Activists baulk at new mining legislation
Locals say their views 'will be muzzled'
Bangkok Post 04 April 2016 | Ariane Kupferman-Sutthavong
A mineral bill proposed by the Ministry of Industry passed its first hearing in parliament last month, but environmentalists and activists warn it could lead to the destruction of protected natural resources and human rights violations.
The draft legislation is flawed and lacks safeguards on health and the environment, said Supaporn Malailoy, EnLaw Foundation manager. But more importantly, it does not allow for the input of local communities in decision-making concerning new mining sites.
The state will be responsible for managing the country's mineral resources, according to Section 7 of the bill, to generate greater revenue and ensure that all parties -- the state, investors and locals -- benefit equally from those gains.
Environmentalists and activists warn that more mineral exploitation like the controversial Tungkum gold mine in Loei province will lead to destruction of protected resources and civil rights. (File photo)
However, activists say the provision could bar local communities from having a say in the state's dealings with businesses and helping oversee how their resources are being managed.
"The state has sole power to decide how inhabited or preserved plots of land are to be used, while the draft law has no mention of any impact prevention or management measures," Ms Supaporn added.
The lawyer, who has closely followed the drafting of the bill, wants it revised. Environment and health impact assessment mechanisms are left out of the draft and will be ordered through ministerial regulations and decrees instead.
That is not acceptable, Ms Supaporn said. The state should ensure protection measures are systematically applied and enable participation from local communities.
Yet she argued this is only one of the law's many loopholes. The draft does not include compensation for people affected by mining, nor does it offer provisions on soil restoration after the mines close, despite the long-lasting environmental damage mining can cause.
If adopted, the proposed legislation will serve as a major amendment to the 1967 Mineral Act now in place.
The law needs updating, said Chat Hongtiamchant, director of the Bureau of Environmental Management, Primary Industries and Mines Department.
While most changes are to do with sections on mining licences and royalty fees, the bill also will help improve the management of natural resources and boost the economy. It could also help solve conflicts with locals, he said.
On March 17, the National Legislative Assembly (NLA) voted 148 to 1 to pass the bill at its first hearing.
"The 1967 legislation allowed for human rights violations to take place but the bill is even more dangerous," said Wanpen Promrangsan, a Saraburi province resident and representative of the People's Network for the Reform of Gold and Mineral Resources Management.
She said the state should consider the health problems suffered by locals in Pichit province, who live near a gold mine operated by Akara Resources Plc, as an example of the alleged consequences of mining.
The country's mineral extraction policy has had disastrous impacts on the people, their environment and livelihoods, she added. According to her, more than 60 locals have died in Phichit over the past year, possibly due to their exposure to heavy metals extracted from the mine.
More than 80 members of the anti-gold mining network travelled to Bangkok last week to petition the NLA to either drop or revise the bill. The group, drawn from six different provinces, also filed a complaint with the National Human Rights Commission.
The draft is worse than the current legislation, Ms Wanpen argued. Under the 1967 law, forests and water source areas are to be safeguarded from any mining activity. However, the provision has been replaced in the new draft by Section 12, which permits the Ministry of Industry to go ahead with extraction of minerals on those reserved plots.
"No amount of revenue in royalty fees can undo or compensate for the destruction of our natural resources, such as forests and mountains," she said.
The ministry has been promoting its policy to extract more gold in 12 provinces while also pushing for the new mineral bill to be approved, she said. She said the state should examine facts regarding soil and water contamination before granting new permits to mine operators.