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GGMC knocks back Commissioner over multi-million dollar food bill, alleged conflict of interest

GGMC Commissioner, Rickford Vieria

The Guyana Geology and Mines Commission (GGMC) Saturday night says its Chairman, Clinton Williams, was not alone in securing interests in mining permits because it was the embattled Commissioner, Rickford Vieria, who had granted approval.

According to the statement, Williams is not the only GGMC Board member who has mining interests and at any rate this is guided by the law.

The GGMC also defended the multi-million dollar food bill allegedly incurred by Williams, saying that approval had been granted for an expenses account for social events associated with the work of the Commission.

The Commission argued that this was to avoid a possible conflict of interest. ” Second, it would be placing the senior officers of the Commission in a difficult moral and conflict of interest position if such engagements were funded by current and potential stakeholders of the Commission,” said the regulatory agency in its statement issued through the Government Information Agency.

The Guyana Gold and Diamond Miners Association has since refused to participate in any future GGMC Board meetings as a mark of no-confidence in William

Following is the full text of statement.

The Guyana Geology and Mines Commission has noted with great concern there cent headlines of the Kaieteur News which gives a distorted, biased, incorrect and unprofessional account of internal and personal matters of the Commission and the Chairman. The headlines on the 3rd December, 2015 “GGMC’S Chairman racks up staggering $4M food, drinks bill in 18 months”and 4thDecember, 2015

“GGMC Chairman approves mining lands for friend, then takes control viairrevocable Power of Attorney showsthelackofresponsibleandprofessionaljournalismgiventhatnoeffortwasmadetoseekclarificationonthesematterspriortopublication. Such action by Kaieteur News exposes it to be used by others with hidden agendas and motives and opens the entity to legal action for the defamation of character.

Given the negative image that is being portrayed by these unsubstantiated media reports, the Commission is forced to respond to ensure that the public is aware of the truth of these matters and is willing to provide evidence of same. This course of action is deemed necessary given that stakeholders of the mining sector must be assured that the Commission is acting with integrity and transparency at all times, contrary to what is being portrayed in the said articles.

In order to respond to these articles, a brief summary of recent developments is most prudent. The Board commenced a process in 2014 to review the Management Systems of the Commission given the numerous complaint and allegations being made against critical departments. A draft report was provided by the consultants in February 2015, but given the change in Government the finalization of the report was placed on hold until the Board was reconvened. In September 2015, the Board was resuscitated and approval granted for the continuation of the process of the Management Systems Review.

During the time that the report from the consultants was being finalized, the Government initiated a Commission of Inquiry into the spate of deadly mining accidents. The findings of the Commission of Inquiry and the Management Systems Review both revealed that there were some critical issues that needed to be addressed given non-performance by specific functionaries along with serious dereliction of duties and undertaking of practices which deviated from the Mining Laws and Regulations.

Given the findings that were presented to the Board, the Board was forced to move and approve a motion of “No Confidence” against the culpable persons on the 23rd November, 2015. It is this action taken by the Board that has led to the current spate of articles that are in the media, which did not bother to verify the accuracy, legitimacy or totality of the information provided to it.

The Commissioner was on annual vacation for the month of November and was scheduled to return to duty on the 2nd December, 2015. However, given the action taken by the Board, he unofficially resumed duties on the 1st December, 2015, one day earlier, and it is alleged that he requested staff to provide the information that is currently in the media.

To specifically respond to the article “GGMC Chairman approves mininglands for friend, then takes control viairrevocable Power of Attorney”, the general public must be apprised of the following so as to not be misled by persons with devious intentions.

First, the Board of the Guyana Geology and Mines Commission, inclusive of the Chairman, are not part of the processing of applications for Mining Permits and does not approve Mining Permits as is being posited in the article. The law requires that after the relevant departments have processed the application for Mining Permits, the Commissioner signs and then submits to the Chairman to countersign to give legal effect to the document. The requirement of the Chairman’s signature is applicable for all mining properties and not limited to Mining Permits. That is the scope and entirety of which the Board and Chairman is involved (see process flow chart below as stated in GGMC’S Handbook – Land Management Division).

Second, the applications for the Mining Permits were made by Mr. Ivor English in his name in 2014, processed and approved by the relevant Departments and the Commissioner. The Power of Attorney for the lands was done in 2015 and as such even the notion of “undue influence” does not hold given the fact that the applications were not made by the Chairman. For the sake of argument one may say that the Chairman may have influenced the favourable processing of the applications but this argument would not hold since it would imply that any other application can be influenced and the third point below addresses this.

Third, the Commission processes applications for mining lands on a “first come, first serve” basis which negates the exercising of subjectivity. The date and time the payment of the application fees and first year rental is paid is used to determine the “first come, first serve” eligibility. Therefore, if someone else applied for the said mining lands prior to Mr. Ivor English, then it would have been granted to that applicant.

Fourth, the GGMC Act, which is the guiding document for the Board of Directors, does not preclude members of the Board from owning mining lands or having interest in mining. In fact the Act states that the persons appointed to the Board must have the expertise and capacity in the areas of the functions of the Commission; such functions which deals with mining. More importantly, the Act allows for Board Members to be owners of mining lands or to have such interest given that Section 6 (1) to 6 (4) of the Schedule deals with the issue of Conflict of Interest and how Board Members are expected to act if such situations arise.

Fifth, precedence was set since previous chairpersons of the Board of Directors held interest in mining properties.

Sixth, there are numerous members of the Board who currently have vested interests in mining and own mining properties.

As it regards the headline “GGMC’S Chairman racks up staggering $4M food, drinks bill in 18 months, in 2014, the Board of Directors had approved expense accounts for the Chairman, Commissioner and two (2) Deputy Commissioners. This was deemed necessary for two (2) reasons. First, the senior officers of the Commission often times were engaged in activities/engagements on behalf of the Commission and thus it was deemed prudent for the Commission to fund these engagements rather than the expenses being borne personally. These engagements were in the form of dinners and other social events and were for external and internal stakeholders of the sector, inclusive of management of the Commission and not necessarily for personal engagements.