President David Granger yesterday afternoon hosted an interactive business luncheon for members of the Guyana Gold and Diamond Miners Association (GGDMA), the National Mining Syndicate (NMS) and the Guyana Women Miners Organisation (GWMO) at the Baridi Benab, State House Compound.
The President, in brief remarks, said the gold and diamond mining sector which has been in existence for 150 years will remain vital to the country’s economy even with the advent of oil production.
“The gold and diamond mining business is here to stay. We are not here to sign a death warrant,” President Granger said, even as he assured stakeholders that the Government is committed to continuing its support to the sustainable development of the sector.
“The mining industry, over 100 years old, has contributed immensely and still contributes immensely to Guyana’s GDP [Gross Domestic Product]; it contributes to thousands of households,” the President said.
Gold declarations last year stood at 613,073 ounces while diamond declarations totalled 62,111 metric carats. Small-and-medium scale miners contributed significantly to the level of production with 58.5 percent of the total national declarations last year.
“It [gold] is not a bush industry, it is an important part of the Guyanese economy and the Government cannot make that industry more important without your participation,” the President stated.
However, gold mining, despite its contributions, has had harmful effects on the environment, and President Granger reminded that the Government is committed to the protection of the environment.
The President said Government’s policy on gold and diamond mining aims at ensuring sustainable mining. He outlined five areas, which are to be incorporated into the national mining policy: human safety and security, environmental safety and health, the enforcement of mining laws and regulations, infrastructural development and the technological advancement of the sector.
The Head of State reminded that the use of mercury is not only harmful to the environment, but can have adverse effects on human health. Guyana is a signatory to the Minamata Convention on Mercury and has set itself the goal of reducing mercury emissions by 55 per cent by 2022 and eliminating the use of same by 2027.
President Granger called on the stakeholders at the event, which included Government ministers and officials from the various agencies responsible for the sector, to work together to solve all existing problems. He urged the miners to speak frankly about their problems and to make recommendations, which would be considered by the Government.
During the interaction, President of the GGDMA, Mr. Terrence Adams raised concerns about the deplorable state of the roadways, which lead to mining communities and what he described as a need for more government concessions.
“The interior roads have been an issue for years and I think the issuing of contracts on the roads is not done in a timely manner. If we can’t get into the interior to do our work, then the cost will go up and we will have less declarations, and that won’t benefit the country,” Mr. Adams said.
Ms. Urica Primus, President of the GWMO and Ms. Cheryl Williams, President of the NMS shared similar concerns. Ms. Primus asked for the Government’s assistance in the phasing out of the use of mercury, particularly in the case of small-scale miners who cannot readily afford the alternatives to mercury.
“It would be excessively helpful for a revolving fund to be created to help miners move to mercury-free mining. We understand the Government has a National Action Plan. We understand that we will not be able to work the same way forever, but at the same time, we want the Government to understand it is not that miners are set in their ways, it is just that they may not be able to afford all at once,” Ms. Primus explained.
The GWMO president asked whether the Government would be able to render assistance to the mining industry. “How would miners be assisted? At this point, we do not have any
alternatives to mercury but at the same time, we have the years that are counting down for us,” she said.
In response to the concerns raised, the President said, “The recommendation that Government must take a step forward to provide the techniques and resources to help to wean the artisanal miners off of it [mercury]… this is something we will have to work on together.”
The Head of State also said Government is working towards a Decade of Development from 2020-2029 and would welcome recommendations from the mining sector. He explained that the Ministry of Finance, along with other stakeholders, will have to develop a strategic plan for the nation.
The President said that infrastructure is important, along with the safety and security of those who operate in the mining sector, and as such, he expects that within a short period of time, the Police Divisional structure will be modified to ensure that there is more security across hinterland locations. “We need to protect our miners,” the President said, even as he referenced the Crops of Wardens attached to the Ministry of Natural Resources.
As it relates to taxation and concessions, the Head of State said the Government is heavily dependent on revenues and assured that Minister of Finance, Mr. Winston Jordan, who was also at the luncheon, will have to examine issues related to concessions and taxation.
“It is an aspect of Government policy which is continuously under review. To the extent that we could get proceeds, profits or revenues from other sources, I would encourage him [Minister Jordan] to examine ways and means of looking at these concessions.
We don’t want a ‘higgly piggly’ taxation in which we give ‘A’ and ‘B’ concessions because ‘C’ and ‘D’ will demand concessions as well. One of the tasks of the GRA [Guyana Revenue Authority] is to try to eliminate anomalies…so that the taxation regime not only brings in more revenue, but at the same time is fair and is not subject to the type of abuse which could occur when you have too many loopholes. This is one area which we are prepared to examine,” the President said.
President Granger further said that the mining industry is one which needs to be properly regulated. “We have to remove mining from the ‘ad hockery’ which has plagued it for such a long time that people do not regard it as a settled industry where you can go and live and have children, schools and hospitals. It is important to have settled communities with proper infrastructure. I don’t dismiss the idea of housing schemes, schools [so] that the children of miners could get the same quality education in any part of the country, wherever you live,” the Head of State said in response to a request for the establishment of housing schemes for miners.
In concluding the interactive session, the Head of State said, “The Government needs, Guyana needs the mining industry.”
It is expected that the three mining organisations will submit a memorandum containing all of the concerns and recommendations to the Head of State for consideration.
Prime Minister Moses Nagamootoo, the Ministers of Public Security, Indigenous Peoples’ Affairs, Business, Foreign Affairs, Communities, Social Cohesion and Citizenship; Members of the Board of the Guyana Geology and Mines Commission (GGMC), Chairman of the Guyana Gold Board, and representatives of the various mining organisations also attended the business luncheon.
Minister of Natural Resources, Mr. Raphael Trotman is currently in Colombia attending a Presidential Summit for the Amazon Rainforest. (Ministry of the Presidency)
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