To prevent the Government from taking away mining areas they believe are theirs, Milton Brandford and Ayudhia Narain, two small-scale miners, have filed a lawsuit in the High Court.
Natural Resources Minister Vickram Bharrat and the Guyana Geology and Mines Commission (GGMC) are listed as the respondents in the action before Chief Justice Roxane George.
Brandford and Narain, represented by Attorneys-at-Law Siand Dhurjon and Damien Da Silva, stated in their 80-page Fixed Date Application (FDA) that they are the owners and holders of 32 gold claims in 14 Miles Issano, Mazaruni Mining District, Karouni.
In it, they are seeking orders to quash a ministerial order (#53 of 2023) made by Minister Bharrat dated August 8, 2023, with retroactive effect from March 1, 2022, ordering the shutdown of all mineral prospecting and mining in areas belonging to 32 gold claims and other areas.
They also seek to be declared as the lawful owners of these gold claims which were nullified by the Minister’s order and certain actions of the GGMC. Their lawsuit seeks “Order of Mandamus” to compel the GGMC and the Minister to take all steps necessary to see to the favourable processing of their applications before the GGMC for their 32 gold claims licences.
Section 2 of the Mining Act states that a claim is “any claim located pursuant to a prospecting permit, whether a claim licence has been issued or not.” Therefore, even though they were never awarded claim licences, they are still in possession of the claims, the pair have submitted.
The miners stated that at all material times, they possessed and used a valid prospecting permit to prospect the lands. They said this allowed them to work the ground located thereunder from the date of the location until their application for a claim licence can be published and such licence either issued or refused.
Furthermore, all gold retrieved from the claims after their location before the grant of a licence is to be dealt with as though they were obtained after a licence was granted according to regulation 19 of the Mining Regulations, the businessmen stated.
According to the duo, they took steps to locate the claims in April 2023 and have made considerable investments to locate and develop them. Although applications for the 32 licences were properly made since June 2023, to date, the applications for the licences have neither been granted nor denied, they complained.
Instead, they said the GGMC issued an order to remove them from one of the claim areas and even went as far as to break down their camps. They said, too, that GGMC thought that the lands were held by Troy Resources Guyana Inc.
However, according to the lawsuit, the lands were abandoned in 2016 by another company, Kaburi Development Co, and were therefore available for the taking, according to law.
The duo said that continued efforts by them to appeal to the GGMC and the Minister were in vain and they eventually learned that the Minister issued an order which was published in the Gazette on August 8 in respect of the 32 claim areas and a wider area.
In that order, they said the Minister “ordered the shutdown of all prospecting and mining for all minerals within the area provided that such operations shall only be carried on by Government or Government-related entities.”
According to the FDA, this order was backdated and deemed to come into effect on March 1, 2022, in a deliberate bid to disenfranchise them of the claims they allege.
Brandford and Narain’s lawyers contended that the Minister’s order was bad because of its purported retroactivity as well as on account of its obstruction of their clients’ vested rights to their claims. The lawyers have asserted that the Minister’s order was ultra vires, unreasonable, irrational, unfair, abuse of power, whimsical, capricious, contrary to natural justice, arbitrary, disproportionate, in breach of the Minister’s statutory duty, against the Minister’s own policy and without any legal foundation or authority whatsoever.
The miners have made clear in their joint affidavit that the process of verification by the GGMC was successfully completed and that GGMC’s next step was to be the gazetting of their claims allowing for a period for public objections but this never came to fruition.
The businessmen said they later learned from a whistleblower that shortly after the Minister’s order, the Minister and the GGMC held a secret lottery to give away portions of their claim lands to certain individuals in breach of the Minister’s own shutdown order.
In their court documents, they presented a leaked map of ‘phase 1’ of the lottery that was conducted. The map, they added, was provided by an anonymous whistleblower.
They said that the Minister, at his end-of-year press conference held on November 15, admitted that “As a Government, we’ve identified an area within the Karouni area, the former Troy Resources property, and we are allocating claims to Guyanese small miners.”
“To date we have awarded over 50 claims to over 50 local miners. Right. And this process is being done by way of a lottery. So, it’s a fair process where small miners are given an opportunity to put their hands in a box and pull a claim. Many of them have already moved into the area and started to mobilise,” they quoted Minister Bharrat as saying.
The miners stated in their lawsuit that “It is clear that the Minister has breached his own purported order numbered 53 of 2023. He took steps to give out claims in respect of the area’s shutdown from mining by a lottery to over 50 private individuals and not the Government or by a public corporation or by a corporate body in which controlling interest vests in the State or in any agency on behalf of the State as is required by his purported order.”
Narain and Brandford lamented that to date, in spite of their legal correspondence to the Commissioner of GGMC and the Minister outlining their legitimate expectations and threatening legal action, neither the Commissioner nor the Minister has responded.
Instead, they said the GGMC Commissioner made a public press release addressing the matter and trivialising their rights to the claims sought.
“Several offers by the Minister to the miners to accept other areas of land as compensation and to settle the miners’ grievance were refused by the miners because of their tremendous work and expenditure on the 32 claims,” the lawyers have advanced.
The Chief Justice is scheduled to hear shortly their request for an injunction prohibiting the GGMC from dismantling or interfering in any way with the operations of their 32 claim areas, as well as prohibiting the Minister and GGMC from granting any claim licences to any other entities with regard to the areas captured within the aforementioned claims.