Firm seeks sand-min­ing per­mit

The Myanmar Times - - Front Page - THIHA KO KO THOMP­SON CHAU busi­ness@mm­times.com

A Yan­gon-reg­is­tered com­pany is seek­ing town­ship ap­proval to ex­tract 5 mil­lion cu­bic me­tres of sand over 5 years in sen­si­tive coastal ar­eas in Tanintharyi Re­gion, which could dam­age pearl farms, bio­di­ver­sity and lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties.

A lo­cal com­pany plans to ex­tract 5 mil­lion cu­bic me­tres of sand over five years in sen­si­tive coastal ar­eas in Tanintharyi Re­gion with­out legal­lyre­quired en­vi­ron­men­tal as­sess­ments. Ex­perts warn that the pro­posed sand min­ing will be highly dam­ag­ing to a nearby pearl farm, bio­di­ver­sity and fish­eries and liveli­hoods of lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties. The is­sue highlights some of the prob­lems com­pa­nies face when pur­su­ing development plans in the fron­tier econ­omy.

Two of­fi­cial doc­u­ments seen by The Myan­mar Times re­veal that Kyaw KS Development Trad­ing Co Ltd, reg­is­tered as a lo­cal com­pany in Yan­gon Re­gion, is seek­ing ap­proval to ex­tract 5 mil­lion cu­bic me­tres over five years in Tanintharyi Re­gion, claim­ing that there will be “no en­vi­ron­men­tal dam­age”. There was no men­tion of en­vi­ron­men­tal as­sess­ments.

No­tice No. KDTC-Sea Sand 42/2018 from Kyaw KS, dated May 25 and signed by town­ship ad­min­is­tra­tor Tin Myo Aung, ar­gues that the site of the sand­banks is “13 miles away from A Lae Man Island, where the lo­cals live, and it does not af­fect the lo­cal fish­ing sites”, and that the ex­trac­tion will at­tract in­vest­ments for the re­gional gov­ern­ment and res­i­dents. The let­ter sug­gested a “ground sur­vey” and ex­am­i­na­tions to be con­ducted to check if there is over­lap be­tween the min­ing area and fish­ery sites.

Aung Thein Hlaing, town­ship ad­min­is­tra­tor at Kawthaung District, wrote to the District Gen­eral Ad­min­is­tra­tion Depart­ment on May 28 that “The ground sur­vey was con­ducted with district, town­ship, and vil­lages of­fi­cials and re­spon­si­ble per­sons from the com­pany, on Fe­bru­ary 24, 2018. It was de­cided af­ter a meet­ing that as the min­ing project avoided the lo­cal fish­ing ar­eas, there will be no ob­jec­tions. There will be no ob­jec­tion if Kyaw KS Development Trad­ing fol­lows the pro­ce­dures and in­struc­tions from the Min­istry of Mines/ re­gional gov­ern­ment.”

The let­ter also re­vealed that Kyaw KS, un­der the name Shwe Phone Aung Kyaw Com­pany, has sold 12,000 acres of sea sand from Ohne Taw Kan Vil­lage, in 1998, to Malaysia and Sin­ga­pore for their Land Recla­ma­tion Project. The com­pany has now part­nered up with Sin­ga­pore Delta Gold Pte Ltd to un­der­take the pro­posal min­ing ac­tiv­i­ties, “with no en­vi­ron­men­tal dam­age, us­ing dredger ves­sels and ship­ping bus”, to ex­tract the planned vol­ume.

How­ever, the in­for­ma­tion claimed in the doc­u­ments is at odds with what ex­perts and en­vi­ron­men­tal spe­cial­ists told The Myan­mar Times.

EIA is re­quired by law Ac­cord­ing to An­nex 1 of the Myan­mar En­vi­ron­men­tal Im­pact As­sess­ment Pro­ce­dures, sand min­ing projects ex­tract­ing more than 50,000 cu­bic me­tres per an­num re­quires an En­vi­ron­men­tal Im­pact As­sess­ment (EIA).

Given that Kyaw KS plans to ex­tract 5 mil­lion over 5 years, it is legally re­quired to un­der­take an EIA prior to any ac­tiv­i­ties. But so far, no ev­i­dence sug­gests that the com­pany has done so.

“It does not ap­pear that Kyaw KS have com­mis­sioned any as­sess­ment by a qual­i­fied com­pany. All that ap­pears to have hap­pened to date is that Kyaw KS has met lo­cal stakeholders, or­gan­ised by the town­ship, to re­as­sure them that noth­ing bad will hap­pen as a re­sult of their oper­a­tions,” Vicky Bow­man, di­rec­tor of Yan­gon-based Myan­mar Cen­tre for Re­spon­si­ble Busi­ness (MCRB), com­mented.

“An EIA should in­clude as­sess­ments of the to­pog­ra­phy and bio­di­ver­sity of the seabed area, and an as­sess­ment of sur­round­ing sen­si­tive ar­eas which might be af­fected, and how to mit­i­gate any neg­a­tive im­pact. This is par­tic­u­larly im­por­tant as the islands to the west of the pro­posed sand-min­ing area have high con­ser­va­tion value due to corals and marine bio­di­ver­sity,” she ex­plained.

It is also un­clear how the com­pany has pro­gressed to this stage of seek­ing town­ship ap­proval and whether this was an un­so­licited pro­posal. While many coun­tries al­low marine ag­gre­gate ex­trac­tion, they do this sys­tem­at­i­cally. Prospect­ing rights for marine ag­gre­gates, which are more cer­tain than for on­shore min­ing, are awarded by a com­mer­cial ten­der process. This en­sures that qual­i­fied com­pa­nies are se­lected trans­par­ently, and that a fair mar­ket value is ob­tained by the state for the rights to ex­ploit the re­source.

Im­pact on liveli­hoods Gov­ern­ments which man­age their marine re­sources ef­fec­tively also use a “black box” on board the boat to mon­i­tor the area and vol­ume of the ex­trac­tion. Over the last decade, it has been com­mon to see sand be­ing smug­gled, mainly to Sin­ga­pore, from other coun­tries like Cam­bo­dia or Viet­nam due to il­le­gal un­der­re­port­ing of ex­trac­tion vol­ume or value. Viet­nam-based news­pa­per Tuoi Tre re­ported last year that Viet­nam’s sand is be­ing sold to for­eign buy­ers at “dirt cheap prices”: more than ten busi­nesses across Viet­nam seem to have sold the sand at an av­er­age price of only US$1 per cu­bic me­tre, and in some cases, as low as $0.01 per cu­bic me­tre. By evad­ing taxes, the com­pa­nies are ef­fec­tively rob­bing the coun­try of its re­sources. That is one rea­son why some of th­ese coun­tries have banned it.

“How will the Tanintharyi Re­gion gov­ern­ment en­sure that it does not miss out on rev­enue due to the peo­ple of Tanintharyi?” Ms Bow­man went on. In­deed, it is wor­ry­ing that the 2015-2016 EITI re­port said that while re­gional gov­ern­ments may col­lect min­eral taxes from gravel and sand pro­duc­ers, “in prac­tice, there is no taxes col­lected from ex­trac­tive in­dus­tries at sub-na­tional level”. Sand­min­ing is a part of the ex­trac­tives sec­tor in which much more rev­enue trans­parency is needed.

Marc Goi­chot, WWF’s wa­ter re­sources spe­cial­ist, told The Myan­mar Times that sand min­ing, de­spite its neg­a­tive im­pacts on the planet, is a rel­a­tively new sub­ject to de­ci­sion­mak­ers in Myan­mar. Kyaw KS’s pro­posal is a large vol­ume and he strongly sug­gested an EIA to be con­ducted and that the risks to the peo­ple liv­ing in the area, to na­ture and other eco­nomic sec­tors should be well-as­sessed.

“The coastal dunes act as a nat­u­ral buf­fer that pro­tec­tion of peo­ple and their as­sets. Sand min­ing is un­der­stood to weaken those nat­u­ral pro­tec­tions and thus in­crease ex­po­sure of coastal com­mu­ni­ties to the neg­a­tive im­pacts of nat­u­ral dis­as­ters like cy­clones,” Mr Goi­chot noted.

In ad­di­tion, be­cause this project needs an EIA by law, it is deemed to have sig­nif­i­cant po­ten­tial neg­a­tive en­vi­ron­men­tal or so­cial im­pacts and there­fore also re­quires ap­proval of the Myan­mar In­vest­ment Com­mis­sion even though it is a lo­cal com­pany. If the value of the in­vest­ment is un­der $5 mil­lion, this could be ap­proved at the level of the Tanintharyi Re­gion MIC, ac­cord­ing to the new In­vest­ment Law. But the doc­u­ments made no men­tion of the in­volve­ment of MIC.

Threat to fish­eries and bio­di­ver­sity Frank Momberg, Myan­mar Pro­gramme Di­rec­tor at Fauna & Flora In­ter­na­tional (FFI), high­lighted four highly dam­ag­ing con­se­quences for the en­vi­ron­ment and lo­cal in­dus­tries.

First of all, the pro­posed sand min­ing con­ces­sion is partly over­lap­ping with the pro­posed Lang­gan Marine Pro­tected Area and is located just east of the al­ready gazetted Lang­gan Lo­cally Man­aged Marine Area, both har­bour­ing the most di­verse and in­tact coral reefs of Myeik Ar­chi­pel­ago. Sand min­ing can “cause se­ri­ous tur­bid­ity and sed­i­men­ta­tion in the coral area lead­ing to their destruc­tion”. Sec­ondly, the pro­posed sand min­ing area it­self is close to an im­por­tant nurs­ery ground for In­dian mack­erel. In­creased tur­bid­ity and sed­i­men­ta­tion can af­fect the nurs­ery ground for this eco­nom­i­cally im­por­tant fish as well as the nurs­ery ground for devil rays, which are en­dan­gered and are on the IUCN Red List. Thirdly, the pro­posed area is also close to an eco­nom­i­cally im­por­tant pearl farm which de­pends on ex­cel­lent wa­ter qual­ity, which will be se­ri­ously un­der­mined by in­creased tur­bid­ity caused by the sand min­ing ac­tiv­i­ties. Lastly, the area is close to (west of) glob­ally im­por­tant mud­flats for threat­ened shore birds. Sed­i­men­ta­tion of sand in the mud­flats can change the sub­strate and feed­ing habi­tat of the glob­ally threat­ened shore birds. Even if the di­rect over­lap of the con­ces­sion with key bio­di­ver­sity ar­eas is lim­ited, the dam­age will still be serve ow­ing to ocean cur­rents the im­pact of in­creased tur­bid­ity and sed­i­men­ta­tion, reach­ing far beyond the ac­tual con­ces­sion area. “In sum­mary, the pro­posed sand min­ing op­er­a­tion has a very high en­vi­ron­men­tal, so­cial and eco­nomic im­pact that can­not be mit­i­gated and should there­fore be can­celled,” the ex­pert said.

From a marine bi­o­log­i­cal science per­spec­tive, the pro­posal will “heav­ily” af­fect the fish­ery in­dus­try, ac­cord­ing to Robert Howard, FFI Myan­mar Marine Pro­gramme Man­ager. Bio­di­verse rich marine habi­tats such as coral reefs and sea­grass beds, which are in close vicin­ity to this pro­posed project, are par­tic­u­larly sen­si­tive to sand min­ing.

Ex­ces­sive sed­i­ment re­sult­ing from the min­ing process can smother corals in­hibit­ing light needed for pho­to­syn­the­sis and in­creased in sed­i­ments can also clog canals and feed­ing struc­tures of reef sponges. A rise in sed­i­men­ta­tion is also known to in­crease pathogen vir­u­lence and in the Myeik Ar­chi­pel­ago an in­crease in dis­ease has al­ready been re­ported for those reefs near to the Tanintharyi River catch­ment.

“Sand min­ing will only com­pound this is­sue,” he said.

“Both the sea­grasses and coral reefs are crit­i­cally im­por­tant ecosys­tems as food sources, shel­ter, breed­ing and nurs­ery grounds and fur­ther degra­da­tion will heav­ily im­pact bio­di­ver­sity and many of the com­mer­cially sort af­ter marine species,” Mr Howard ob­served.

“A lo­cal com­pany has pro­posed to mine the sand from Bokpyin town­ship. Cur­rently, the gov­ern­ment does not al­low this. This pro­posal will be pre­sented to the re­gional Hlut­taw and we will dis­cuss at the leg­is­la­ture whether to green­light the re­quest,” U Kaung San Oo, sec­re­tary of Tanintharyi Re­gion gov­ern­ment, re­sponded to en­quiries from this news­pa­per.

U Tin Htun, re­gional MP rep­re­sent­ing the Bokpyin con­stituency, said that he did not sup­port the plan. “I heard that this area is des­ig­nated for gold min­er­als. The per­son in charge should look at and scru­ti­nise this pro­posal care­fully,” he com­mented.

No con­tact de­tails of the com­pany are avail­able on­line. The Myan­mar Times vis­ited the com­pany’s ad­dress pro­vided by its reg­is­tra­tion at the Direc­torate of In­vest­ment and Com­pany Ad­min­is­tra­tion, but there was no one at the of­fice.

The spokesper­son of the Union Min­is­ter of­fice of the Min­istry of Nat­u­ral Re­sources and En­vi­ron­men­tal Con­ser­va­tion can­not be reached by press time.

Photo: EPA

Sand min­ing in north­east In­dia takes place.

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