DESPITE several warnings, and even police intervention, illegal mining continues along the protected areas of the Iwokrama Forest. In a press release on Friday night, the Iwokrama International Centre said that the mining activities which were detected in 2019 have escalated during 2020, owing to the COVID -19 pandemic, which resulted in a reduction of monitoring.
“As such, small dug pits escalated to felling of trees and use of small dredges to extract the gold hence creating huge gaps,” the statement highlighted.
It further noted that over the past week, the Centre’s staff, “together with teams from the Corps of Wardens under the Ministry of Natural Resources, Guyana Geology and Mines, Guyana Forestry Commission and Guyana Police Force carried out a monitoring and enforcement exercise in the Iwokrama Forest and buffer zone area, along the Siparuni River.”
This resulted in the detection of continued breaches occurring within or near the one Kilometer buffer zone area, on the other side of the Siparuni River, “even though they were told repeatedly to remove from this zone by the regulatory agencies previously.”
The statement said that the camps were once more dismantled and removed. It reminded that in September 2019, a miner was arrested for illegally mining in the Iwokrama forest and that the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) had advised that the individual be charged and brought before the court under the Iwokrama Act.
Section two of the clause titled “Control of the Programme Site” of the Iwokrama Act states: “Subject to section 6 (1), and notwithstanding anything in any other written law –(a) no mining, forestry or other resources utilisation activity shall be carried out on the Programme Site by any person other than the Centre, except with the prior written permission of the Centre; and (b) no lease of land or permission to use land in the Programme Site shall be issued by any person other than the Centre, and all activities on the Programme Site shall be in accordance with regulations prescribed therefor under this Act.”
Section three of the Act prescribes penalties, specifically indicating that “Any person who contravenes the provisions of subsection (2) shall be liable on summary conviction to a fine of one hundred thousand dollars or to imprisonment for a period of one year, and where the offence is of a continuing nature, to a further fine not exceeding twenty-five thousand dollars for each day during which the offence continues after conviction.”
Iwokrama’s authorities said that its staff, along with the Government of Guyana, has expended “enough time and resources on education and awareness with regard to these illegal activities, and, as such, Iwokrama Management is continuing its zero-tolerance approach to these activities, especially gold mining and other illegal activities.”
The centre believes that the only way to target the illegal mining activities is to maintain the five-agency task force, which continues to detect and dismantle illegal operations.
“Therefore, in keeping with the mandate of Iwokrama, the Centre’s monitoring team, together with the regulatory institutions in Guyana, will increase monitoring and targetted enforcement activities within the environs of the Iwokrama Forest.”
Further, the press release indicated that the centre will also be rigidly enforcing the prescribed penalties under the Iwokrama Act and other laws of Guyana to any person(s) found illegally operating in the Iwokrama Forest. Iwokrama also plans to continue offering rewards for any information leading to the arrest and successful prosecution of persons(s) involved in illegal activities in the Iwokrama Forest. “The Centre will also be following up on information it received on specific mining operators within the Iwokrama Forest. Any convictions will be fully publicized,” the statement noted.
Persons with information on the illegal activities are advised to reach out only to Dr Raquel Thomas, the Centre’s Director of Resource Management – firstname.lastname@example.org.