Kaieteur News – Proceedings have been filed in the Supreme Court by miners Milton Brandford and Ayudhia Narain – making good on their threats to take legal action against the Minister of Natural Resources, Vickram Bharrat, and the Guyana Geology and Mines Commission (GGMC).
The Fixed Date Application (FDA) is currently pending before the learned Chief Justice Roxane George. According to the 80-page document filed last Monday, Brandford and Narain own and hold 32 gold claims at 14 Mile Issano, Mazaruni Mining District, Karouni.
The miners are seeking orders to quash a ministerial order made by Minister Vikram Bharrat numbered 53 of 2023 dated 8th August, 2023 with retroactive effect from 1st March, 2022, ordering the shutdown of all mineral prospecting and mining in areas belonging to the miners’ 32 gold claims and other areas. They are also seeking a declaration from the court as being the lawful owners of the 32 gold claims which the Minister sought to nullify via certain actions of the GGMC.
Their lawsuit seeks ‘An Order of Mandamus’ to compel the GGMC and the Minister to take ‘all steps necessary to see to the favourable processing of their applications before the GGMC for their 32 gold claims’ licences.
According to court documents, the miners were never granted the claim licences but they still hold the claims because according to section 2 of the Mining Act claim includes “any claim located pursuant to a prospecting permit, whether a claim licence has been issued or not”.
The miners stated that “at all materials times they possessed and used a valid prospecting permit to prospect the lands”.
“ Such, allows them ‘to work the ground located thereunder from the date of location until his application for a claim licence can be published and such licence either issued or refused.’ Furthermore, all gold retrieved from the claims after their location before the grant of a licence are to be dealt with as though they were obtained after a licence was granted according to regulation 19 of the Mining Regulations,” they stated.
Brandford and Narain took steps to locate the claims since April, 2023 and made considerable investments to locate and develop them. Although applications for the 32 licences were properly made since June, 2023, to date the applications for the licences have neither been granted nor denied.
Instead the GGMC issued an order to remove from one of the claim areas to the miners and even went as far as to break down their camps. The GGMC thought that the lands were held by Troy Resources Guyana Inc but according to the lawsuit, the lands were abandoned since 2016 by another company ‘KABURI DEVELOPMENT CO’ and were therefore available for the taking according to law.
According to the lawsuit, continued efforts by the miners to appeal to the GGMC and the Minister were in vain and they eventually learnt that the Minister issued an order (#53 of 2023) which was published in the Gazette of 8th August, 2023, in respect of the Applicant’s 32 claim areas and a wider area, where he ordered the shutdown of all prospecting and mining for all minerals within the area provided that such operations shall only be carried on by government or government-related entities. This order was backdated and ‘deemed to come into effect on 1st March, 2022’ in a deliberate bid to disenfranchise the Applicants of their claims they allege.
Siand Dhurjon and Philip Damien Da Silva who are the attorneys retained by Brandford and Narain to institute and carry the proceedings in question state that the order of the Minister is bad on account of its purported retroactivity alone as well as on account of its obstruction of the Applicants’ vested rights to their claims. According to the FDA , the lawyers have asserted that the Minister’s order was ultra vires, unreasonable, irrational, unfair, an abuse of power, whimsical, capricious, contrary to natural justice, arbitrary, disproportionate, in breach of the Minister’s statutory duty, against the Minister’s own policy and without any legal foundation or authority whatsoever.
The miners made clear in their sworn joint affidavit that the process of verification by the GGMC was successfully completed and that GGMC’s next step was to be the Gazetting of their claims allowing for a period for public objections but this never came to fruition.
Scandalously, the miners later learnt from a whistleblower that shortly after the Minister’s order, the Minister and the GGMC held a secret lottery to give away portions of their claim lands to certain individuals in breach of the Minister’s own shutdown order 53 of 2023. In their court documents they present a leaked map of ‘phase 1’ of the lottery that was conducted in their court documents which was provided by an anonymous whistleblower.
They said that the Minister, at his end of year press conference, on 15th November, 2023, admitted that “as government we’ve identified an area within the Karouni area, the former Troy Resources property, and we are allocating claims to Guyanese small miners. To date we have awarded over 50 claims to over 50 local miners. Right. And this process is being done by way of a lottery. So it’s a fair process where small miners are given an opportunity to put their hand in a box and pull a claim. Many of them have already moved into the area and started to mobilise”
The miners stated in their lawsuit that “It is clear that the Minister has breached his own purported order numbered 53 of 2023. He took steps to give out claims in respect of the areas shutdown from mining by a lottery to over 50 private individuals and not “the government or by a public corporation or by a corporate body in which controlling interest vests in the State or in any agency on behalf of the State” as is required by his purported order.”
The miners lamented that to date, in spite of their legal correspondence to the Commissioner of GGMC and Minister outlining their case of their legitimate expectations and threatening legal action, neither the Commissioner nor the Minister have responded but instead the Commissioner made a public press release addressing the matter and trivialising their rights to the claims sought.
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