The fallout from the Marudi will be far-reaching
Dear Mr. Editor,
On Monday, I met two teachers from Aishalton who were in Lethem over the weekend; they had come to visit their dad who is working here. I have known these young ladies since they were young children, so we broke into conversation quite easily. They told me about their dilemma. They were expecting to hitch a ride 126 miles back to their village on Sunday so that they could be back at work on Monday. They then realized that the miners are no longer in Marudi. So, they are stranded in Lethem.
On Monday, too, I met five young men from Gunn’s Strip (home of the Wai Wais). One of the young men’s mother and I were colleagues and I remembered some of the surnames from my visit to the area years ago. The men were so pleased to have met someone who could actually relate to their village. I was able to find out about some people I had met on my visit there. These young men too were stranded. They were hoping to get a lift to Para Bara and foot, and boat the rest to Gunn’s Strip. No transportation.
It then dawned on me that the unfortunate incident at Marudi, was more than just an out-of-control, power-drunk corporal of the Guyana Police Force unleashing his ignorance on a group of hapless miners. It dawned on me that the incident was bigger than that miss-fit.
Since that fateful day, I have spoken to numerous residents to get a picture in my mind of what Marudi was like before all of this greedy rush.
Residents of the Rupununi have been mining in the Marudi Mountains for centuries. I spoke with an 82-year-old man and he recalled his grandfather mining in the mountains when he, the man, was 12 years old. So traditionally, the residents have depended on the mineral-rich Mountains for sustenance.
These people can claim the area as ancestral lands. When I was posted to Aishalton in October 1991, I met mining activities ongoing at Marudi Mountains. During those years, there was a silent agreement between RomanEx and the miners. I cannot recall any dispute between company and miners. So what could have changed since then?
The RomanEx Company’s license has always been one of exploration. It never had a mining licence. I could recall numerous sky-van trips transporting what the company regarded as samples. These samples never were scrutinized by any GGMC officials. These samples were taken from Aishalton to Timehri and then to Canada. No wonder there were rumours of gold being exported right under our noses.
I can recall too, that RomanEx employees were mostly expatriates. The few locals who were employed mostly came from coastal Guyana. A handful was chosen from the surrounding villages. Further, all of the company’s supplies were sourced in Georgetown, even their fuel. In short there were hardly any economic benefits accruing to the Region as a whole and the dependant villages in particular. I do not have the conviction that the status quo will change drastically now.
The RomanEx license was also once used by a company known as Vanessa Mining Company, and now we are hearing of a Molgravian Company. In fact I was able to ascertain that RomanEx has only two employees in Guyana: one in Georgetown and one in Lethem. Hence it has to be established – and here GGMC and the Government have got to come clean-whether the transfer of ownership/management has been done in a lawful manner. If not, then Molgravian is also occupying the lands illegally.
Now that GGMC has acted, one has to consider the economic fallout that will inevitably impact on the residents of this otherwise deprived region.
We have the issue of over 300 miners to be absorbed into the work force in Region Nine. What are their prospects of acquiring gainful employment? The answer is nil. Most of these miners know nothing else. We already are challenged to find employment for our school leavers, who number 135 on a yearly average. Most of these students with passes at the CXC are forced to accept jobs as shop attendants.
Then we have the direct beneficiaries of the mining activities. There are the farmers who sell their produce to the miners; we have the fishermen and other meat suppliers; we have the grocery stores and the gas stations, all local people who will see a drastic decline in their sales. The miners do not source their supplies outside of the region. Probably the only out-sourcing that is done is for mining equipment.
As a consequence, over 7000 persons between Lethem and Marudi will be affected by the economic fallout. These include villages like St. Ignatius, Parikwarinau, Shulinab, Potarinau, Katoonarib, Sawariwau, Achawib, Karudarnawau, Aishalton, Awarewanau, Maruranau, Shea and Gunns Strip.
The miners themselves will be affected. Many of them have obligations to the Guyana Bank for Trade and Industry (GBTI) and the Institute for Private Enterprise Development (IPED). We can expect multiple loan default and the consequent seizure of assets to off-set those loans. In short, business will be affected; everyone in the catchment area will suffer one way or the other.
To date, the Rupununi Chamber of Commerce and Industry (RCCI) has been strangely quiet on the issue. Many of their members benefit from the so-called illegal mining in Marudi. It is time for the Chamber to break the silence and let the government know exactly how they view this matter.
What about the social consequences? I know quite a few of these miners who are at present building their homes which are at various stages of completion. The inability to get an income will definitely stall the construction of these homes. They will also be hard pressed to contribute to family building and maintenance.
This can lead to delinquency among the children and the permanent separation of families which can create more problems for society.
Those who are unemployable, and Heaven forbids, might consider a life of crime, since the ‘system’ has let them down. This will tax our meager resources even further. I wonder if that is the reason why a bigger court-house was built instead of a Technical Institute.
Then we may very well see women engaging in illicit activities to support their now broken families. This will give rise to the increase in communicable diseases, an area that the government is spending billions to prevent. The very livelihood of so many people will become unstable.
The President of the Georgetown Chamber of Commerce recently wrote that to prevent corruption, there is need for effective institutions. The mere fact that the Minister of Natural Resources mentioned that his ministry is committed to stamping out corruption in the mining sector, is an admission that corruption has reached epidemic proportions. He need not look further than his mines officers.
This is not what anyone has told me, I have seen this with my own eyes. I was in another backdam last year and I saw officers visiting camps looking for certain requirements. When these were not found, they taxed the dredge owners as much as two ounces of gold. In fact the dredge owners will have the gold reserved exactly for that purpose.
This problem is not only limited to mining, but housing as well. Right here in Lethem, prospective land owners are told by the CH&PA to squat. When the officers visit Lethem, the squatters are ‘regularised.’ So what is so different with the miners? Couldn’t the GGMC ‘regularise’ their activities? I am certain a compromise could have been reached.
Since the government has admitted that the company is not effectively utilizing the lands by ordering a review of its license, the government needs to identify blocs that can be allocated to the miners so that Rupununi can have some semblance of economic order and sustainability. The government is not providing that to us, so we have had to do it for ourselves.
The question of royalties and selling to official dealers need to be addressed. The President had promised the miners that he was going to look into their concerns and get back to them. He never did, and probably never will, but whatever is the outcome, the miners cannot travel the trail with their production. That will be courting disaster security wise.
Therefore, there needs to be established, right here in Lethem, a branch of the Guyana Gold Board. There is a branch in Bartica, so why not a branch here?
The ball is effectively in the government’s half, and what they do will determine whether we have a resolution satisfactory to all parties, or whether there will another confrontation on the scale of Linden.
As one protesting miner asked on the recording of the Marudi incident “whe we gon go?”