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…says situation deteriorated during Covid restriction
Iwokrama has been faced with ongoing illegal gold mining incursions at its reservation since April 2019, but the situation has gotten measurably worst in 2020 during the COVID restriction period, the conservation body said in a statement.
This witnessed a reduction in monitoring capacity, as such small dug pits escalated to felling of trees and use of small dredges to extract the gold hence creating huge gaps. “Over the past week, the Centre’s staff together with teams from the Corps of Wardens under the Ministry of Natural Resources, Guyana Geology and Mines, Guyana Forestry Commission and Guyana Police Force carried out a monitoring and enforcement exercise in the Iwokrama Forest and buffer zone area, along the Siparuni River. Yet again, several camps and a shop continued to be in breach of the law, being located within or near the one Kilometer buffer zone area, on the other side of the Siparuni River, even though they were told repeatedly to remove from this zone by the regulatory agencies previously. On this occasion, these camps were removed with some assistance,” the organisation statement read.
Iwokrama said in September 2019, a miner, as arrested for illegally mining in the Iwokrama forest and the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) had indicated that this individual should be charged and brought before the court under the Iwokrama Act.
In October 2020, in a surprise operation, the inter-agency team team found itself targeted by gun fire from miners who quickly scampered away into the forest. One arrest was made and, the son of a prominent businessman in the North Rupununi area is now before the Court and this case is ongoing. The Centre would like to once again remind the public and other stakeholders that these activities are not allowed in the Iwokrama Forest, unless the Centre gives express written permission for any of these activities to be undertaken.
Specifically, section 2 of the clause titled “Control of the Programme Site” of the Iwokrama Act states: Subject to section 6(1), and notwithstanding anything in any other written law –
1. no mining, forestry or other resources utilisation activity shall be carried out on the Programme Site by any person other than the Centre, except with the prior written permission of the Centre; and
2. no lease of land or permission to use land in the Programme Site shall be issued by any person other than the Centre, and all activities on the Programme Site shall be in accordance with regulations prescribed therefor under this Act.
Section 3 goes on to prescribe the penalties:
“Any person who contravenes the provisions of subsection (2) shall be liable on summary conviction to a fine of one hundred thousand dollars or to imprisonment for a period of one year, and where the offence is of a continuing nature, to a further fine not exceeding twenty-five thousand dollars for each day during which the offence continues after conviction”.
Iwokrama and the Government of Guyana has expended enough time and resources on education and awareness with regard to these illegal activities, as such, Iwokrama Management is continuing its zero-tolerance approach to these activities, especially gold mining and other illegal activities.
Iwokrama acknowledges that collaboration (in this case, five agencies) is the only way to target such illegal activities and are grateful for the continued support from the Ministry of Natural Resources and the Guyana Police Force. The Deputy Permanent Secretary of the said Ministry along with Deputy Commissioner of the Guyana Forestry Commission were present on this last exercise and got a first-hand look at the damage caused within the Iwokrama Forest and also the continued unlawful occupation within the buffer zone.
Therefore, in keeping with the mandate of Iwokrama, the Centre’s monitoring team together with the regulatory institutions in Guyana, will increase monitoring and targeted enforcement activities within the environs of the Iwokrama Forest. Further, the Centre will also be rigidly enforcing the prescribed penalties under the Iwokrama Act and other laws of Guyana to any person(s) found illegally operating in the Iwokrama Forest.
Meanwhile, the Centre will continue to offer a reward for any information leading to the arrest and successful prosecution of persons(s) involved in illegal activities in the Iwokrama Forest. The Centre will also be following up on information it received on specific mining operators within the Iwokrama Forest. Any convictions will be fully publicized.