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Muri Brasil’s gone but natural resources management still alive- Harmon

Opposition legislator, Joseph Harmon says that while Muri Brasil Ventures has aborted plans to search for rare earth minerals in the New River Triangle, management of the country’s natural resources is still a hot button issue.

Chairman of the parliamentary sectoral committee on natural resources, Dr. Rupert Roopnaraine, however, believes that the issue itself of granting Permission for Geological and Geophysical Survey (PGGS) to Muri might now be a dead one because the company has pulled out. “My own feel is that the Muri project, the issue has been settled….After they have decided to abandon the survey, I don’t know what there is to pursue,” he told Demerara Waves Online News (www.demwaves.com).

The issue had taken centre stage for several weeks after Natural Resources Minister, Robert Persaud had not volunteered information to the sectoral committee about the PGGS. Hours after the committee hearing, copies of the permission bearing Persaud’s signature were delivered anonymously to several media houses. Put on the defensive, the minister denied lying to the committee but said he had specifically answered only questions that Harmon had posed to him. Persaud further recalled that granting of the PGGS was no secret because it had been gazetted quite a while ago.

While the Natural Resources Minister had publicly challenged critics to debate the merits of the PGGS, government’s first sign that it was backing away was its refusal to grant Muri Brasil permission to build an airstrip in the New River Triangle to assist in conducting the PGGS. The administration later suggested that it would adhere to the decades-old policy that there should be no mining in the area being claimed by neighbouring Suriname while at the same time maintaining that the “sovereign territory” should be opened up to any activity. The PGGS had guaranteed the granting of 18 prospecting licences over an area of 216,000 acres.

Roopnaraine said he would have to consult with other members of the sectoral committee before taking a firm decision on the next step.

Already, Harmon said Muri’s scrapping of plans does not kill the issue and wider concerns about how the country’s mining and forestry resources are being managed.

“It isn’t a dead one because we were not talking about one issue as it relates to a company but talking to a minister who was giving an account of his stewardship of the ministry and that was only one issue that came up,” said Harmon a front-bencher for the opposition coalition A Partnership for National Unity (APNU).

Harmon suggested that Persaud should still be held accountable to the sectoral committee for failing to disclose the granting of the PGGS. “The fact that the company said ‘alright we are going to pull out’ does not bring the matter to an end,” added Harmon.

For his part, Chairman of the natural resources sectoral committee Dr. Roopnaraine recalled that while the Muri PGGS had been still a “living project”, plans were in train for the sectoral committee to further address the matter with the minister and officials of the GGMC. “There may be still questions to be answered. I will consult with the other members of the committee to see whether still think it’s important that we meet,” he said.

Roopnaraine noted that Commissioner of the Geology and Mines Commission (GGMC), Rickford Vieria had been abroad and “oil man” Deputy Commissioner, Newell Dennison was present but not considered knowledgeable about mining issues.

Both Harmon and Roopnaraine believed that government’s decision not to grant approval for the construction of the airstrip was a backdoor approach to withdrawing the PGGS.

Muri Brasil Ventures Inc; for its part, cited its December 30,2013 decision to abandon plans to conduct the PGGS on the public controversy surrounding the transparency of the transaction. “Although the process was legal and transparent, this decision is due to the misinformation, prejudice and hostility to this proposed survey by persons and agencies which are fostering an adverse investment climate in Guyana,” the company said in a statement.