Provincial Governor of Loei Condemned for Forming Committee for the Restoration of Gold Mine in Loei in Defiance of the Court’s Verdict
A view of the Wang Sa Phung gold mine.
Mr. Chaithawat Niamsiri, the new Provincial Governor of Loei, has signed the order of the provincial authority no. 218/2564 on the appointment of the Committee for the Environmental Management and Restoration of Area Surrounding the Phu Thap Fah Gold Mine in Tambon Khao Luang, Wang Sa Phung District, Loei on 26 January 2021.
All the 17 committee members are government officials without any expertise in the restoration of the mining area. There is no representation of the villagers from the Khon Rak Ban Kerd from Six Village Group at all in the Committee, even though they are directly affected by the gold mine.
This Committee is different from the previous one set up at the order of the former Provincial Governor, Mr. Chaiwat Chuenkosum, who then issued the order no. 2355/2563 on the appointment of the committee to follow up on the pollution and environmental restoration inside and around the gold mine of Thung Kham Co. on 25 August 2020. Of the 14 previous committee’s members, three are villagers plus six experts on mining area restoration and five government officials.
It is obvious that the previous Committee was set up in line with the verdict of the Loei Provincial Court on 13 December 2018 in the Black Case no. SW (P) 1/2561. In the verdict, the court ordered Thung Kham Co., the defendant, to make an effort to restore natural resources and the environment at their own expense.
Such restoration should be done in line with the government’s standards for both water supply and land. The court also ordered that the villagers, as plaintiffs in the case, shall have participation in the implementation of the environmental restoration plan as well. The new Committee set up by the new Provincial Governor of Loei is therefore a breach of the verdict.
Since ascending to his office, the new Governor has tried in many instances to dismantle the good foundation laid by his predecessor including the plan on the Loei’s gold mine. Since he was appointed the new Provincial Governor, he has set up a new Committee simply to replace the existing one.
His act will simply pave the way for the return of violence in the area around the gold mine in Tambon Khao Luang, Wang Sa Phung District. It prompts police and other public officials to encourage traders to try to get their hands on the unaccounted mineral assets left behind in the shutdown mine since 4 January. All violence dissipated from the area during the tenure of the previous Governor.
Instead of realizing the gravity of violence exposed to the local villagers and trying to prevent it, the new governor has set up a new committee in defiance of the court verdict while completely excluding the villagers and experts from such committee leaving just government officials.
Such government officials have in the past ten years showed how they have taken side with the gold mine operators and have neither responded to the demand nor offered any help to the villagers.
Worse still, the new Governor has tried to politicize the suffering and the struggle of the villagers who have been acting to oppose the mine for over a decade. He views such resistance as political movement and has ordered security forces to monitor movement of young students who have been trying to help the villagers in their struggle against the mine.
Let us make it clear to the public and the new Governor that our struggle against the gold mine thus far has entrenched among members of the Khon Rak Ban Kerd from Six Village Group a clear political conviction and understanding that goes beyond the electoral politics. We have transformed to constituents who shall support any political movement and parties which are determined to enhance the quality of life of the poor in the local area and other areas.
Therefore, we have offered our unfettered support to the movements led by youth and students which are our own children and have been helping us since the beginning of the struggle against the gold mine more than ten years ago. Such understanding underpins our endeavor to protect our rights and freedoms upheld by the Constitution.
The students and youth are entirely different from government officials who thus far has neglected their duties allowing the gold mine to operate and unleash widespread pollution to us. They are the government officials whose work has never been worth our taxpayers' money.
We therefore urge the new Governor to immediately rescind the order to set up a new Committee and stop citing political agendas as a reason to justify harassment, intimidation and threat against us and to distract public attention to the restoration effort led by the villagers.
Otherwise, the Khon Rak Ban Kerd from Six Village Group shall proceed with whatever means possible to exercise our rights and freedoms prescribed in the Constitution to initiate disciplinary action and legal action against the new Governor who should be held to account for acting in defiance of the court verdict and for citing political agendas to harass the villagers and to delay the restoration effort per the verdict.