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Report says GGMC Commissioner approved illegal mining on river banks; he denies accusations, says board lacks expertise to grant approvals

Mining on a bank of the Cuyuni River.

Even as the Commissioner of the Guyana Geology and Mines Commission (GGMC), Rickford Vieria awaits a hearing that will determine his future with that regulatory agency, a report claims that he has breached the law by permitting the mining of river banks- a claim he has bluntly denied.

The report states that “the requests received and for which approvals were given, allowed the mining of the entire river bank abutting the land claim, as opposed to the provisioning of a point of entry to the land claim and the securing of the breach on the buffer zone after entry.”

But Vieria rejected that claim in the section of a report titled Management of Buffer Zones seen by Demerara Waves. “No permit was granted in buffer zones. You get permission to dig the buffer zones to access your property,” he said, Vieria explained that permission is granted to open the river bank and the applications are accompanied by a mine plan that is reviewed by the engineers at GGMC,” he told Demerara Waves Online News. The plan includes the restoration of the area.

The Report says mining along the river banks is strictly prohibited to prevent the altering of the course of the rivers and any GGMC officer who permits such an activity is “guilty of mass dereliction of duty.”

A report compiled for the GGMC states that no evidence was found that the Commissioner had submitted applications for mining in protected areas including buffer zones for approval in keeping with the law.  In this regard, the Commissioner said everything he signed was on behalf of the Commission as is Chief Executive Officer and more over the Board has no technocrats such as a Mining Engineer to determine the validity of the applications. “How they could look at something and say whether it is good or not? The Board is policy, it is not technical things,” he said. The lone technical person on the board is Geologist, Evans Persaud.

The Commissioner, who has been sent on leave by the Minister of Governance, said when applications are received, they are sent to Engineers to the Mines Division for processing and return to him and he would concur.

Field officers or persons who were likely to have been affected, according to the report, were notified and there appeared to have been no follow-up work to ensure that the miners complied with the rules.

The Report further comments on the vagueness of the applications without any specific reference to features of the particular area, and that no environmental approval was sought. “These approvals allowed for the unrestrained outpouring of sediment into the river system, which is stringently prevented by law.”

The  report states that of six applications for this year, the process ranged from one day to 22 days and the Manager of the Mines Division failed to state anything in relation to the conditions or permission except to concur or approve. One of the applications linked to river diversion at Aranka is associated with claims Far Eye 13 to Far Eye 17. That was received on August 11, 2015, seen by the Manager of the Mines Division on August 13, 2015 and sent to the Senior Mining Engineer the same day. The results were returned the same day to the Manager of the Mines Division and, according to the report, the Commissioner notified the applicant by letter that his application was processed and approved on that day too.

In another instance, the report alleges that the GGMC Commissioner notified an applicant that his application was processed and approved on July 20, 2015, seven days before the Manager of the Mines Division sent the documents to Vieria with a note that he (the Manager) had concurred. That  application was for mining of land claims from Mazaruni River- District 3.

Similarly, the report states that application to restart operation on land Claim R1 in Aranka, Cuyuni – District 4- was received on August 24, 2015 and processed and approved through all its stages up to August 31, 2015.

The Commissioner of the GGMC has already said in another section of the media that the Board has been targeting him because he had successfully blocked the disbursal of GYD$3 billion from that regulatory agency to the Ministry of Housing under the People’s Progressive Party Civic administration. That money should have been used to buy land from the Guyana Sugar Corporation and act as a bailout for that loss-making entity to help pay wages and salaries and other operational costs.

A Committee has recommended that two officers be transferred to the Guyana Mining School  because of their less than satisfactory performance in their current positions, and that the Commissioner required to show cause why he should not be fired or given an opportunity to resign and paid all outstanding monies due to him.

He is being cited for alleged dereliction of duty in the area of mines safety and supporting GGMC officers in the field especially when a mining pit had collapsed at Mowasi. Vieria is also being accused of bringing the GGMC into public disrepute, disassociating himself with board decisions and disregarding lawful instructions by the board.