Guyana gold wealth fleeing across the border
Gold smuggling proving a big headache for Guyanese authorities along with a host of criminal activity associated with the mining industry.
GEORGETOWN, Guyana, Monday Jul 23, 2012 – As much as half of all the gold mined in Guyana is smuggled out of the country by miners looking to make a better return by cashing in their finds in neighbouring nations.
According to an Inter Press Services article, officials in Guyana’s natural resources ministry estimate that up to half the national annual production of 600,000 troy ounces of gold is smuggled out of Guyana into Venezuela, Brazil and especially Suriname. Royalty and tax rates are reportedly three times cheaper in Suriname than Guyana.
However, talks between the two governments are likely to soon yield an increase in rate levels in Suriname to help minimise smuggling.
This is only one of the illegal and illicit activities associated with gold mining in Guyana that prompted to the government led by Natural Resources Minister Robert Persaud to put a moratorium on new licenses to get the industry to rein in some of its frontier ways.
Pedro Melville, 62, a father of nine from Guyana's northwestern gold and manganese mining district of Matthew's Ridge, sees the impacts of unchecked prospecting on the local environment every day. One major problem is contamination of water sources. Melville says some residents who previously depended on river water to drink now dig their own pits or trenches, allow the water to settle, and let the rain replenish it.
"The miners don't care anything about the communities. All they want is what they could get," he told IPS. "Hygiene is also a problem, and by that I mean the disposal of human and other waste. That is why we have diseases like malaria and typhoid. The situation is getting out of hand, to tell you the truth."
The moratorium set off a sectoral firestorm and threats of protests from enraged industry players who accuse government of abusing its powers.
Melville, a member of the Carib tribe and himself a former miner who worked land dredges, believes the restrictions make sense. He says the nearby Barima River is so polluted it can no longer be safely used for domestic purposes, and blames corrupt officials in the city and urban centres for not properly regulating the brigade of local and Brazilian miners working in the jungle.
Paulina Williams, a mother of three from the western Upper Mazaruni Village of Kako, admits that her village has allowed a small number of locals and Brazilians to work claims in the Kako and Mazaruni rivers, but adds that the miners are presenting problems to villagers of the Akawaio Tribe, one of nine in the country.
Williams claimed the police are also shaking down Brazilians who don't have work permits and allowing them to work without the permission of the village council.
The Gold and Diamond Miners Association stepped in to organise an emergency meeting of members, passed a motion of no confidence in Persaud, and raised more than 50,000 dollars to bring court challenges to the move. It also threatened street protests if no compromise was reached.
Veteran miners said it was time the industry, by far the number one foreign exchange earner and among the largest single employers, flexed its muscles.
In the end, the ministry said the ban would only last for a month, to allow for a thorough review of the situation as pollution and turbidity levels had reached alarming proportions in some rivers, tributaries and creeks.
The miners' association does not deny these problems, but argues that individual miners who transgress should be suspended or have their licenses revoked rather than penalising the entire industry for the behaviour of a few.
"That is our argument as the mining act is clear on how an errant miner should be punished. We see no reason for all applications to be turned away. Just deal with those who create problems," said association administrator Colin Sparman.