Task force to clamp down on illegal activities in extractive sector

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Director of Compliance at the Ministry of Natural Resources Derrick Lawrence

The Ministry of Natural Resources will soon establish a task force with policing powers to tackle illegal activities in the extractive sector.

The Ministry will introduce “a corps of wardens who will come with law enforcement authority and will not tolerate illegal activities within the sector,” Director of Compliance, Derrick Lawrence, at the Ministry of Natural Resources, told the Government Information Agency (GINA) in an interview.

Illegal activities in the extractive sector have a negative impact on the economy, Lawrence noted. While the Guyana Geology and Mines Commission (GGMC) is the regulatory body for most of the sector’s activities, it does not have law enforcement capabilities.

Acting Commissioner of the GGMC Newell Dennison
Acting Commissioner of the GGMC Newell Dennison

This group of wardens is expected to strengthen the inspectorate arm of the GGMC. Monitoring of Guyana’s six mining districts is a big challenge for the GGMC, Acting Commissioner, Newell Dennison told GINA.

“The challenges in monitoring that face us include boots on the ground, literally, having the work force and a suitable work force, people who are suitably trained and competent,” Dennison explained. The addition of the wardens is a welcome initiative that will address the monitoring challenge, Dennison stated.

Moreover, GGMC’s field officers do not have arresting powers when they come across non-mining related illegal activities, Dennison pointed out. “If there is an immediacy of a law enforcement response that is required, those wardens are able to treat with that so I see it as strength to fill a gap that exists right now,” Dennison said of the wardens.

The Ministry of Natural Resources has stated that it has zero tolerance for illegal activities in the extractive sector. “When we’re talking about illegal mining or unregistered miners, all of it needs to stop because it actually impacts the economy in a negative way.  If a person recognises that he or she could mine under the radar, then there is no need for declarations,” Lawrence emphasised.

Meanwhile, Dennison said that a concerted effort also needs to be made to address the economic factors that lead to illegal mining.  “We need to find alternatives that remove some of the economic drivers that lead people into mining on the one hand, and to create an atmosphere, where, if someone wants to get into mining, they’re properly prepared for it,” Dennison said.

While the Ministry has been addressing the need to find mining lands for small to medium scale miners, Dennison is encouraging unregistered miners to regularise their operations.

“Where we see people who are not documented, the officers advise how to become documented and where they should go. We have mining stations and there is the head office here too, that will allow you to buy privileges, that will allow you to get permission to operate and so on,” explained Dennison.

Socio-economic factors such as unemployment, coupled with the need for more available mining areas are among issues that often influence illegal and unsafe activity in the extractive sector, particularly undocumented and illegal mining, according to Dennison.