Civic groups slam mining bill

Civic groups slam mining bill

Civic groups slammed the new mining bill adopted by the National Legislative Assembly (NLA) on Thursday.

A revised version, aimed at replacing the outdated 1966 Mineral Royalty Rates Act and the 1967 Mining Act, has incurred heavy criticism from civil society players since its drafting begun over a year ago.

"It is evident that the authors of this new bill wish to facilitate mining operations for the private sector," said Surachai Trong-ngam, secretary-general of the EnLAW (Environmental Litigation and Advocacy for the Wants) Foundation.

The new legislation decentralises the regulation of mining activities, giving authority to local and regional authorities, as well as relevant committees, to approve or oversee certain operations.

The new procedure hopes to make the process of seeking a mining licence and permit faster and easier for companies. In the past, only the Industry Minister could grant them. However, it could also put local communities living in areas being considered for mining operations under more pressure, Mr Surachai added.

He fears that conflicts of interest could arise between local officials and private enterprises. For instance, the bill stipulates that a representative from the Mining Industry Council will sit on a regional mining committee vetting mining operations.

In some cases, the state may conduct Environmental Impact Assessments (EIA) on large plots first, before putting them up for bidding.

This goes against usual EIA practices, the lawyer said. The assessment would be imprecise, as it examines too large an area rather than pinpointing locations and does not take into account the activities planned by companies that won the bid.

"I cannot guarantee that such EIAs can serve as a real environmental safeguard," he said.

Furthermore, the adopted bill fails to provide details regarding many key questions that civil society groups have raised.

Details about bidding procedures and public participation methods will only appear in ministerial regulations, to be released in the coming two years, Mr Surachai argued. A day before the NLA's final reading, the Network of People Who Own the Mineral Resources released a statement opposing the then-draft bill.

The legislation, which has not been modified, serves the interests of investors rather than those of the people, who are the true owners of the country's natural resources, the statement read.

The NLA voted to pass the controversial bill on Thursday, with the NLA panel scrutinising its content and assuring bill opponents that their worries were taken into account during the drafting of the final version. Out of 220 NLA members, 183 approved the 188-section bill, while three abstained.

The panel was aware of concerns raised by various organisations whose representatives were invited to work as "honorary advisers", panel chairman Mahannop Detwithak told the NLA before the vote.

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