“The days of the free-for-all are over and we need to be more environmentally conscious if we are to hand this country over to our children and grandchildren in the condition that we found it when we took it over from our parents and grandparents,” he said.
He did not, however, say how government intends to tackle corruption in the natural resources sector where lowly paid government officers, who enforce the law and regulations, are susceptible to bribes.
Located about 200 kilometers from the coast, the AGM cost about US$250 million and is expected to produce about 10,000 to 15,000 ounces of gold per month during the 35-year life of the mine. Overall, about US$411 million in investment capital was spent from exploration 19 years ago to the construction of the mine plant and other equipment.
The Guyanese leader said government would ensure that there is “mandatory” land reclamation and reforestation by miners who share a responsibility with authorities to ensure there are sound environmental practices.
In apparent reference to the huge swampy scars inland and on the bank of the Cuyuni River- a situation that is replicated in several other mining areas across the country- the President lamented the negative impact that mining has been having on the health and safety of communities. “Uncontrolled and indiscriminate mining are the leading causes of environmental degradation; sometimes large areas are cleared for mining but after the mining ceases you just have holes in the ground to show for posterity,” he said.
The President noted that many of those holes are breeding grounds for mosquitoes while major natural sources of water by residents are polluted.
“River banks are destroyed by reckless, destructive mining practices; many rivers once looking like tea are now looking like chocolate. The waterways are silted, polluted; high levels of turbidity owing to the discharge of dangerous mining effluent,” he said.
On the issue of corruption, he announced that “systems and controls” would be introduced at the Guyana Geology and Mines Commission (GGMC) and the Guyana Gold Board to help stamp out white collar crime with a view to prosecuting corrupt officials. “Our government is committed to the task of ensuring that no one pays bribes for any services in this sector and no public official will escape the long arm of the law; we need honest mines officers, not bribe-able mines officers who will end the practices of graft,” he said.
While the gold industry is grappling with the falling price of gold, Granger said some of the problems are as a result of industry players smuggle the precious metal to cheat the government of much needed revenue. “Gold mining in Guyana does indeed face severe challenges but these challenges are sometimes made by persons in the industry themselves- persons who try to deprive the state of royalties out of country and to evade the law,” he said. Granger referred to the smuggling of 476 pounds of gold valued at more than US$11 million to Curacao in November 2012 and the smuggling of 30 pounds of gold at Moleson Creek, Corentyne in 2008.
Along with the holding of Local Government Elections early next year, the President hopes that gold mining could help build infrastructure and deliver high quality health care and education to hinterland communities.
AGM Senior Vice President and Country Manager, Violet Baptiste praised former Prime Minister Samuel Hinds and former GGMC Commissioner, Robeson Benn for their commitment to the project while in government. “These gentlemen, throughout our sojourn here in Guyana have always had their doors open to us and were always there to help us even amidst our most challenging time,” she said of the two men who were among the special invitees.
Company officials boasted that the project was built from exploration to mine construction without any loss of life and that there is a very safe process to ensure that toxic materials are destroyed before they enter the environment.