Minister of State, Dawn Hastings-Williams has assured Toshao of Chinese Landing, Orin Fernandes, that Government is committed to resolving the lands right impasse between the Indigenous community and miner Wayne Vieira.
Hastings made this promise during a recent meeting with Fernandes, members of the Village Council, and Governance and Rights Coordinator of the Amerindian People’s Association (APA), Laura George.
At a press conference last Thursday, Fernandes had stated that the mining concession was issued to Vieira without the community’s free prior and informed consent (FPIC).
According to the Amerindian Act, Indigenous communities reserve the right to withhold Free, Prior and Informed Consent for their lands.
But Vieira purchased prospecting permits to areas of the community’s land without its knowledge, through an auction sale (lottery), in 1995. The Geology and Mines Commission (GGMC) converted those prospecting permits to mining permits, again without any notice to the community.
Government reported that it occurred under the tenure of former Prime Minister Samuel Hinds, who oversaw mining at the time.
In 2010, the Guyana Geology and Mines Commission (GGMC) issued Cease Work Orders against Wayne Vieira, after realising that the issuance of mining concessions to him violated the Amerindian Act.
Vieira had contended that the order was not validly issued nor was it retroactively validated by the Amerindian (Validation Commencement) Act 2010. So he moved to the High Court where he successfully challenged the decision to issue the CWO.
The Commission took the matter to the Court of Appeal and won, following which the miner appealed to the CCJ.
Upon review of the Act, the CCJ determined that the Minister responsible for the Mining Act could not make regulations under that law with a view to aiding or enforcing the requirements of another law – the Amerindian Act. So Vieira retained his mining concession for the land.
On Sunday, government informed the press that it sent a team on an operation to remove illegal miners from Vieira’s property. The team already dismantled some of the miners’ property, according to government.
It is unclear whether all of those miners are indigenous miners, but the Chinese Landing Community has indicated that Indigenous miners are among that lot. Fernandes had said that 11 of those Indigenous Miners are licensed to mine.
The Chinese Landing Community’s right to reserve issuance of its FPIC was violated by GGMC, the community’s representatives said.
According to Minister Hastings-Williams, the team presented her with a copy of their certificate of title and the absolute grant, and she also noted the evidence that the business is encroaching on the village lands.
“They came to inform me what is happening on the ground… He [Viera] has returned, he was not in there since 2010, and now he has returned. They claimed that he went in the area without consulting the village council, the council had no knowledge that he had returned… So, they reported to me that the villagers themselves cannot have access to that portion which is a part of their titled land,” she said.
What I said to them is that I cannot do it alone, I have to collaborate with my colleagues Minister of Natural Resources and Minister of Indigenous Peoples’ Affairs,” Minister Hastings-Williams explained.
Yet, multiple sources have informed Kaieteur News that the leaders of Chinese Landing have been in talks with the Ministries of Natural Resources and Indigenous People’s Affairs for months, complaining about the issue. Government had reportedly responded in the affirmative of its will to respect their rights, since talks began.
Minister Dawn-Hastings said, “I am against anybody violating any human rights, whether you be Indigenous or any other ethnicity… The government is totally against anybody disregarding people’s rights.”
But nothing has been done, so far, except the dispatch of the GGMC team to remove the miners from the land.
GGMC can’t legally issue a cease work order to the miner, now that the CCJ has ruled in his favour. And the principle of Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) only became a legal precedent in 2010.
So it is unclear what action the government will take, or whether there is actually any legal avenue to rescind the concession to Vieira.
Meanwhile, Fernandes has said that, if miners aren’t allowed to work, it will direly affect Chinese Landing and surrounding communities. He said that the community hunts, fishes and farms, but it is mining that drives the development of Chinese Landing.
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