Illegal miners for aggregate can face a hefty fine of nearly $1 million as well as jail for up to seven years.
Officials of the Ministry of Energy and Energy Industries (MEEI) issued this warning on the heels of two illegal mining operations discovered in the Vega de Oropouche area in East Trinidad on Wednesday.
No arrests were made in connection to the illegal quarries in the Five Acres area, but Energy officials said that any person who explores for mines, processes, imports or exports any mineral without a license issued by the MEEI, upon first conviction would face a fine of $500,000 and imprisonment for five years. A subsequent conviction would attract a fine of $700,000 and imprisonment for seven years.
People who knowingly purchase any aggregate from unlicensed mining operators or trade in such mineral can also be arrested and face a $500,000 fine and five years imprisonment.
“Eliminating illegal quarrying is a top priority for the ministry and in this regard persons who commit the key offences are liable, upon conviction to the hefty fines and jail time as amended pursuant to the Minerals Act, Chapter 61:03 and the State Lands Act, Chapter 57:01."
Under the State Lands Act, where the material is dug and removed, a first conviction can face a $300,000 fine and three years imprisonment. For subsequent convictions, the penalty would be increased to $500,000 and five years imprisonment.
Where material other than asphalt is extracted, upon first conviction persons can face a $120,000 fine and one-year imprisonment. Subsequent convictions $300,000 fine and three years imprisonment.
On Wednesday, shortly after 11 am, the acting Commissioner of State Lands Emeris Garraway-Howell, a team from the Ministry of Agriculture, Lands and Fisheries accompanied by police officers swooped down on the two illegal sites at Vega de Oropouche.
The first illegal site was reported to have been started about two months ago, while the other site at Five Acres was said to have been in operation for years with activity taking place mainly at nights under “bright spotlights.”
Garraway-Howell sent a stern warning to illegal miners, "Stop what you are doing. I am on the job now. You can face hefty fines and imprisonment. We are going to prevent and stop this type of activity."
"This is corruption at its heights...this is, in fact, stealing from the coffers of T&T," she added.
Five excavators and other equipment found on both sites remain under guard by police officers and members of the T&T Defence Force.
A ministry official, who wished not to be identified said that they were waiting on assistance from the Ministry of Works and Transport to have the equipment removed to the TTDF’s Camp Cumuto where it would be impounded.
However, according to a source, the equipment and tools can only be impounded when people concerned are arrested.
Ministry officials insist that is not the case. "We have mapped, GPS mapping of State Lands and once a location is deemed illegally occupied, in this case, mining, once we move in we can seize and impound all equipment and machinery and wait on whoever to come forward and claim it. but in most cases, these people who engage in illegal mining prefer to count their losses rather than to face hefty fines and jail time."
The Ministry is appealing to anyone with information on illegal quarrying sites to contact the Commissioner of State Lands office at 625-0427 or (868) 627-9201/4; the MEEI at 225- 4EEI (4334); 482-GARY; 800 TIPS; 999; 555 or the nearest police station.