Mining under Siege
The Guyana Gold and Diamond Miners Association (GGDMA) this year will celebrate its 30 anniversary. As President of an association whose executive members collectively hold more than 200 years of experience in mining, it is quite disappointing to see the gauntlet through which today’s small and medium scale miners must pass to scrape out a living in the interior. The establishment of a Ministry of Natural Resources and the Environment (MoNRE), something for which we lobbied, has brought us more difficulty than help.
We are now facing, in my opinion, the most difficult period in mining we have ever experienced. Every day, the Ministry creates a new burden for miners to bear, so much so it is becoming increasingly difficult for us to do what we do best… mine for Guyana’s minerals. Recently the MoNRE embarked on an active media campaign to confuse miners about the real motives of their recent actions. It therefore forces me to explain and clarify several claims made by the MoNRE on mining in Guyana.
On the issue of consultations, we have had exactly two meetings, informally, with the Minister and none to date with the newly appointed Commissioner of Mines, since her appointment.
This, however, is not the most troubling issue. We have noted that the MoNRE’s definition of consultation is more of instruction rather than of discussion. This was clearly demonstrated when the MoNRE passed an arbitrary ban on the procession of river claims without any prior notice to the mining community. This all happened while we were supposedly in active consultations. The topic of a ban on processing of river mining was never discussed. How can the Government ask for consultations when it is more of a one sided dictatorship?
As we said at our annual general meeting; we will not be dictated to and we are only prepared to engage in consultations that will be honest and fair. The Ministry so far has been high handed and biased.
Ban on Mercury
In relation to the issue of an impending global ban on mercury, the Government, by its own admission, in a full page newspaper ad on Sunday 29th July, confirmed what we have been saying. Once again without any prior consultation with those who will be the most affected, “…the GGMC (Guyana Geology and Mines Commission) participated at the fourth session of the intergovernmental, committee to prepare a legally binding instrument on mercury…”
This was at the UN-sponsored meeting which has as its sole purpose “to negotiate a global treaty that would reduce the use of mercury.” The plans are already well established to all in the industry based on previous pronouncements. The Ministry is being led by the global environmental lobby while there is scant disregard for the livelihood of mining communities and families. Guyana does not have to jump up and dance for every international puppeteer. We must chart our own course that will be most beneficial to Guyana, not foreign masters. Are we not still a sovereign nation?
To date, all of the alternatives to mercury showcased to the local industry, have been inadequate and are still in an experimental stage. While we remain willing to work with the GGMC on finding alternatives, there is little more than a year left and all of the efforts have been and remain experimental. The alternative methods will not be completed for the end of the year 2012. We note with concern the following experiments:
-The Flotation Project is still experimental and so far has not proved effective. Even the GGMC has not taken it past the lab testing stage.
-The Knelson Concentrators, bought at around US$500,000, remain in the shipping containers since the start of the year at GGMC’s laboratory site in Linden while the agency continues to look for a partner to assist them in setting up and running of two operations using this system. This system is already proven too expensive for any local miner.
-The Cyanide Leeching Plants are still to be set up at the GGMC labs in Linden; they are now looking for experts to do this. When and if the experts are hired they will assist in setting up the plants and start training for GGMC technicians, who, when they have completed their training, will then train miners.
Therefore from all indications so far we have no confidence in these efforts of the GGMC and we are very worried that come 2013, there will be no effective alternative for mercury and we will all have to stop mining.
Ban on Processing of River Mining Permits
On the issue of the one month ban on the processing of river mining permits, the Ministry is quick to jump on the indigenous people’s bandwagon claiming that the MoNRE was petitioned by Amerindian groups. Does the Ministry not recognise that many Amerindian communities are now actively engaged in mining and that many of the communities that exist near to mining operations also benefit from these operations? We get the distinct impression that the Minister has been petitioned by Amerindian groups which represent only one sector of Amerindian people, who live outside of mining communities. Were communities such as Micobie, Isseneru and Jawalla consulted? Did the support come from only the so-called “one man” Amerindian group?
We recognise that mining will disturb the environment. However, globally it has been accepted that there can be no mining that will not disturb the environment. We once again call on the Government to recognise the significant difference between disturb and destroy. We only disturb not destroy. The association has always and remains willing to work with the GGMC on ensuring members adhere to the regulations. We cannot understand why the sudden one month ban on processing on mining permits has been so harshly implemented. Is this a warning shot over the bow of miners and a signal of things to come?
Support for the Mining Industry
On the issue of support for the industry, the Ministry is operating as if it is doing us a favour. We are the major contributors to the financial livelihood of the Ministry and its agencies. We pay our royalties and dues and the least the GGMC can do is offer technical assistance as is their mandate. This has been very limited and scarce. We would like to challenge the claims made in the media that the GGMC provided Geologists to assist miners as I have no evidence that this has ever happened.
The current crop of miners is far more experienced and knowledgeable than the officers that the GGMC sends into the fields. We believe that the GGMC, instead of engaging in regular “shakedowns”, should spend more time training and equipping the current mining officers. We also call on the Ministry to address some of the pressing issues; which can only be dealt with at their level, such as the illegal searches carried out by the interior police on the gold production of small and medium scale miners.
Every day we see new obstacles designed to do only one thing, destroy the small and medium scale industry. The Government spends more time creating hurdles than building roads for progress. The recent proposal that miners can now only have a prospecting permit for five years is once such glaring example. Under the new system after five years a miner is left at the whim and fancy of the Minister for renewal and there is no guarantee that despite all the effort spent he will get back his land. This along with the constant and ever expanding closure of land for small miners can only lead us to one conclusion; the Government is trying to get rid of small and medium scale miners. We cannot keep up with the ever changing mining regulations, which are constantly being changed; we are being given hoops lit with fire to jump through.
There, however, has to be a way forward and there can be no dialogue if the MoNRE continues to prefer the avenue of dictatorship. We at the GGDMA can no longer engage in idle discussions where our input is discarded as quickly as we leave. The experience we had with the “consultations” on the Special Land Use Committee has left a nasty taste in our mouth. We now demand honest, fair and meaningful consultations, one in which our opinion will be counted and respected, where the voices of our miners can be heard and make a difference. We would like to see urgent and serious commitment by the ministry to address the following issues:
-Mercury use/improved recovery systems.
-Meaningful engagements with the GGDMA in reviewing the Mining Act and Regulations.
-Crime and security
-Improved recovery rates at the sluice box
-Availability of land for small miners
-Availability of GGMC’s geologists, mining engineers, land surveyors and other technical personnel to provide technical assistance to small miners
-Better prospecting methods and practices
-Establishing and maintaining health facilities and services
We seem to have been caught up in the petty issues, while the major issues in the industry such as the rampant crime, the lack of roads, the high cost of transportation, the lack of health facilities and support and land for small miners are frustrating miners on the ground. At present the MoNRE seems concerned only with the environmental part of its mandate and are ignoring those who are moving Guyana forward financially.
We urge the Minister to remember that his ministry has to also represent and bolster the natural resources sector, so that we can grow.
To my fellow miners and business owners whose businesses are dependent on the survival of the mining industry, I urge you to join us in this struggle to have our voices heard, even if you are not a member of the association we want you to join with us. We have already taken the GGMC to court over their refusal to accept payments for the renewal of mining properties which have been applied for as extensions to Amerindian lands; this action was taken not only for the medium scale but for all miners- small, medium and large scale. We are in this together and have adopted the new motto, “one for all and all for one”.
We are here to help all stakeholders since it seems no one else will help us. To this end we have established a free help desk at the GGDMA’s office in North Road and invite you to bring your issues to us. Let us join forces and move Guyana forward. We would like to remind the Minister that the gold and diamond mining industry is “too big to fail”.
Patrick E. Harding
Guyana Gold and Diamond Miners Association