Mine oversight tightened
The Tanintharyi government will not issue any new mining licences until environmental concerns have been resolved at operational mines.
THE local government in Myanmar’s southernmost region has said it will not issue any new mining licences until environmental concerns and controversies have been resolved at operational mines in the resourcerich area.
A number of mining projects in Tanintharyi Region have long been opposed by local residents who have accused their operators of polluting water supplies and ruining farmland.
U Myint Maung, Tanintharyi Region minister for natural resources and environmental conservation, who is leading a mine-scrutinising group, said several companies have broken the terms of their contracts, flouted the Mining Law and caused environmental damage.
Until these companies start playing by the rules, they will find it very difficult to extend their licences, U Myint Maung said. Further, the regional government will not sign any recommendation letters for new mining operations until the existing players clean up their acts.
“We want investment, and we know that it is very important for regional development,” he said. “We are not paying attention only to environmental conservation, but all the operations in the region have to reduce their impact on the environment as much as possible,” he said.
More than 10 mining companies have asked for permits to do business, he said, but for now the regional government has not given any of them recommendation letters.
Instead, it will focus on tackling longstanding issues in the industry.
The local government’s first two targets were the Heinda and Bawapin tin mines, operated by Thailand’s Myanmar Pongpipat Company and Eastern Mining Company, which were suspended in June.
U Khine Swan, manager at Heinda Tin Mine, said the company is trying to meet the demands of the scrutinising group, in the hope of being able to restart operations as soon as possible.
“We are preparing environmental and social impact assessments, which will take some time,” he said. “This season is the peak time for mining and we are facing big losses – we usually mine at least 1 tonne of tin each day, even in the dry season.”
The company employs more than 300 on-site workers, he said, adding, “Mining activities will naturally have an impact on the environment. That is not so strange, if you consider the nature of the business.”
Myanmar Pongpipat has been operating the mine since 1999. It first clashed with local residents after blocking nearby Myaung Byo Creek with a barrier, causing water levels to rise. Eventually the creek broke its banks and thick waves of sediment and waste from the mine were deposited into houses, plantations and sources of fresh water.
U Myint Maung said the mine-scrutinising group will eventually cover the whole region, and is prioritising projects based on the number of complaints from local residents.
In nearby Kanbauk village, residents say they have asked tin and tungsten miner Delco to comply with mining laws and not to harm the environment.
Delco is the largest mining company in Myanmar, but has apparently not yet received any direction from the regional government or No 2 Mining Enterprise on whether it can continue operations, said U Aung Lwin, a member of Kanbauk Resources Survival Group.
“We have not seen any direction from the government to Delco, and we are planning to arrange a meeting with the chief minister so that local people can share their suffering in this area,” he said.
Delco resumed operations earlier this year at the site where a child died and homes were destroyed by a flood of sludge last year.
The company has now told seven villagers to leave their houses and plantations around the mining area and has threatened legal action against them for trespassing.
U Saung Khaw, Delco’s general manager, told The Myanmar Times that the residents were supposed to leave by the end of July.
“We hope it will be resolved soon. This whole Kanbauk area has been used for mining for many years and we have a land-lease contract from the government,” he said.
Five of the seven villagers have accepted money and the other two are still negotiating, because the amount offered is too low, said U Aung Lwin.
Lawyer Daw Aye Mon Thu, who briefed villagers on their rights at a public seminar in Kanbauk last month, said local residents often lose out in situations like this.
“Villagers should not lose everything they own just because they do not have a certificate of land ownership approved by the government,” she said.
“Even if they do not have a certificate, they still have evidence that they were planting in the area before the company started operating.”
Most lawsuits brought by companies against local people are based on sections 427 and 447 of the Penal Code, which refer to “mischief causing damage” and trespassing, and villagers often lose the case, because they lack land ownership certificates, she said.
U Saung Khaw said the government should not stop mining operations, particularly in Tanintharyi Region where mining a major industry.
“The Mining Law mentions that villagers must relocate if the company extends its operations within the mining area. This area has been mined since 1911,” he said.
“If we don’t see our permit extended in 2020 it would be a great shame as we are trying to follow the rules and regulations set by the different governments.”