Mine faces big test
The Akara gold mine reopened on Monday after a six-year hiatus. In 2017, the now-dissolved National Council for Peace and Order issued an executive decree suspending operations after government agencies accused the mine of causing negative environmental and health impacts on local communities.
Resumed operations will be a test case for the Department of Primary Industries and Mines (DPIM) under the Industry Ministry. The onus will fall on the DPIM -- known as a mouthpiece for mining companies -- to prove that it can do more than issue and renew business permits. Under the reopening conditions, Akara Resources Plc is required to achieve sustainable development in four areas -- the environment, land management, land-use permission and community health. DPIM must show it has teeth to make operations compliant with sustainable development mining regulations.
Meanwhile, the reopening has sparked a mix reaction.
On the business side, Akara Resources Plc, which operates the gold mine covering vast tracts spanning Phichit, Phitsanulok and Phetchabun, is welcomed and has hired an additional 1,000 villagers. Under the amended Mineral Acts 2017, the company needs to put money into a community development fund and insurance fund to clean up the environment. The government also requires the gold to be processed locally, instead of being sent overseas for final processing.
Yet many local villagers and environmental activists are worried about the environmental impact.
It is noteworthy that last week, the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) met Akara Resources Plc, local authorities and affected villagers to iron out problems.
The NHRC found that over the past six years the government has failed to solve environmental and health problems.
Hundreds of villagers reported to have high levels of cyanide and heavy metals in their blood have been neglected. Toxic contamination that was leaking from tailing ponds within the mining area into the environment has been left untreated.
Apparently, the government suspended mine operations like flipping a switch.
During the last six years, the Prayut government devoted its time negotiating with Australia's Kingsgate Consolidated Ltd -- Akara Resources Plc's parent company -- which was seeking 30 billion baht in compensation from the government for suspending its business.
The question is, what needs to be done to improve the livelihood of villagers? The government should pay heed to the NHRC's recommendations. Sayamol Kaiyoorawong, a rights commissioner, wants the government to ensure a tripartite committee is set up to monitor environmental and health management.
It must be neutral and trustworthy and include affected villagers, not only officials and villagers that support the company.
Ms Sayamol also urged the government to ensure information on soil and water conditions in the area are more accurate and reliable, to improve environmental monitoring and reduce conflicts between the company and affected villagers.
A challenge also faces Akara Resources Plc. Despite past allegations and controversial reports, it is hoped the company will use this opportunity to prove that it can take good care of the environment and be a good neighbour to local communities.
Bangkok Post editorial column
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- Akara gold mine