Mining and security Editorial
Stabroek News
July 4, 2003

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For the past fifteen months, when people spoke about crime it was crime on the lower East Coast they had in mind. Similarly, the revamping of the police force in terms of equipment and weaponry came in response to the security crisis which had its epicentre at Buxton. In the meantime, however, as was clear from a report in our June 30 edition, crime is rampant in the mining areas of the interior, and the sector has lost a considerable amount of investment as a consequence.

We reported Head of the Guyana Geology and Mines Commission (GGMC) Robeson Benn as estimating losses as being about US$2M to US$3M, although he expressed optimism that the worst had passed. “A critical level,” he said, “was [about] nine months ago when we started to get reports of people being heavily armed...” While he thought that the high point had been passed, he nevertheless conceded that “the type of crime [armed banditry] and the level of it have perhaps tripled. It has caused some of the people who have invested to consider whether they should close down those investments and leave the country.”

He also acknowledged that the incidence of armed robbery was probably higher than what was being reported, and he identified the worst affected locations as being the mining camps in the North West District, and the areas around Mahdia and Kurupung. There were also problems, he said, at Eping and Perenong. In addition to the matter of investors being scared away, he told us, employees of the mining operators were also being scared off.

Where the response of the miners is concerned, we reported that earlier this year, a delegation comprising both local and foreign workers in the industry had asked Prime Minister Sam Hinds for greater security in mining zones, and a second meeting had been held after the NARIL mining camp was raided by armed bandits.

Inevitably of course, there has been an increase in the number of applications for firearms over the last eight or nine months. Mr Benn told this newspaper that insofar as such requests were for the security of mining personnel and their investments, the GGMC was supporting them. He also said that the Commission had been conducting “regularisation exercises” with the police force, the Customs Anti-Narcotics Unit, the Customs and Trade Administration and the immigration department.

While there may have been a significant increase in the incidence of crime in the interior recently, it has to be said that this is a problem which has been growing for some time. In a low-wage economy such as this, the products of the mining industry constitute a lure for those in search of easy money. The problem is complicated by the fact that it has been alleged that there are some in the industry who have connections with narcotics trafficking and/or money laundering - something which on its own account brings violence in its train. There is too the matter of the corruption which is endemic among officialdom in the hinterland, and which has never been addressed by any government in a systematic way.

Finally, there is the simple point that even if the security personnel on the ground were absolutely committed to ensuring the observance of the law, there are probably insufficient of them to discharge that function effectively. The police force in particular, has been seriously undermanned for a long time, and such manpower as is available, will be concentrated in those areas where the population is densest - namely, on the coast.

As has been noted before in these columns, this Government is not oriented towards the hinterland, and after nearly eleven years in office it still has not got around to drafting an interior policy which would, among several other things, encompass all aspects of security along our borders as well as in our mining areas. While the administration’s attention is riveted to what happens along the littoral, lawlessness reigns in some parts of the interior.

The answer to that lawlessness is surely not the issuing of firearm licences wholesale to miners though one innovation in recent talks between the miners and the government has been the conferral of rural constable status on employees of mining camps to help improve security. The situation requires continuous engagements between the two sides and a willingness by the government to conduct regular sweeps of the mining regions, rotate security personnel and position police outposts more efficiently as urged by miners.