Jade mine per­mits halted

Min­ing per­mits for jade and gems will not be re­newed when they ex­pire and no new li­cences will be granted un­til up­dated laws are passed to gov­ern the con­flict-rid­den in­dus­try.

The Myanmar Times - - Front Page - YE MON yeemon­tun@mm­times.com KYI KYI SWAY kyiky­isway.mcm@gmail.com

THE govern­ment will not re­new min­ing per­mits for jade and gems when they ex­pire and will only con­sider is­su­ing new per­mits once by-laws to the Myan­mar Gem­stones Law have been passed, the Min­istry of Nat­u­ral Re­sources and En­vi­ron­men­tal Con­ser­va­tion said yes­ter­day.

The min­istry wants to change the rules gov­ern­ing gem­stone pro­duc­tion, said U Thet Khaing, deputy di­rec­tor of the Li­cence and Registry Depart­ment un­der state-owned Myan­mar Gems En­ter­prise.

“There are a lot of rea­sons why we are sus­pend­ing li­cence ex­ten­sions, but the main one is to change the rules and reg­u­la­tions,” he said.

The move fol­lows a se­ries of dis­as­trous land­slides that have killed sev­eral hun­dred work­ers, as well as re­ports about the whole­sale loot­ing of the coun­try’s nat­u­ral min­eral wealth for the ben­e­fit of a few.

Myan­mar has come un­der sig­nif­i­cant pres­sure from ac­tivist groups, en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists and for­eign gov­ern­ments to clean up the vastly lu­cra­tive in­dus­try, which re­mains un­der US sanc­tions.

The sus­pen­sion will not only cover the jade mines in Hpakant but gem­stone quar­ries across the coun­try, ac­cord­ing to a min­istry an­nounce­ment.

Min­istry data shows 420 min­ing per­mits will ex­pire this month in Kachin and Shan states and Man­dalay and Sa­gaing re­gions, in min­ing ar­eas such as Hpakant, Hkamti, Mo­gok and Mong Shu.

Com­pa­nies can con­tinue to dig un­til their li­cence ex­pires and it will take un­til 2021 be­fore all the per­mits for 19,000 blocks across the coun­try have run their course, ac­cord­ing to in­for­ma­tion pro­vided by U Thet Khaing.

Gems and jew­ellery en­trepreneurs yes­ter­day crit­i­cized the de­ci­sion, on the grounds that the sus­pen­sion will hurt small time traders and put itin­er­ant min­ers out of work.

U Kyaw Kyaw Oo, ex­ec­u­tive mem­ber of the Myan­mar Gems and Jew­ellery En­trepreneurs As­so­ci­a­tion, told The Myan­mar Times that the govern­ment should re­con­sider its an­nounce­ment or risk dam­ag­ing the en­tire in­dus­try.

“This is not the first time [a sus­pen­sion has been put in place]. The pre­vi­ous govern­ment did a sim­i­lar thing be­tween 2012 and 2014,” he said.

“A lot of jade hunters flocked to the land around the mines [in Kachin State’s Hpakant] at that time and squat­ted there, which led the govern­ment to re­peal its de­ci­sion. The new govern­ment should learn from this in­ci­dent.”

A damn­ing re­port by ad­vo­cacy group Global Wit­ness last year said the neg­a­tive im­pact of mines on lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties could not be over­stated, cit­ing fa­tally danger­ous con­di­tions, en­demic drugs and pros­ti­tu­tion.

“The elites cream off vast prof­its while lo­cal peo­ple suf­fer ter­ri­ble abuses and see their nat­u­ral in­her­i­tance ripped out from be­neath their feet,” the re­port said, putting the value of the jade in­dus­try at US$31 bil­lion in 2014-15 alone, while govern­ment fig­ures for 2013-14 put the trade at barely $1 bil­lion.

U Kyaw Kyaw Oo be­lieves the govern­ment is sus­pend­ing pro­duc­tion to pre­vent il­le­gal min­ing and the un­law­ful ex­port of jade and gem­stones to China. Much of Myan­mar’s jade is smug­gled to China di­rectly from the mines, while lo­cal deal­ers in mar­kets such as Man­dalay say they no longer see any prof­its.

“The govern­ment should pre­vent il­le­gal gems and jew­ellery pro­duc­tion, but I don’t un­der­stand why it wants to stop all pro­duc­tion,” he said.

U Yone Mu, chair of the as­so­ci­a­tion, said un­em­ploy­ment will rise be­cause of the sus­pen­sion, adding that the as­so­ci­a­tion is wor­ried about the neg­a­tive im­pact on the in­dus­try if pro­duc­tion rates fall.

“Dec­o­ra­tive gem­stones from other coun­tries will take the place of our own gems and jew­ellery in our mar­kets. This will mostly be a chal­lenge for small en­trepreneurs. The govern­ment shouldn’t do it,” he said.

How­ever, en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists wel­comed the an­nounce­ment and said they sup­ported the sus­pen­sion of new min­ing per­mits.

“Good!! It’s pretty good! It is im­por­tant to pro­tect the coun­try’s en­vi­ron­ment,” said Myan­mar Al­liance for Trans­parency and Ac­count­abil­ity spokesper­son U Win Myo Thu by email. Civil so­ci­ety groups have asked the govern­ment for many years to stop com­pa­nies min­ing for jade.

They typ­i­cally sin­gle out Hpakant and Lone Kin jade min­ing ar­eas be­cause of fears over ex­ces­sive degra­da­tion of the lo­cal en­vi­ron­ment and over-dig­ging, ex­ces­sive use of machin­ery, and the deaths of hun­dreds of jade scav­engers in land­slides caused by the col­lapse of tail­ings piles.

Photo: AFP

Free­lance min­ers rest at a jade mine in Hpakant in 2015.

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