Even though the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) last year ruled in favour of miner Wayne Vieira, no mining can take place in the Amerindian village of Chinese Landing/Tassiwini in Region One without the permission of the community, according to Minister of Natural Resources Raphael Trotman.
“Even though the GGMC (Guyana Geology and Mines Commission) has been instructed by the CCJ not to interfere, at the end of the day mining cannot take place without the permission of the community and it is the duty of the miner to approach the community for permission and to settle appropriate terms. So that right remains. Even the CCJ cannot interfere with that right”, Trotman asserted.
He made the comments after Chinese Landing Toshao, Orin Fernandes told Trotman in a question and answer session after he had made a presentation at the 12th National Toshaos Council Conference yesterday that it was “a grave injustice and violation of our rights for the state agency, Guyana Geology and Mines Commission to have four medium scale mining blocks since 1995 in our titled village lands.”
Calling for redress in spite of the CCJ’s ruling, Fernandes said, the village received title to its lands in 1976. Permission was given by GGMC in 1995 to Vieira to mine in the area and subsequently, he said, “We have witnessed two foreign companies operating in our village without our permission.”
The companies, Fernandes claimed, have paid large sums of money to the miner for mining rights. “We have sought redress from every relevant government agency but to date this matter remains the same,” he said.
He continued. “Not being sure about the rights to our lands hinders our village council to make long term village development plans. We are in fear of our livelihood being taken away from us at any time.”
Pleading with the GGMC, he said, “We know that you have the power to revoke the licences of the four medium block in our title land. We have absolute grants since 1976 long before the blocks were sold in 1995. I am hoping to take home a positive word to my people.”
Trotman noted that the very GGMC which Fernandes said had not been acting on their behalf had issued a Cease Work Order (CWO) to Vieira, who in turn had challenged GGMC Commissioner Newell Dennison in the High Court, where he had won, and subsequently in the Court of Appeal where he lost his appeal. Vieira then took the matter to the CCJ, which ruled in his favour.
Contempt of court
Trotman noted that as Dennison was trying to interpret the CCJ’s order, he recently received a letter from Vieira’s attorney citing him for contempt of court and threatening him with imprisonment if he did not comply with the CCJ.
“That is where we are and we are still looking at ways to deal with the issue on your behalf,” Trotman said.
Asked what advice Act he would give to the community given the CCJ ruling, Trotman said, he thinks that the National Toshaos Council should get a copy of the court’s decision, which was very lengthy, and to seek further advice on it.
The ruling, he said, went into the matter of titled lands, rights to mining, the rights that the GGMC has and what it does not have. He said he has asked for the decisions to be studied.
On December 7, 2017, the CCJ had determined that the GGMC had no authority to issue a CWO directing Vieira to terminate all work under his mining permits as he had no agreement with the Chinese Landing/Tassawini Village Council.
The CWO, the CCJ said, was issued on November 26, 2010 under the Mining Regulations because of the absence of an agreement with the village council, as was required under the Amerindian law. According to the CWO, the Mines Officer deemed the stoppage to be “absolutely necessary” for the maintenance of the public peace or for the protection of the rights of the State or private persons.
The GGMC argued at the CCJ that Vieira’s attempts to conclude an agreement to mine the lands, and his argument that he was treated unfairly were irrelevant as the Commission was required by law to automatically issue the order. The CCJ said that Vieira contended that not only was his conduct and treatment relevant but that the Mines Officer was not authorised to issue the CWO for a breach of any law other than the Mining Act.
On review of the Act, the CCJ said it determined that the Minister responsible for the Mining Act could not make regulations under that law with a view to aiding or enforcing the requirements of another law, the Amerindian Act. Therefore, the Mines Officer was not authorised to issue the CWO under the Mining Regulations for a violation of the Amerindian Act. It was observed, however, that this does not prevent the GGMC from dealing with disputes arising under the Amerindian law if the dispute could be regarded in an appropriate case as also being a dispute under the Mining Regulations. The Court found that this would not apply in this instance.
The CCJ also determined that the law required the issuance of the CWO to be ‘absolutely necessary,’ which had not been established or even contemplated by the Mines Officer or Commission.
“It was also concluded that Mr Vieira was entitled to an opportunity to oppose the order and to challenge whether it was absolutely necessary. Accordingly, Justice (Diana) Insanally’s decision was restored and Mr Vieira was awarded costs in all three courts,” a CCJ release said.