The unwillingness of Chinese company Guyana Manganese Inc. (GMI) to repair a dam it damaged in 2021 is sparking great controversy in Guyana. Despite receiving clear instructions from Guyanese President Irfaan Ali to repair the dam in Matthews Ridge, Northwest District Region One, which damages are severely affecting the community, GMI has yet to comply, Guyanese daily Kaieteur News reported.
“The quality of Chinese works is abysmal and is in stark contrast to the quality in the United States or Europe. They don’t even come close to reaching their standards,” Euclides Tapia, professor of International Relations at the University of Panama, told Diálogo on July 22. “There are always risks of collapse or failure in the infrastructure built by China.”
The silence of GMI, a subsidiary of China’s Bosai Mineral Group, two years after the president’s public order, constitutes “an insult to national leadership,” Kaieteur News reported.
On September 16, 2021, the Matthews Ridge dam built by GMI collapsed, causing flooding. Several inhabitants were forced to seek refuge in trees waiting for the water to recede. According to Guyanese newspaper Stabroeknews, residents had warned the company about this risk.
GMI, however, did not replace the obsolete drainage pipes and its structure was compromised by the volume of water in the reservoir. “The three subway pipes are critical to drain the water,” Regional Chairman of Democratic Council Region One Brentnol Ashley told StabroekNews.
To date, villagers are forced to cross a slippery slope and an unsafe, unanchored metal bridge, Kaieteur News reported. This situation poses a real danger to everyone, especially minors and the elderly.
“GMI cannot be allowed to get away with this. The company’s response with a makeshift arrangement, after multiple complaints from community residents, is neither adequate nor acceptable. The Chinese [company] must act responsibly,” Kaieteur News reported.
“These practices are common characteristics of Chinese companies, which have little concern for the impact they generate on the development of the areas where they carry out their construction projects,” Tapia said.
In 2020, the tailings dam of Bosai’s East Montgomery Mines, in Linden, Guyana’s second largest city, collapsed, causing flooding and blocking a major regional highway, Stabroeknews reported.
Instead of taking responsibility, Bosai shifted the blame to a Guyanese government secretariat for blocking an outflow channel, Stabroeknews reported, adding that it seemed clear that Bosai has been having problems with its tailings ponds management and at other mining infrastructure, such as the Pakera dam.
In 2016, GMI obtained the operating rights at Matthews Ridge. Since then, problems between the company, its operations, and the local community have come to a head, news site Earth Journalism Network reported. China leads several infrastructure development projects in Guyana, including those of Bosai.
Other Chinese companies, including BaiShanLin, have faced accusations in the past, such as using exploitative practices that cause environmental damage and affect the socioeconomic and development rights of local communities.
As an example, community members of Matthews Ridge pointed out that an area that used to be a recreational ground and home to several bird species became a swamp that now overruns and floods the main access road, Earth Journalism Network reported.
These problems are further exacerbated by the poor drainage system built by GMI, Earth Journalism Network added. As a result, flooding disrupts access to the neighboring village of Port Kaituma, where residents conduct much of their business.
“China doesn’t care at all if it has to respond responsibly when it makes a mistake or fails, like what is happening in Guyana,” Tapia said. “If there is a complaint, Beijing arranges not to solve it or to do it half-heartedly, because it knows it has economic and political influence in that country.”
Coca Codo Sinclair
This issue not only affects Guyana, but other Latin American countries as well. Numerous infrastructure projects under China’s Belt and Road Initiative have construction failures, among them the Coca Codo Sinclair hydroelectric plant in Ecuador, Chilean newspaper La Tercera reported.
Since opening in 2016, state power company officials have found more than 17,000 cracks in the power plant’s eight turbines, according to the state-owned company. It blames the cracks on defective steel imported from China. In 2021, the company took Sinohydro to international arbitration in Chile, which is ongoing, to repair the damage, La Tercera reported.
“The warning call to the governments of the region is that to the extent that Chinese investments and infrastructure are allowed, our countries are going to be economically and politically subordinated to that country,” Tapia said. “We have to be totally and absolutely careful with this, it is a very high risk that we run.”
Countries do not foresee this, because China knows what it is doing, Tapia concluded. And countries forget that all that infrastructure China is building all over the world in key points will work in favor of their own interests and their communist party.