GUYANA: Politicians and gold mining madness in the hinterland

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The news earlier this week that the Guyana Geology and Mines Commission (GGMC), has fined a Brazilian gold miner G$12 million (app $60,000 US), for allegedly committing several environmental transgressions in pursuit of his mining activities, including destroying a section of the Cuyuni River bank, would by now have gotten left behind amidst the various other issues that compete for public attention at this time.

Perhaps more to the point is the fact that the fine imposed represents proverbial ‘chicken feed’ compared to the likely overall value of the precious metal extracted by the Brazilian miner and almost certainly repatriated back into Brazil, but definitely not having done anything for this country’s economy.
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The fine may sound hefty but us coastal dwellers who know little if anything about the cost of repairing that kind of damage will, in all likelihood, have little if any clue as to whether or not the punishment fits the crime and more to the point, whether the system dictates that such fines be applied directly and immediately to the restoration of the requisite damage.   ,

The circumstance is a poignant reminder of one of our country’s most worrying frailties; our inability to match the rhetoric we espouse on the issue of protecting our environmental bona fides with our capability to engage in serious and effective practical action.

The first thing that should be said about the protection of our environmental integrity is that laws and strictures can only be effectively enforced if there exists both the will and the wherewithal to do so. One makes this point conscious of the fact that our policy makers continue, for some inexplicable reason, to behave as though rhetoric can miraculously be transformed into practical action. But it goes beyond that.

Followers of the local mining culture are by now more than acutely aware that the culture of despoiling of parts of our hinterland goes ‘cheek by jowl’ with illegal activities through which the integrity of the environment is ruthlessly plundered in exchange for bribes and kickbacks. Periodically, and usually in order to gain a measure of political mileage, high officials sound their voices. There is, however, no evidence of any serious historic continuity to initiatives designed to protect the environment from rapacious mining activities.

 Fines, incidentally, are imposed by the Guyana Geology and Mines Commission (GGMC) which itself has been ‘called out’ on numerous occasions over allegations of collusion with the transgressors and there are times – many times, when it has failed to acquit itself satisfactorily.  This is an old story perhaps not worth repeating here though it has to be said that the efforts by officialdom to address what has become a considerable crisis, pales into insignificance when set against the scale of the crimes.

As is the custom from one political administration to another, the commission of the offence and the imposition of the fine have been followed by one of those familiar official comments setting out just what the delinquent Brazilian miner was up to and pledging to “continue to take a firm stance against illegal mining and prosecute defaulters, in keeping with the Mining Act and Regulations, for the sustainable governance of the mining sector,” usually the inevitable galling episode in the drama. The truth of the matter is that there continues to be huge loopholes in such systems as the authorities say they have to protect the environment and even if it is true that resources are a problem, undoubtedly, part of the weakness has to do with official indifference.

After the accustomed fashion, the new Minister of Natural Resources has trumpeted a warning about “a firm stance against illegal mining,” which of course the GGMC is hardly in a position to effect. The latest official statement also alludes to “a renewed strategic vision for the extractive sector” without offering so much as a glimpse into the bare bones of that “vision,” all of this, of course, being part of the historic pattern of official behaviour.

It is difficult to escape the view that the key issue surrounding the despoiling of our hinterland and its waterways has to do with the fact that the damage is only visible to a modest section of the population, a circumstance that significantly weakens the strength of the national lobby for change. To some extent too, it lets government off the hook in terms of accountability since a great many transgressions can simply be covered up.  With matters of the environment having moved to the front of the global agenda, one gets the feeling that the occasional local public pronouncements are intended, in large measure, to meet the requirements of a set international environmental agenda rather than to bring about any real change.
Change is a matter of sincerity, commitment, and will, and those have been sadly lacking.
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Comments

  • brandli62  On September 23, 2020 at 8:29 am

    Illegal mining has to have consequences and needs to be stopped as it causes big damage to the environment and loss of revenue to the Guyana. Does the Guyanese authorities have the staff, resources, and willingness to curb illegal mining?

  • the only  On September 23, 2020 at 1:16 pm

    THE PENALTY FOR ILLEGAL MINING SHOULD BE DOTS.

  • Jo  On September 24, 2020 at 9:18 pm

    To be more precise, trained personnel, monitoring equipment, precise regulations and partnerships with affected groups (e.g. Indigenous inhabitants) i.e. a system in place for solving the situation. Do they even really care? Isn’t banditry widespread in lawless governments..a wink here, a wink there? Now the biggest bandits are back in town..guess who? They were around the last time the PPP were in power..denuding our natural resources in the interior.

    • brandli62  On September 25, 2020 at 10:40 am

      ” Do they even really care?” Jo, you are bringing right to the point! The costs of monitoring should be covered by the fees for mining permits.

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