GGMC challenges/successes during COVID-19 pandemic: Safety of workers a top priority during mining activities – Commission

− says it’s working to be more environmentally sensitive, technologically advanced

As the Government continues its efforts towards achieving herd immunity in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic, the Guyana Geology and Mines Commission (GGMC) has re-evaluated its operations, particularly, the way it communicates its goals, challenges, and achievements with the public.
As such, the Commission thought it was prudent to highlight its ongoing work performance for the year 2020/2021 despite the COVID-19 pandemic.
In a release to the media, the GGMC stated that notwithstanding some levels of staff rotation, the Mines Services Division was able to maintain its presence in the various mining districts with heightened education and awareness campaigns on safety and mining practices.

The GGMC building on Brickdam

“There was also a review of Standard Operating Procedures to improve standardization and equivalence of response across the sector.  There has also been the adoption of reporting systems using IT solutions, to improve supervision, foster accountability, and strategically deploy resources.”
The missive further stated that in an effort to enhance services to miners and other stakeholders, the Geo-Services Division had counted heavily on completing the Geological and Geochemical Mapping of Guyana.  “Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic did not allow fieldwork for these regional projects but the opportunity to catch up both with interim reports and final reports due for projects from 2016 was undertaken.”

A mining operation

Nevertheless, Core Shed Repository at Yarrowkabra and the Scanning Project at Headquarters to digitise the copious records of the Commission and make them accessible have progressed well.
Furthermore, there was sufficient time and circumstance to monitor Prospecting Licences to deter raiding as this continued to be a problem.
“However, on a positive note, the promotion of Guyana’s exploration potential did occur at the Prospectors Developers Association of Canada event during March 2020 at which GGMC was represented.”
However, the Government remains vigilant of the effects of mining on the environment and as such, the GGMC’s Environmental Division remained focused on the broader issues of mercury reduction; land reclamation, and water quality monitoring at the watershed scale.
In accordance with the Minamata Convention, the GGMC has been collaborating with other national stakeholders on issues such as National Action Plan for Mercury Reduction; Mercury Waste Thresholds; and Mercury Releases.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Guyana National Bureau of Standards (GNBS) are involved in this process.
“Further, as it relates to Occupational Safety and Health, GGMC heightened its education and awareness programmes through the use of social media to spread material on mining safety. This initiative was undertaken in collaboration with the Mining School,” the Commission stated in its release.
As such, the GGMC intends to be relentless in its efforts to ensure the safety of workers is a top priority during mining activities.
In an effort to satisfy the increasing demands for mining properties, the Commission’s Land Management Division had encountered some difficulties as it relates to the Mineral Property Management System (MPMS), an e-Services platform for the application of medium-scale and large-scale tenure, which was delayed after encountering programming difficulties.
“The MPMS seeks to remove the interaction with GGMC personnel in this process and places it in the domain of the customer, providing efficiency, transparency, and avoidance of conflicts.  However, the nature of the approach has been modified to improve efficiency.  Furthermore, the Land Management Division continued to work on the preparation of the files for the MPMS as well as the current processes for applicants.  With a backlog due to COVID-19, some special arrangements have been employed to address the issue.  There were systems also being worked on by which applicants could have basic inquiries addressed such as rental and penalty payments and the satisfactory resolution of tenure conflicts.  The Division also maintained its multiple tasks in tough circumstances.”

Oil and gas
As it relates to oil and gas, the Petroleum Division remained with the GGMC for yet another year and collaborated extensively with the Department of Energy.  The Division was closely involved with the Cost Recovery Audit of Esso Exploration and Production Guyana Ltd; the review of the Liza II and Payara Development Plan and other such significant issues.  The Division was also able to attend the daily activities of all the operations offshore.  It has been a formidable and challenging year for the Petroleum Division but it managed to be effective despite some setbacks.
To counter some of the challenges posed by COVID-19, the GGMC’s Information and Communication Technology Division has been the most visible in 2020/2021 when compared to previous years.  All the Divisions of the Commission reached out to ICT during this period in order to have viable solutions to aid their work process.  Typically, these interventions were as simple as creating linkable databases so that access to data and updating of information was better managed for reporting and analysis, for example within Mines Division.
There was already mention of the e-Services in aid of COVID-19 measures such as online public help desk; the posting of a searchable list of published claims; introduction of self-service kiosks in Mines Division and at Land Management Division; the availability of all applicable forms online and third-party payment options such as MMG. These services amongst others were set up to provide a better customer experience with GGMC.  The ICT Division continues to work across the spectrum to enhance the Commission’s work.

Monitoring of roadworks
Importantly, the Commission’s Special Projects Unit received additional assets and personnel to monitor road works being financed by GGMC in the various mining districts.  This was addressed when two (2) civil engineers were added to the Unit and vehicles were specifically assigned.  Hinterland roads in 2020 were to the tune of approximately $1.8 billion.
While it was ascertained that due to COVID and other challenges, many of the projects were behind schedule, the SPU managed to have an organised recommitment to the projects by the contractors.  The results have been positive.  The general experience on the roads being maintained by the GGMC is a satisfactory one and this needs to remain the case if not be improved on. However, the recent intense above-normal rainfall has deteriorated roads and other critical infrastructure, which is being assessed for necessary works. The SPU is also employing some ICT solutions to manage the performance of contractors and to assist in their own reporting.
Most notably, in an effort to promote transparency and accountability, the Legal Division has taken the lead in the pursuit of AML/CFT as the Commission is the supervisory authority for the same in the Mining Sector.  In that regard, the Legal Division has been working to conclude a Risk-Based Compliance Programme for the Commission.
In keeping with Natural Resources Minister Vickram Bharrat’s mandate to transform the agency, GGMC will be building on the foregoing successes for 2021 with the review and modernisation of its existing legislation along with other efforts to ensure the Commission is more environmentally sensitive, and technologically advanced with experienced leadership to deliver its mandate to all stakeholders.