Junta’s new Mining Bill will please corporates but harm the poor

Although the junta promised to eradicate the alleged corruption of the former civilian government which served the capitalists, the new Mining Bill is designed to give mining businesses easy access to more land without the need for mitigation of environmental and social impacts in most areas.  Meanwhile marginalised people affected by mines will find it difficult under martial law to oppose the bill.

The new Mining Bill, which has been strongly opposed by civil groups, has been picked up by the junta’s National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) and will soon be deliberated by the rubber-stamp National Legislative Assembly (NLA) to replace current 1967 Mining Act.

During the previous civilian administration, due to pressure from several environmental groups and community rights activists who strongly opposed the proposals to amend certain essential Articles of the Act, a draft amendment bill was dismissed by parliament.

In 2014, however, it was brought back by the Department of Primary Industry and Mines (DPIM), while martial law can still be used to silence opposition to the Bill. The new Mining Bill is now being reviewed by the Council of State, before being submitted to the National Legislative Assembly.

134,664.5 acre of the protected potential mining areas of Loei province, which the Ministry of Industry has an authority to give out concessions to mining operators   

Several articles in the new Mining Bill are changed.  Here is a summary of the new version.

Article 80: For the benefit of managing economic minerals in the country and the acquisition of valuable mineral resources, the Minister of Natural Resources and Environment (MNRE), with the advice of the Committee and permission of the Cabinet, has the authority to gazette any area as a mining area as a priority over conservation or other beneficial uses provided that this area:

1.      has abundant and economically valuable minerals

2.      is not protected by any law that specifically bans use for private benefit and that concerns safety or national security.

Article 81: A mining operator who receives a state mining concession has exclusive rights to mine certain types of ore deposits in specific areas under conditions established by the MNRE and relevant Committee. The MNRE will receive royalties which will be shared with local administrative organizations in mining areas and areas affected by mining activities.        

Article 82: The Minister with the advice of the Committee has the authority to announce the conditions and regulations covering certain mining operations without the need for a licence under this Act. In order to expedite the process of obtaining permission from other government agencies, operators can submit a request to the DPIM, the Director-General of which can form a committee of the relevant agencies to process permission quickly.

In other words, Article 80 states that the government has exclusive rights to utilise and decide where to give mining concessions while Article 81 adds that licenced mining companies have exclusive rights to mine certain areas and types of ore deposits under conditions stipulated by the government. In addition, Article 82 speeds up the process of approving mining concessions.

River creek that allegedly turns brown because of mining activities in Wang Saphung District of the northeastern province of Loei

According to Lerdsak Kamkongsak, an environmental activist and researcher based in the northeast, several articles of the new mining bill obviously show that the junta’s Cabinet is giving a green light to mining corporates to raise the profit margins for shareholders as quickly and as much as possible regardless of environmental and social costs.  

In the new mining bill, the period of time for the state to approve mining concessions is shortened from approximately 310 days under the procedures of the 1967 Mining Act to only about 100-150 days. Moreover, an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) and Environmental Health Impact Assessment (EHIA) do not need to be conducted before the concession is granted to the mining operators. This contradicts Article 67 of the 2007 Constitution which states that the EIA and EHIA need to be approved before mining concessions are granted, according to Lerdsak.

In addition, the new Bill also removes the phrase “important forest watersheds” from Article 80 of the 1967 Mining Bill. This means that the new Mining Bill will not prevent mining businesses from using important forest lands for mining activities, added the environmental activist.

Wang Saphung villagers stage rally against the mine, the banner (center) reads “Loving the mine is a dog, loving the forest is a human”

For the villagers of Wang Saphung in the northeastern province of Loei, who have been battling with the Thung Kham Co. Ltd., a gold mining operator who is alleged to have caused environmental and social damage to the community, if the new bill is passed, there will be nothing to stop the mining company from opening up more land.

“Although I don’t know much about law and the new Mining Bill, even with the current Mining Act [1967] which states that the EIA has to be conducted before mining activities can start, the environmental and social costs are still grave; I think that it will be much worse if the new Mining Bill is really implemented,” said Pornthip Hongchai, one of the key leaders of the Khon Rak Baan Koed Group (People who love their homes) (KRBK), an organization established by six villages in Wang Saphung affected by gold mining activities.

For Lerdsak, the underlying reason why the new Mining Bill has been brought back despite its obvious flaws is that under the dictatorial rule of the junta there is no space for public participation and the military are free to issue laws to please big business.

“Under a civilian government, people are allowed to take part in the process of reviewing the bill before it is passed. However, under a military dictatorship in which the junta relies only on government officials, the bargaining power of the public is very limited and can be ignored very easily,” added the environmentalist.