Discontent over the government’s handling of the mining sector has seen the Guyana Gold and Diamond Miners Associa-tion (GGDMA) and the nascent mining syndicates joining forces to boycott this year’s mining week, which began on Sunday.
The decision, communicated to the public via a joint press release yesterday and the listing of a stream of grievances, could be seen as a serious for the APNU+AFC administration, which had tried to cultivate the mining syndicates as a foil for the GGDMA. The two mining groups also took aim at President David Granger, saying that he had failed to follow his own advice as it relates to the divide in the hinterland that he had complained of.
Last year and earlier this year, the GGDMA had issued strong condemnations of what it said was the government’s failure to act on important areas. Around this time, Minister in the Ministry of Natural Resources Simona Broomes began organising mining syndicates around the theme that small miners were being exploited by the larger miners in the GGDMA. Months after, the members of the syndicates themselves began attacking the government over ring-fenced mining areas and the size of the blocks being allocated.
Yesterday’s press release accused the government of a lack of action both on the infrastructure and policy sides.
“The Government of Guyana continues to fail the Mining Industry daily in providing an enabling environment for the small and medium scale miners to operate. Yet it is the very revenues from the mining sector that is being used to finance most of Guyana’s economy and to generate the much-needed foreign revenue,” the press release said, while adding that from their perspective, the government has only been taking from the sector and has not been giving anything in return.
“When last has the government done something, or anything for the Gold and Diamond Mining Sector?” the press release questioned, adding that the “spirit” of thousands of miners and their workers around the country is low and they are demotivated and are considering closing their operations, “while others are not reinvesting and are simply going through the motion to pay their bills.”
It is against this background that the GGDMA and the syndicates said they were boycotting Mining Week, which ends this weekend, since they say there has been nothing to celebrate and reflect on. Instead, they asserted, the mining industry had suffered more taxation, fees, “false promises and the deliberate and continued withholding of cost saving policies traditionally enjoyed by miners.”
“The Association and the National Mining Syndicates chose not to be a part of a week of activities that is more for the purpose of Public Rela-tions than for the benefit of individuals involved or interested in getting involved in the sector,” the release added, while emphasising that even though they had petitioned the government for more than a year to address numerous issues, none has been fixed and the list continues to grow.
Good corporate citizens
Highlighting the lack of a National Mining Policy as one of the growing issues, the GGDMA said that even though they have used various forms of media to call on the government to make its policy clear on mining, this has not happened.
“What will it take (for) this government to act in the interest of small and medium scale gold mining?
It is indisputable that the GGDMA has called upon miners to pay their taxes, royalties, rentals and obey the law and has led the way as good corporate citizens, already reflective in the continuous high level of gold declarations by the small and medium miners,” the statement said.
It also argued that promises were not delivered to small scale miners and emphasised that each of the mining syndicates has only been given 10 blocks of land, which cannot meet the demand for land by any of the syndicates. It said that some syndicates are large, with more than 100 members and, therefore, cannot share such a small piece of land with all of their equipment.
The statement also added that there are cases where syndicates have paid for their 10 blocks but are yet to receive them, months on.
On Sunday, at the launch of mining week at Tower Suites, Minister of Natural Resources, Raphael Trotman said that fifteen mining syndicates will be given in the first instance 12,000 acres of land each or a combined area of 180,000 acres of land.
“Through this initiative, hundreds of 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. To put this into context, we are speaking of 281 square miles. Barbados, a place we are all familiar with, is just 170 square miles. So, again, with some momentary surprise, I wonder at the agitation of the syndicates for more land when they have not yet begun to mine any lands. I am assured that GGMC [Guyana Geology and Mines Commission] is working assiduously to ensure that by the end of the month the lands will be available for distribution and I am awaiting the opportunity to sign the ‘special order’ to this effect,” Trotman said.
The joint press release yesterday highlighted “horrid infrastructure,” including deplorable roads and bridges that miners are forced to use daily as one of the issues that the government has yet to address. It argued that even though miners pay “billions of dollars” in royalties on gold and the rental of mining properties, they see no direct benefit.
“One would think that the reasonable thing to do is to allocate a percentage of the royalty and land rentals for infrastructural development in the mining sector.
This is not so; all these funds are sent to the Consolidated Fund and are used to develop other sectors whilst the mining sector continues to labour under poor conditions,” the release said. It added that currently most of the roads used by the miners are in a deplorable condition, since “little or no work” has been done by the government over the past four years.
The joint release also charged that there is gross incompetence, insubordination and irregularities at the GGMC and enactment of back door policies without proper consultations, which all contribute to gross neglect of the industry by the government. The mining groups accused the GGMC of reinstituting a six-month notice period to convert a prospecting permit to a mining permit. “The GGDMA finds this policy as outrageous and unacceptable, we therefore ask the question: [are] the GGMC and the Government of Guyana serious about business, serious about local investors, serious about Foreign Direct Investment?”
The joint release further contended that there is skullduggery at the GGMC as when licences are being upgraded, the size of the land is adjusted downward without the miner being apprised. “For all of the above and more, we could not, in good sense, partake in a week of activities that will in no way hasten the resolution of the above issues. What progress has been made, to the benefit of operators from the last mining week to now? What progress has taken place to better the sector and the lives of miners over the last year? None,” the press release said.
It added that the syndicates and sister organisations have found common ground and that it is time for all miners to stand up together “and get mining back in focus,” and at the top of the agenda where it can be recognised for its importance in improving the country’s economy. “The GGDMA remains steadfast to promote and protect the rights, interest and welfare of all miners. We can only hope that through our joint efforts, Mining week 2018 may be something to celebrate,” the release added.