Lovely speeches of expansion and development by Government officials do not necessarily
reflect the true reality of what is occurring in Guyana. This is according to former Member of Parliament and Bartica-based businesswoman, Judith David-Blair.
The woman, who took timeout to speak with media operatives recently, is of the conviction that “Guyanese must know the truth, because as a small miner, for me the Government and the Ministry of Natural Resources are only focusing on big companies.”
“For us as small miners it is a terrible situation,” said David-Blair as she spoke of a situation in Issano (a section of Region Seven) whereby people who were living there for decades and making their living have been uprooted with the arrival of a foreign company.
“Everybody had to move off; shops had to be shut. People’s livelihoods are being taken away. When we visit the back dam (mining area), small miners can’t get a piece of land…I am mining for over a decade and I can’t have a piece of land to say this is my land that I am working. If I have to work, is on somebody else’s piece of land; nothing for myself.”
According to David-Blair, working the land is not the major problem but “where is the gold in the land? What kind of land are we being given to work with the prices we have to pay?”
She disclosed that one businessman was demanding as much as $3 million up front just to work on a piece of land. And often the case is that a mere six ounces of gold is what is uncovered on a monthly basis.
“My big question I’ve been asking all the time was ‘Are these people paying taxes for all the money that they are collecting from small miners?”
David-Blair is convinced that “we are being raped and ripped off by these landlords; we need land to work where we can survive…we have excavators to pay for…we want to be customers to Macorp, but then if we are not getting lands to work, if we are not getting the gold in the land how could we buy an excavator?” the businesswoman asked.
According to her, she is among the small miners who are yet unable to pay off for an excavator. “Let us not fool ourselves…last year gold was $300,000 per ounce, now we are barely getting $200,000 an ounce; it is like $1 million off of 10 ounces of gold and it is bad….I don’t like the dress-up speeches, I don’t like people coming to tell us not factual things, let us know the gospel truth, let us understand, let people know mining is not for small miners now; the Government is shutting us out by bringing in these foreign investors.”
David-Blair is of the opinion that locals should be given priority over foreigners and Government should not instead be too keen to embrace globalisation.
“It is time that Ministers in this country… it is time government officials, it is time all the politicians get up from the seat they are sitting on if mining is going to move this country forward and get into the back dam…live between the miners, see what is happening with the miners and then we can deal with the situation after that. We are tired and fed up in Bartica of people coming and painting a beautiful picture; that is all farce.”
According to her, even the young people are suffering. She disclosed that many have written exams and gained many CXC passes, but are yet unable to secure jobs. “How many excavator operators would we train? Would we flood the market with excavator operators alone? Where would they get the jobs?”
For this week, she recalled that she was approached by four operators who are unable to find jobs. “We are training them, but where is the job for them?”
David-Blair’s comments were validated by a number of other business people in Bartica. Some of whom compared the locale to five years ago when the said economy was thriving.
“We at Bartica are suffering right now, the economy is not booming. We have a dark cloud hanging over us in Bartica, nothing is being done…a lot of drugs, a lot of people in the streets walking…junkies. Even the taxi drivers aren’t getting work; nobody is getting anything. Even those who are working with the Government are crying out,” David-Blair asserted.
She disclosed that while many are trying to embrace development, the economy is of such that they cannot even honour loan payments to the banks.
“Lots of people’s houses (are) up for grabs, a lot of people’s cars (are) ready to be taken away by the bank…” added the businesswoman who is calling for a change.
Her extensive commentary was prompted by remarks made earlier by Minister of Housing and Water, Irfaan Ali. Ali, who also has Ministerial headship for the Tourism Ministry, on Wednesday amplified that investors such as Macorp have expressed confidence in the vibrancy of the local economy. According to him, “this is testimony to the fact that we are on the right trajectory; we are on the right pathway right here in Bartica.”
He pointed out that just last week a new bank was opened in the area and that there are many new facilities.
“When you drive around here you are seeing the changes, the transformation in private assets that are taking place, all this tells a story, a story of an economy, of a society, a country that is on the move. It is up to all of us to recommit ourselves to the process of development in ensuring that the economy continues…in this progressive way so that all of us can be successful,” Ali stated.
According to him, instead of responding to questions of how the economy is doing, he simply encourages persons to look around. He went on to share his conviction that if people did not have confidence in the economy, then a lack of spending would have been evident.
“What we are seeing is more persons are buying homes, more persons are buying cars, more persons are building small businesses, more persons are improving their homes. Why are they doing this? They are doing this because they have confidence in the economy and Guyana’s future, and that is very critical for businesses,” Ali theorised.
According to the Minister, operating right in the Region Seven locale is perhaps one of the largest investors in the form of the B.K. Group of Companies. The investor, he noted, is operating a modern quarry in the region and is also now partnering with Government to expand the airstrip there.
“All of these are critical investments that will continue to propel the economy and take the economy in Bartica forward,” added Ali. He too sought to comment on the future of mining in terms of how the changes in the pricing of gold will affect this sector.
“The important question is not about the price of gold, the important question is whether we are able to make the investments to make our operation efficient enough to give us the results that will ensure that we are successful under the global changes in terms of the pricing mechanism…that is the important thing,” asserted a passionate Ali.
According to him, efforts should be aimed at modernizing the operation to make it more efficient to minimize wastage, and for that there is not only a need for machines and equipment, but properly trained human resources.
It is for this reason, he noted, that Government believes strongly in the need to expand training for young people. This, he said, is evident in the construction of technical institutes across the country. Three technical institutes were added by Government in the past four years and, according to Ali, Government is now looking at equipping all technical institutes with modern equipment, tools and modes of operation which he noted “will give our young people the best possible technical skills that will fit the new working environment that requires a high level of efficiency and productivity.”
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