Lawlessness in the ‘gold bush’…Charges laid as raids reveal significant illegal mining, guns
By Leonard Gildarie
In its strongest campaign yet, government has announced plans to continue
indefinitely its countrywide offensive on illegal mining, with a number of charges being laid since the operations started a few weeks ago.
During a press conference yesterday, authorities said that during ‘Operation El Dorado’, as the exercise is known, it found numerous breaches of “Cease Work” Orders; illegal working of river banks and buffer areas; no production books or failure to write-up daily production records; working on prospecting permits and working without certificate of registration. Several illegal guns were also seized.
“The operation will expand collaboration with the Guyana Police Force and will conduct inspection and monitoring in all the areas where small and medium scale mining is occurring including Mazaruni, Cuyuni, North West District, Potaro, and Rupununi among others,” warned Minister of Natural Resource and the Environment, Robert Persaud. That new ministry is in charge of the mining sector.
The press conference was held at the offices of the Ministry of Natural Resources and the Environment, Office of the President. Also there were Karen Livan, Commissioner of the Guyana Geology and Mines Commission (GGMC); Rickford Vieira, Deputy Commissioner; Chairman, Major General (rtd) Joseph Singh and Patrick Harding, President of the Guyana Gold and Diamond Miners Association.
According to the officials, illegal mining is tantamount to raiding of claims, which is a serious offence.
Among the problems found were issues of unregistered dredges/mining operations, unlicenced dredge operation, working on a mining property without permission from the property holder and GGMC, working in buffer zones or on river banks, working on Prospecting Permit Medium Scale (PPMS), working without certificate of registration and transporting gold without permission to convey.
GGMC officials and the police were involved in the raids to the mining camps.
“Further, illegal mining is the biggest threat to Guyana’s LCDS. Guyana loses millions of dollars in revenue annually since most of the gold produced is smuggled out of Guyana; mining, environmental and other regulations are disregarded, (and) illegal mining also fosters other illegal activities such as drug trade, illegal firearms and ammunition, prostitution and trafficking in persons,” the Minister disclosed.
There have been numerous complaints over time about the perceived lawlessness
within the gold mining sector. There has also been a marked increase in murders in the hinterland and reports of a number of illegal guns being seized. In addition to this were growing concerns about the number of Brazilians said to be illegally mining in Guyana, with millions lost because of non-payment of taxes and other fees.
It has not been easy for the GGMC, as the mining regulator, to monitor miles of harsh terrain.
Coupled with this is the problem of porous borders which allow easy movement in and out of the country.
The troubles have risen significantly amidst high gold prices on the world market. There have also been questions about government’s commitment to tackle the mounting issues within the mining sector – because of its lucrative nature it has been attracting a growing number of workers, even to the detriment of the logging industry.
Additionally, illegal mining is also targeted to ensure compliance within the sector, the mining officials said yesterday.
“For Guyanese, all they need to do is to get the dredge/equipment registered to work on a claim; get mining privileges for their crew and get the documents endorsed by the claim/permit holder. For foreigners, a work permit from the Ministry of Home Affairs is required before a Certificate of Registration is issued by GGMC.”
Both the Minister and GGMC yesterday stressed the growing security concern over the proliferation of illegal guns and ammunition; illicit drugs; money laundering and trafficking in persons.
Over the past five years, there have been reported increases in criminal activities in mining areas, the Minister said.
“Widespread illegal mining has serious environmental implications which include uncontrolled and widespread deforestation, damage to river banks, which is the breeding ground for most fish species, dumping of mining waste (tailings) into waterways, burning mercury amalgam without retorts, lack of toilet facilities, widespread dumping of domestic waste, poor sanitary conditions and mining in protected areas.”
Regarding illegal Brazilians and other foreigners, the GGMC said it will work closely with the Ministry of Home Affairs and the Brazilian Embassy to ensure that these nationals have valid work permits and are fully aware of the rules and guidelines of the mining sector.
“Hence, the Embassy and the GGMC will prepare an information booklet in Portuguese to assist Brazilians within the mining sector. The GGMC in collaboration with the Guyana Gold and Diamond Miners Association (GGDMA) and other relevant stakeholders will continue pursuing activities to enforce compliance of the mining and other relevant regulations with an aim to regularise mining and maintaining sustainability of the sector,” GGMC said.
The officials also warned that failure to comply with regulations could result in prosecution; the seizure of equipment and minerals produced and the closing down of operations, and the payment of penalties and fines.