Tug & Barge company sues Natural Resources Minister, GGMC over cancellation of quarry licence

A Tug and Barge company, on Tuesday, filed a lawsuit against the Minister of Natural Resources Vickram Bharrat and the Guyana Geology and Mines Commission (GGMC) over the Commission’s cancellation of its quarry licence.

According to the lawsuit filed by Attorney-at-law, Siand Dhurjon, on behalf of Benjamin’s Marine and Salvage Services (BMSS) Inc., GGMC’s Commissioner Newell Dennison, illegally cancelled its quarry license for over 1,418 acres of State land that was granted on June 19, 2017. The lawsuit explains that Dennison cancelled the license on April 17, 2021, without following the mandatory procedure under Section 52 of the Mining Act.

The lawsuit explained that the greatest proof of the Commissioner’s illegal actions is on display in the minutes of the GGMC’s board meeting of February 18, 2021, when a decision was made to hand BMSS’ quarrying rights to an unknown company called ‘York Investment Inc’.

According to Dhurjon, the law provides that the GGMC or its Commissioner cannot unilaterally cancel a quarry license, but rather the law requires that the license holder must first be notified of the reasons for an intended cancellation and be given 30 days to rectify any default or breaches it may be guilty of.

“After any attempts to make good on its breaches and any representations by the license holder, there must be a reconsideration by the GGMC and its Commissioner as to whether the license should be cancelled,” Dhurjon submitted. The lawyer said that the law requires that a license may not be cancelled for non-payment of royalties if those royalties have been paid off before the 30-day period.

BMSS explained that although it was in default of paying royalties for four years, on many occasions from April 2020 to March 2021 BMSS sought to pay its royalties.

The lawsuit explained that BBMS went as far as writing Dennison on March 25, 2021, and thereafter sent a cheque valued $ 1,191,120 to satisfy the arrears of outstanding rentals. However, the action noted that Dennison refused the cheque which amounts to a flagrant violation of the Mining Act.

Dhurjon deposes that if indeed the quarry license was properly cancelled by the Commissioner, the quarry rights to the state lands held under the license should have been “held in reserve for disposal by a process of bidding or lottery of which the general public shall be advised”. “Instead York Investment Inc was specially chosen for the grant of the quarry license,” the lawyer added.

 Dhurjon continued, “Minister VIckram Bharrat is also sued because under the law he is responsible for approving any cancellation of a license. Further, since February 2021, BMSS wrote to the Minister seeking his intervention in the issue, and the Minister did not respond or assist in any way.”

BMSS said it has expended over $30,000,000 in taking the necessary physical steps to complete works on the lands concerned in the quarry license. However, the company complained that it began to suffer a debilitating decline in income and business activity from mid-2018 to 2020 occasioned by the conjoint effects of a dismal business climate, political instability, and the COVID-19 pandemic.

Because of the above, BMSS added that it was unable to commence quarry operations speedily. The company said that it one of the largest tug and barge operators in Guyana, while York Investment Inc was only set up in October 2019, and has no known expertise or experience in the quarry business or any business.  It has one individual on its documents listed as both its director and incorporator.

The lawsuit claims that “the actions of GGMC, and the Minister to achieve the cancellation of the quarry license of BMSS and the intended grant to York of a license overlaying the same areas held by BMSS are disproportionate, in breach of their statutory duty, arbitrary, a nullity, of no legal effect, ultra vires, unreasonable, irrational, unfair, an abuse of power, unconstitutional, whimsical, capricious, contrary to legitimate expectation, against their own policy and without any legal foundation or authority.”

It was only mid-June, 2021 that another lawsuit was filed against GGMC and its Commissioner by Dhurjon for “illegally” giving out 16,500 acres of state lands for quarry operations to Hadi’s World- a company owned by well-known businessman Nazir ‘Shell’ Mohamed and his son.