Special committee wraps up work
- Small operators want duty-free vehicles, special areas
Nine months of meetings between miners and government over proposed regulatory changes to the gold and diamond industry ended Wednesday with the completion of the final report.
Small miners are now calling for duty-free concessions for vehicles and there seems to be consensus on key issues that were of concern to miners.
According to Simone Broomes, representative of small miners in the extended Special Land Use Committee (SLUC) which was appointed by President Bharrat Jagdeo, it is now up to the President and his Cabinet to assent to the recommendations that were discussed in detail during the meetings.
Last December, a government proposal to have miners give six months’ notice before commencing operations immediately met with widespread condemnation from stakeholders in the industry.
A consultation body headed by Minister of Public Works, Robeson Benn, was established in January this year, to meet with miners. During that same month, Bartica, long considered the gateway and hub to the interior mining district, was shut down for a day, and miners vowed to reject the six-months proposal. They claimed that it was a death knell for the industry and would effectively cause operations to cease.
On February 11, President Jagdeo met with miners at the International Convention Centre where he assured that it was not the intention of government to close the industry down. He also announced that the life of the SLUC would be prolonged, by at least a month, to give small miners a chance to have an input.
Room was made for representation from Mahdia, Bartica, Linden and the North West District, all key mining communities. However, there were still rumblings and there were some 27 meetings of the committee before the final draft was approved by the body on Wednesday.
According to Broomes yesterday, “the time has come for closure and the mining community, especially small miners, eagerly awaits the President’s approval of the report”.
Broomes had been outspoken during a critical meeting at Bartica in January between government officials and miners, shortly before the latter took to the streets to protest the proposed new measures.
According to Broomes, Benn’s chairmanship of the consultations was “accommodating” and there was every reason to believe that the recommendations made would be approved so that the mining industry would be at ease again.
Also part of the SLUC were Commissioner (ag) of Guyana Geology and Mines Commission (GGMC), William Woolford, four representatives each from the small miners and the Guyana Gold and Diamond Miners Association; an official of the Guyana Forestry Commission and Presidential Advisor, Odinga Lumumba.
Broomes also disclosed that recommendations were made for small miners to have special areas set aside for mining, to counter the less popular option of auctions by the GGMC in distributing areas.
Regarding duty free concessions, the miners pointed out that currently they would have breaks on the four-wheel all-terrain vehicles (ATVs) and equipment, but none on four-wheel drives.
The issue of repairs to key roads was also raised, especially the ones leading to Mahdia and Puruni.
In the meeting last February, President Jagdeo had committed to meeting with the miners again once the SLUC would have completed its consultations and subsequent report. He had stressed that the mining activities would not stop, even though the regulatory body would have to be notified.
He also made it clear that miners, especially small ones, could start mining in a three-hectare section in a concession area, while awaiting word from loggers whether they will be extracting logs.
Benn had noted that miners for all scales of operation must give notice of current operations and this included owners, lessees and tributors.
Recognizing that there may be potential for conflict where there are minerals and commercial timber, the committee had agreed that the stakeholders should have equal opportunity to capitalize, and there may be a need for revising forestry rules in selected areas given the practical need for limited clear felling to extract the mineral.
The current forestry rules are considered to be very stringent – a view that was expressed by the GGDMA in its report of discussions held with the Forest Products Association. Currently, the rules classify clear felling as prohibited, and this restricts the forester in harvesting. Mining regulations allow clear felling to the extent that it is necessary to do so, and may make use of the product in the course of an operation.