Mining crackdown…Undocumented Brazilians ordered to cease work
- GGMC head in trouble over questionable permit
By Leonard Gildarie
In what was described as a major offensive against illegal mining in Guyana, Government yesterday
announced sweeping measures that could see the ejection of foreign nationals operating without work permits.
The meeting between Government, Brazilians and other stakeholders at Celina Restaurant and Club, Kitty, was stormy at times. It also saw revelations about widespread corruption in the mining sector, with collusion with government workers.
Organized by Government, the session took a surprising twist with Karen Livan, Commissioner of the regulatory body, Guyana Geology and Mines Commission (GGMC), coming under fire from the administration over her role in allowing mining in state reserves.
She is likely to answer today to the mining Minister, Robert Persaud, for the alleged breach which occurred earlier this year and in which she signed a permit for Brazilians to mine in a restricted area at Kamarang.
With unofficial estimates, of over 15,000 Brazilians living and operating in Guyana, and mainly in the gold bush, the cease order by government has raised worry in that community.
Brazilians yesterday say that they have been paying hundreds of thousands of dollars in fees to agents and middlemen in a major racket that may have involved officials of Government agencies.
A few weeks ago, the newly established Ministry of Natural Resources announced a major crackdown on illegal mining with several camps in mining areas being raided.
Jeeploads of mainly Brazilians who had filtered through Lethem, Guyana’s border point with Brazil, were arrested for being undocumented. Authorities said that widespread violations were found. These included illegal guns, poorly kept records and environmental breaches and diversion of waterways. The raids are continuing.
The mining situation would have worsened in recent months as gold prices remain high on the world market. There were numerous reports of murders, trafficking in persons, widespread prostitution and general lawlessness.
No middlemen allowed
Yesterday, Minister Persaud insisted that while the Brazilian contributions to gold mining in terms of technology and capital have been invaluable, the reality is that the Guyana Government has to control its natural resources.
He made it clear that work permit application could only be made by the foreign national or the outfit hiring. The officials yesterday named the Guyana/Brazil Development Institute as the only recognized body to officially handle applications for Brazilian miners.
Foreign nationals will no longer be able to move freely between mining operations unless they reapply for a new work permit. The permit is specific to mining districts and to a particular mining operation, officials explained yesterday. Roving miners will not be allowed.
Failure to be in possession of the permit and a Certificate of Registration will result in expulsion of that person, the officials said.
At the meeting also were GGMC’s Chairman, Major General (rtd) Joe Singh, Minister of Home Affairs, Clement Rohee; Commissioner General of the Guyana Revenue Authority, Khurshid Sattaur and President of the Guyana/Brazil Development Institute, Yucatan Reis.
Also, there were representatives of the police and Immigration and other stakeholders.
“Today, I want to make it clear that there will be zero tolerance for breaches of the regulations… as these pertain to those who operate in the mining sector,” Persaud said.
Under regulations, only Guyanese are allowed to own claims but there was evidence of agreements being made to illegally allow foreigners and especially Brazilians to mine in areas allotted for prospecting. These licences will be seized and the guilty parties could be declared “persona non grata”, the official said.
It is a fact that foreigners going to any country have to abide by the laws of that country, he said.
According to Persaud, GGMC which regulates the mining industry has immediately ceased processing applications brought in by middlemen or agents who have been accused of milking Brazilians of up to $200,000 for a work permit.
Rather, GGMC will allow a grace period for miners. Brazilian miners without permits and who are applying were warned not to work during the application period.
There were complaints there that some permits took more than a year in some instances…a fact that Rohee found unbelievable. He also denied that his Ministry may be involved in any corruption as is being reported.
Meanwhile, Persaud also warned that mining companies that have not complied with requirements including NIS will not have their applications processed.
The Brazilians have complained of being stopped and harassed for money by police and of others being told that big bucks will have to be paid to get permits that are worth no more than $5,000.
There were also allegations of claims and dredge owners taking monies from Brazilians to apply for them. In many cases, the applications are left stuck with GGMC after it was found that mining outfit was over its quota of workers. The Brazilians would have no recourse and many of them, desperate to work, would end up paying thousands more, in oftentimes a lost cause.
According to Rohee yesterday, his staffers have been warned against taking bribes.
The government yesterday also said that it was willing to pay printing of a translation of the procedures for applying for work permits since it is clear that many foreigners are not familiar with the procedures.
They were also warned that it is against the law to smuggle out the gold or not to declare them officially.
President of Guyana Gold and Diamond Miners Association, Patrick Harding, yesterday called for an amnesty period for the Brazilians. However, the officials were not budging.
On Tuesday, authorities disclosed that there is widespread smuggling and under-declaration of gold produced with the country. The latter was causing the country to lose billions of dollars in revenue.