Miners in Mahdia, in Region Eight, yesterday protested in front of the Mahdia office of the Guyana Geology and Mines Commission (GGMC) over what they claim is victimisation of small miners.
The protest came days after the start of safety enforcement operation that was ordered by Minister of Natural Resources Raphael Trotman following several recent mining-related deaths.
However, miners and other residents of Mahdia have since expressed their dissatisfaction with the way the GGMC is carrying out the exercise, claiming that officers have unjustly destroyed millions of dollars’ worth of mining equipment during the process.
Stabroek News confirmed that a previous protest took place in front of the GGMC’s Mahdia Office on Tuesday.
A similar protest took place midday yesterday, with even more miners and other supporters coming out to voice their dissatisfaction with some even threatening to boycott the upcoming Local Government Elections (LGE) if the situation is not remedied.
Meanwhile, Trotman, when contacted for a comment said, “My only response is that compliance and enforcement activities are never welcomed. We don’t relish having to do them as we wished some miners would value their workers’ lives, respect the villages and communities near where they mine and don’t unnecessarily pollute rivers, but they do and enforcement becomes necessary. GGMC will work with them to ensure they can return to work quickly once they agree to comply with the law and be registered.”
Similar sentiments were shared by GGMC Commissioner Newell Dennison, who said, “There was an action ordered, we executed it and some people were not happy with the fact that they were found without compliance and we took stern action. Understand that the force of law will prevail where applicable, notwithstanding efforts to have affected miners return to work in a lawful manner soonest.”
However, one miner, who spoke to Stabroek News via telephone, explained that the officials did not issue any warning but instead proceeded to the backdams, where they allegedly confiscated and in some cases, destroyed mining equipment.
“More than a hundred miners out here affected and is not the miners alone, is shop owners, taxi drivers, barbers, everybody because mining is what sustains Mahdia,” he said.
The concerns of the miners and other residents were also broadcast in a Facebook Live video stream by Travis Chase of HGPTV, who travelled to the mining town yesterday for the protest.
Some contended that the move by the GGMC was unfair and has resulted in families being forced to “join the breadline.”
Tracy Corbin, of the Mahdia Concerned Citizens’ Group, said, “I was informed that Geology and Mines was carrying out an exercise on miners and the way it was carried out, we think it is unfair to the persons who working here. Mahdia depends on gold; it is the only thing we know to survive on, and there are no other alternatives.”
“They came, they had an operation, damaged some properties, took some engines into custody and asked persons to pay a fine and ask them to regularise. Mahdia is already in crisis and what it does to us is put us further in crisis because most of the persons here are taking credit from the shop to go out there and work, it means the shop will not be able to sell and the economy is going to die off with this action, so we thought its best that we come out here and let our voices be heard,” she added.
“I paid $1.1 million for my engine and they take it away from me; I am 55 years of age; where am I supposed to find work from now? I wake up this morning and I owe the landlord, I owe the shop and with my engine gone, nobody gon’ want to trust me anymore,” another person lamented.
Persons also argued that they had received no forewarning of the exercise, while adding that not even the GGMC officers on the ground were aware of the exercise.
However, Stabroek News understands that most of those who had equipment seized were previously warned that their operations were not in compliance. It was noted, too, that operators had communicated to GGMC that they will take the necessary steps to comply, but have failed to do so.
On the issue of regularising mining operations, some miners contended that the process is less than efficient, while others argued that the delay in land distribution has forced some into mining in risky areas.
“We were promised by His Excellency when he was campaigning that we will get land, we agreed and we accepted. But we, as a syndicate, have been waiting 18 months now that we waiting for 10 blocks that we have already paid for, after spending more than $1.2 million to go to town and come back. Minister Trotman came up here and we got the blocks but what we are saying is, had we gotten these blocks before, these miners would not be working in these worked out areas. When you are working in tailings is no kind of gold and is risky areas. We know that but should we work a maiden land it would not be as risky,” one man explained.
“The thing is, the lands in Mahdia are overworked, and there is no gold left. Open entrances and roads to the mining lands that are available and give them to people to work because when the big men out there are given lands to work and make money, they are taking the money out of the area. Our people on ground are being suffocated and it is not only affecting miner, it is affecting everybody, the entire population of Mahdia,” another man said.
Marbell Thomas, Toshao of Campbelltown expressed similar sentiments, saying that the development of the community depends more on royalties from mining than it does presidential grants.
“It is an issue of survival for many of us because we depend on mining for development of our community. We do not have an issue with GGMC doing their work but they need to remember that we are all humans and that miners have invested a lot into their equipment. The $1 million presidential grants is not enough, we depend on royalties from mining to develop our community,” she lamented.
Meanwhile, the Ministry, in a statement issued on Saturday, explained that the operation which began last Friday, is expected to last eight days and has since resulted in cease work orders being issued, and the removal of some operators.
Conducting the exercise is a team comprising of five wardens from the ministry’s Compliance Division and 12 GGMC officers, all of whom have been deployed to the area.
Acting GGMC Mines Manager Krishna Ramdass was reported as saying that the operation had managed to already identify mining operations that did not conform to safety, issue cease work orders, and even completely removed some operations from the environment.
He further noted that some areas were cordoned off, and instructions were given to operators as to what is required to resume operation. Other facets of non-compliance will be dealt with as the exercise continues, the statement added.