By Alva Solomon
ENVIRONMENTAL damage done by sand and gravel contractors at Lethem has led to restructuring of the fees for mining either commodity at the border community. The new fee structure is reportedly aimed at regularising what was allegedly a “free for all” system which existed in the area.
This is according to Carlton Beckles, Chairman of the Interim Management committee (IMC) of the Ireng/ Sawariwaru Neighbourhood Democratic Council (NDC) in the Region Nine community.
Several contractors have recently expressed concern over the fees being increased from $2500 to $5500, but
Beckles told this newspaper yesterday that when he assumed office in July last year, along with other members of the IMC, “we found that a lot of things were not done in a right way”.
He said one such matter was the extraction of sand and gravel within the boundaries of Lethem. A system was initially implemented, he said, and contractors were asked to pay $500 and $1000 per load of sand or gravel, depending on the size of the truck. He said the contractors did not adhere to that system. In one instance, a contractor paid $10,000 to the NDC for removal of sand, with a promise to remove loads corresponding to the prices paid. However, that contractor removed in excess of 100 loads of sand, and it was later pointed out that the other companies were also removing sand and gravel from the sites at nights.
Sand is mined at both the Tabatinga area and from the bed of the Takutu River. According to Beckles, the contractors were depleting the amount of sand at these areas, while the non-payment of fees was the least of their concern. He said that the new IMC, which replaced the one installed under the last government, decided to take action by holding broad-based discussions with stakeholders, including the Guyana Geology and Mines Commission (GGMC) and the Guyana Lands and Surveys Commission (GL&SC), and was supported by businesses as well as the Rupununi Chamber of Commerce and Industry (RCCI).
He said that officials of those entities and officials of the IMC visited the areas where sand and gravel are mined, and also held discussions with the Regional Democratic Council (RDC) on the issue.
Last October, an agreement was put in place to implement a new fee structure, and this, Beckles noted, was discussed with the contractors.
He said there was initial agreement by the entities, but the contractors later objected to the $3000 loading fee as well as the presence of one company at the sites to load the sand and gravel.
“The problem was that everyone wanted to go and dig sand at their own free will,” he said.
Additionally, some persons used their machinery and damaged parts of the banks of the Takutu River while taking advantage of the current dry weather. Beckles noted that whenever the weather changes there might be resultant consequences. In addition, he said, the concrete structures at the sides of the roads were broken and removed to enable contractors easier access to remove sand from the Takutu River.
He said that Dalip Construction Company was contracted to work at the sites to load sand and gravel onto the contractors’ trucks. “We do not have our own machines and we can’t afford those now, so Dalip Construction is being paid by the NDC to work at the site,” he explained. He noted that Dalip Construction has a fairly good reputation and that the fees collected by the company are paid to the NDC.
Beckles noted that the loading fee was introduced to assist in regularising the process. He opined that the amount is a fair price, given the sums of monies charged by the contractors.
“The trucks charge as much as $30,000 per load of sand,” he said, disputing the $20,000 fee mentioned by several contractors who had spoken with this publication.
“It was a total free-for-all, and we decided to try to bring some order into the matter,” he said. He noted that among the measures to be implemented is the naming of days on which sand and stone will be removed by the contractors, as well as the stockpiling of the materials to avoid depletion. This is being considered to cater for the rainy season.
Beckles said that, at the moment, the NDC is indebted to several agencies, including the GGMC, which it owes some $300,000. These and other expenses are being considered under the new fare structure put in place at the mining grounds. He said position of the NDC will remain permanent, and that the business community and residents have supported the move.
The IMC chairman said persons have customarily been making payments to officials in order to obtain favours, and this has caught the attention of the new IMC. It may imply a practice which occurred under the previous IMC, he said. “In the NDC, you can make millions,” he added.
Several contractors told this newspaper recently that the doubling of the fees has been affecting their businesses. They claim that the move was made without discussion, and one contractor even alleged that Dalip Construction was not the ideal entity for the job, given its past performance undertaking works in the region.
Lethem is being prepared for township status, and the government has indicated its intention to support the development of the region in various areas, including agricultural and infrastructural. The Brazilians have also pledged their support towards the development of the area, which has benefited from the economic linkages made by the Takutu Bridge.