ministry of Natural Resources, in a statement issued yesterday, said that following a meeting between subject Minister Raphael Trotman and officials from the ministry and the Guyana Geology and Mines Commission (GGMC), it was decided that as an act of good faith that government will not prosecute those arrested.
After their release earlier this week, the accused illegal miners, who hail from Chenapau Village, Region Eight, were all served with summonses by the GGMC for court hearings on July 18, 2017, at the Mahdia Magistrate’s Court on the charge that they broke the law by mining in the KNP, which is a protected area.
But while a decision was made not to prosecute, the ministry yesterday said it remained firm in its mandate to protect areas that are included in the Protected Area Systems of Guyana, which in this case is the KNP.
“The park has been designated a protected area and will remain off limits to mining, forest-harvesting and other related activities. Further, it has been determined that the pre-1999 boundaries for the Kaieteur National Park will not be restored as some have advocated,” the statement added.
It was further explained that on Thursday, Chenapau Village Toshao Edward McGarrell and some members of the community, together with representatives of the National Toshaos’ Council (NTC) and the Amerindian Peoples Association (APA) met Trotman to voice their concerns.
At this meeting, Trotman was said to have committed to raising those concerns with President David Granger.
Meanwhile, it was further stated that efforts will be made to work with Chenapau and other communities to identify opportunities for benefit-sharing and sustainable livelihoods in the ongoing conservation of the KNP and other protected areas.
The arrest of the persons, including two women and a baby, occurred last Saturday when President Granger gave the order for a raid of the KNP after reconnaissance by the Protected Areas Commission and the Guyana Defence Force uncovered over a dozen illegal mining camps.
The Ministry of the Presidency later said in a statement that as a result of the discovery, members of the joint services as well as personnel from the GGMC launched the operation.
However, during a press briefing held last Tuesday, the former detainees maintained that they wrongfully arrested and even argued that the issue stemmed from the absence of a clear cut boundary to show the separation of the KNP from other lands.
Approached for a comment on the decision by the government to not proceed with the charges, McGarrell yesterday declined to comment. He did say though that a press conference will be held today to address the matter.
The announcement of the government’s decision to not prosecute those arrested came hours after Minister of State Joseph Harmon told a post-Cabinet briefing that while it was unfortunate that the group, which consisted mostly of indigenous persons from the nearby community, was arrested, there was no exception to the law that prohibits mining in a protected area. “In the 2011 Protected Areas Commission Bill, which was subsequently made an Act, there were certain provisions that were made… and since then the protected area has been clearly demarcated… Mining is not one of the activities permitted under the law in that area. There are other sustainable forms of livelihood which are permitted but clearly mining and other extractive activities are not permitted within a protected area,” Harmon said.
He said it was the state’s responsibility to ensure that such laws are maintained and added that last weekend’s operation was the second of its kind carried out by the government since taking office to stop illegal mining operations in the KNP.
The minister also made a public call for the owners and operators of the dredges that were reportedly discovered during the operation to come forward, saying that those who were arrested were merely labourers.
“If there is an issue with mining areas and so, discuss it with GGMC, but do not go into protected areas and mine, that is unlawful. It is unfortunate that these residents of the area surrounding the Kaieteur National Park were arrested and brought out but there is no exception; once you are caught doing illegal mining in a protected area, you will be arrested because that is the position of the government,” he added.
In response to questions about assertions made by those arrested that they had claims which were verified by GGMC to mine in the area, the minister said, “Any licence that was granted for mining in a protected area is unlawful. How can you grant a licence for mining in a protected area? There is no provision for that.”
Meanwhile, the opposition PPP/C yesterday criticised the arrests. “While we do not condone illegality and recognise the importance of preserving and protecting Kaieteur National Park and its environ, we demand the application of a more humane approach and one that recognises the rule of law and due process, as well as, one that respects the constitutional and human rights of our people,” it said in a statement.
The PPP/C also noted that many of those who were arrested claimed that they were not involved in mining or any other unlawful conduct but were nonetheless detained and brought to Georgetown against their will, where they were “callously abandoned” and left to find their way back to Region Eight at their own expenses. It said the least that the government can do in the circumstances is to immediately withdraw the charges filed and assist those stranded in Georgetown to return safely to their homes.