Originally published by Bankok Post on 24/09/15.
Finally, the cries of the small people — the rural inhabitants affected by the gold mining operations in Loei’s Wang Sapung district and Phichit’s Tap Klor district — have been heard.
Responding to a petition signed by over 27,000 people in 12 provinces, including Phichit and Loei where gold mining activities have been going on since 2001 and 2006 respectively, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha assured that the issuance of new gold mining licences would be put on hold. He said that gold mining is not prohibited in Thailand but the operations must not cause problems to the people and, if they do, will be closed down.
Finally the cries of the small people have been heard.
Though a welcome move, the prime minister’s assurance is short of the demand stipulated in the written petition submitted to him by 500 anti-mining protesters.
The petitioners have demanded the government stop all gold mining operations and scrap its plan to grant surveying permits and mining concessions, particularly the plan of former industry minister Chakramon Phasukavanich to hand out gold mine concessions for 300 land plots in 12 provinces.
The petitioners also demanded that affected villagers who live near the gold mines in Loei and Phichit should be given proper medical checkups so that those found to be suffering ailments resulting from mining operations should be properly treated and compensated.
The prime minister’s apparent half-hearted assurance is a disappointment for the affected villagers and for those in the 12 provinces marked for future gold exploration and mining by the Industry Ministry’s Department of Primary Industries and Mines.
Take for instance Koh Phangan in Surat Thani which is reported to have substantial deposits of gold ore on the southeast side of the island. Widely known for its “Full Moon Parties”, the island is a popular destination for young foreign tourists. Gold mining on Koh Phangan will just drive away the tourists and kill the tourism industry.
Successive governments appear to be happy with the small amount of royalties given by the mining companies while paying scant attention to the plight of local villagers. They have been left to fend for themselves, struggling to protect their land and their livelihoods as their environment has been steadily contaminated with toxic substances such as cyanide, manganese, cadmium, lead and other heavy metals being discharged from gold mines.
Gold mining […] will just drive away the tourists and kill the tourism industry.
In their efforts to protect the communities, 33 anti-mining villagers in Loei are facing defamation lawsuits filed by the company in what was viewed as an intimidation tactic to weaken the protest movement.
Members of the public may not realize that besides the small amount of royalties received by the state compared to the hefty profits made each year, gold mining companies also enjoy substantial tax holidays from the Board of Investment.
It is true that gold mining is not prohibited in this country as stated by the prime minister. But this should not be interpreted as meaning that gold mining should take place everywhere in the country and, particularly, without the consent of the majority of people in the provinces. Above all, the gold underground does not belong to the Industry Ministry which hands out the concessions, or to the government. The gold belongs to the country and the people should have a say in the decision-making process.
After all, gold is safe underground. Its value will not drop. There is no need for it to be dug out now, or for all the concessions to be handed out within this government’s tenure.