The Guyana Gold and Diamond Miners Association (GGDMA) on Wednesday lodged a formal letter of protest with the UNDP in relation to the extension of Amerindian lands and announced that it is exploring its legal options to address the issue. The development came even as Demerara Waves Online News learnt that the Guyana Geology and Mines Commission (GGMC) has also voiced concerns about the extensions.
Representatives from the government, the GGDMA and the UNDP were meeting at the agency’s office on Brickdam Wednesday morning to review a GUY$360M project document which will cover land demarcation, titling and extensions. However, the GGDMA officials walked out shortly after airing their concerns.
Speaking to reporters after exiting the meeting GGDMA President Patrick Harding summed up the Association’s concerns while noting that they were not against Amerindians receiving titled lands. “But now we’re seeing extensions to the titled lands are being requested by Amerindian villages and we’re concerned about these extensions because most of these extensions seem to be on land that miners and other stakeholders, forestry people, agriculture people, have title to, people have invested in these lands and these lands have economic value,” Harding stated. He added that they have raised their concern with the relevant government agencies but with no success. “We’ve had discussions with these agencies before on this matter and for some reason or the other none of the agencies wants to touch this issue so I think our only redress is to maybe to go to the courts and have it resolved there,” the GGDMA President stated.
He later explained to DemWaves that they are in talks with their attorneys on the legal way forward. Harding’s contention was borne out in a letter seen by DemWaves from GGMC Commissioner Karen Livan to Amerindian Affairs Minister Pauline Sukhai in which the former objected to “absolute title” being granted for several extensions being considered. “The Guyana Geology and Mines (GGMC) is aware of the pending grant of absolute title for areas that have been requested as Amerindian extension areas for titling. The commission would like to point out in the attached list, the extent to which these areas are overlapping with existing mineral properties. The list includes the number and type of properties within the areas of request. For cases where significant overlap occurs with existing mineral properties, the commission hereby objects to the granting of absolute title for the said areas on the basis that these infringe on existing mineral tenure,” the brief letter dated August 8, 2012 read.
The GGMC objected to issuance of titles for Eclipse Falls which the extension would overlap by 94 percent, Kambaru, 35 percent; Batavia, 48 percent; Kangaroima, 71 percent; and Tassarene, 63 percent. GGDMA executive member Dabria Marcus, who also spoke to the media on Wednesday, was more forthcoming about the Association’s fear. “There is some concern about whether this is not a big international game because one must realise that the Amerindian Act is so written that it does not prevent economic activity, it only prevents the forward movement of small and medium scale economic activities. We can very much [see] three years down the line that this was all about a larger international economic interest in our resources,” he said.
The GGDMA’s sentiments were captured in the letter to the UNDP. “Our objection is to the proposed extension, which would result in approximately 35% of Guyana being made available, exclusively, to a people who represent less than 10% of Guyana’s population. Our objection is rooted in the fact that the Government of Guyana is on a concerted campaign to reduce the small and medium scale mining sector. The small and medium scale operations will be the most affected by the proposed extensions,” it stated.
Some 14 percent of Guyana’s territory is currently estimated to be titled Amerindian lands. Titled communities can refuse to have small and medium scale mining on their lands with no intervention possible while in the case of the large operations the sector minister could approve it as being in the public’s interest. According to the Association, it finds the extension process “especially troubling” since the mining industry has been expanding at the fastest rate ever and the demand for mining properties is now the highest ever.
According to the GGGDMA, it would have expected the government to be issuing more mining lands to ensure Guyanese capitalise on the high prices for gold instead of looking to reduce that which is available for small and medium scale mining. The mining association called on the government to urgently address what it said was the “inequity in land allocation” and to involve all stakeholders, including the forestry and agricultural sector, in meaningful consultation on the issue of land allocation.
President Donald Ramotar announced at a national meeting of Amerindian leaders last week that they expected to sign the land titling project document with the UNDP next month and that there were 41 applications for land extensions pending. The UNDP is facilitating the flow of some $360M of the monies realised from Guyana’s eco-pact with Norway from which this country is set to receive US$250M over five years as payment for biodiversity services.