Gov’t seeking public feedback on draft mining policy

Feedback from the public on the draft mining policy is being urged by Minister of Natural Resources Raphael Trotman and the crafters of the document, who believe that ample civic engagement and input is needed before it is finalised.

The green paper was made public last week. It is through these engagements that government hopes that its citizenry could be edified on its green initiatives and other policies.

“From the respective of the government, compliance by the mining industry to laws and regulations remains a recurrent and formidable challenge,” the document states, highlighting the arduous task of the authorities despite large resources being allocated for these activities.

But while the report acknowledges that compliance will never reach 100% in any one area, government’s goal must be  able to “optimize matters to a point where (i) residual non-compliance poses no impactful or persistent threat to the realization of set goals, or (ii) where the cost of pushing the needle further outweigh the benefits.”

It is with regards to achieving the critical levels of compliance, the minister said, that the team seeks to hear and share ideas from the public on what they feel about decisions being proposed, and what could be done to ensure that mining is done in a sustainable way.

“At this time we wish to have stakeholders such as GGDMA [Guyana Gold and Diamond Miners’ Association), GWMO [the Guyana Women Miners Organisation], NMS [the National mining Syndicate], Parliamentary Sectoral Committee on Natural Resources and others, and citizens, comment…,” Trotman told Stabroek News on Tues-day. “I feel it’s necessary for the public to know and have a say in the development of this policy,” he added.

The 134-page document can be found on the Ministry of Natural Resources’ (MNR) website notice board and is available for full download. In May, Trotman had solicited the services of University of Guyana Senior Lecturer Sherwood Lowe, who would be the head of the group, along with former Guyana Geology and Mines Commission (GGMC) Commissioners William Woolford and Karen Livan, to spearhead the process of designing a Strategic Ten Year Plan for the mineral sector. That process is expected to take about seven months.

The Minister had previously underscored that mining is presently the country’s largest export earner and a major contributor to GDP. In addition, it creates employment for thousands of Guyanese in various disciplines, which has created a positive spin-off effect in other sectors of the economy.

Trotman stressed that government envisaged that in crafting the Policy Framework, the team would meet with stakeholders in the mining industry, at all stages of the value chain, and would visit outlying areas to garner insights about what the Guyanese people expect to see in the document.

Trotman said he has read the latest iteration of the draft and believes that it should be put out for public input. “The views in the draft do not necessarily reflect the views of MNR or the government and it is a working document that will be finalised in due course and presented to Cabinet and then the Assembly… Following the public commenting, the document is expected to become a white paper for further distillation and then presented to parliament,” he noted.

Lowe recently emphasised the importance of public input, especially for miners, as the document gives a holistic view and outlines short, medium and long term goals for the sector. He recommended that reviewers begin their focus at Part Three, (starting at page 38) which is the core of the document, and which spells out the policy framework and details supporting actions for the development of the mineral sector.

“The first theme calls for optimising the governance of the industry by government agencies such as the MNR and the GGMC. The second focuses on optimising compliance by all categories of miners with laws, regulations, and other requirements. The third theme speaks to optimising the performance of the industry mainly in terms of its contribution to our national and local economies. Under each of these unifying themes, the green paper recommends principles, policies, strategic goals, and a host of actions,” he wrote in a letter to the editor of the daily newspapers.

He further explained that on the matter of optimising governance, the draft identifies 10 principles dealing with issues such as transparency and fairness in the ministry and GGMC’s decision-making and, the ease with which the mining public can do business at these and other government agencies. “Concrete mechanisms here include, among others, the continued implementation of the Extractive Industry Transparency Initiative (EITI) and the establishment of a proposed independent Inspector General Office for the GGMC to serve as an oversight, investigative, and complaints authority,” he said.

Where compliance is dealt with, issues such as on environmental protection, occupational safety and health especially in small mines, and the full declaration of mineral production by miners are expounded on.

Mercury

The green paper advances several proposals, some of which emphasise and amplify existing ideas and practices.

Among the strategic goals proposed is to “reduce and where feasible, eliminate the use of mercury in mining and processing by 2027 in line with Guyana’s commitments under the Minamata Convention.”

The report points out that the use of mercury continues unabated despite high levels of understanding about its harmful effects among gold miners.

The use of mercury in mining here has been an age-old problem, and government is getting support from stakeholders such as Conservation International, the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) and the United Nations, to reduce “to a minimum the use of mercury in Guyana and hopefully one day, with the miners, we can come to a place that we no longer have to use mercury,” Lowe said.

The green paper recommends that government establishes the recommended National Action Plan Implementation Advisory Group (with representation from MNR, WWF, GGDMA, MoH, GGMC, the private sector and civil society), and task it with reviewing and implementing the recommendations of the final National Action Plan on mercury.

And highlighting that there is currently no strategic and comprehensive action plan for the environmental management of mining, the green paper suggests that the GGMC rebuilds its capacity to conduct critical impact assessments and conduct some of those assessments in hot spot mining areas, among others.

The green paper also zooms in heavily on governance and devotes three of its five broad policies to this theme: (i) expanding mining’s contribution to national and subnational economic development; (ii) raising the attractiveness and competitiveness of Guyana’s mineral sector for large investments; and (iii) optimising the economic scope and technical capacity of small and medium-scale mining.

“For (i), the draft recommends and discusses proposals on royalty rates and other fiscal measures. It also proposes a revenue sharing scheme with regions and communities with current and historic mining. It highlights the need for local content and corporate social responsibility policies specific to the nature of mining in the hinterland. Under (ii), the green paper sets as one of its major strategic goals, the minimising or elimination of all legal, fiscal, political, informational, geological and other hindrances in the path of large and continuous investments in the sector. Such a campaign must aim to encourage and maintain as many as 50 active large-scale exploration projects year after year. Currently, there are only about 10 such investments,” Lowe noted.

“The green paper advances new and existing initiatives for developing small and medium scale mining. Among other things, the paper supports the position that policies for such miners should be underpinned by a classification scheme that recognises that miners are differently positioned with regards their operational, technical, and financial capability. The proposal for reintroducing a miners’ assistance scheme, for instance, should target small miners with low levels of mechanisation and financial means,” he added.

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