YANGON — More than 500 locals in Kachin State’s Myitkyina took to the streets on Wednesday to protest the draft Myanmar Gemstone Law 2017, stating that the draft law does not consider the interests of local residents.
The protest was led by three Kachin parties—the Kachin State Democracy Party (KSDP), Kachin Democratic Party (KDP), and Kachin National Congress (KNC).
“There was neither consultation with locals nor negotiation with Kachin parties,” said Bran Awng, a spokesperson for the three Kachin parties that led the protest.
The government has announced the draft law in government-run newspapers to seek public feedback and suggestions. “So, we made suggestions. None were taken. That’s why we took to the streets,” said Bran Awng.
Protesters held placards reading: “Kachin State’s jade belongs to Kachin people and ethnic citizens,” “We don’t want large-scale mines,” and “We want equal rights in the mining sector for Kachin people and ethnic citizens.”
The draft Myanmar Gemstone Law does not provide rights or opportunities for local residents in jade- and gem-rich Kachin State and representatives of Kachin parties, Kachin literature and culture associations, law experts, and officials of the Myitkyina Gem Merchants Association held rounds of discussion in 2017 and submitted six recommendations to the Union Parliament, said Bran Awng.
Lawmakers of the Lower House and Upper House met Kachin delegates and discussed the proposed recommendations. But when the Parliament made public the draft law for feedback, those proposed recommendations were not included.
Among the proposed recommendations were the restriction of heavy machinery in mining and the use of small- and medium-scale machinery instead, the grouping of mining zones into small, medium and prospector zones, and mining monitoring committees at states and regional levels that would include 60 percent local representatives.
Recommendations also called for 30 percent local representatives on jade and gems evaluation committees, a reduction of tax on rubies, sapphires, jade and diamonds from 20 percent to 10 percent, and the inclusion of local representatives on the mining supervisory central committee and in state and regional level committees.
According to the draft law, a 20 percent tax is levied on rubies, sapphires, jade and diamonds and 10 percent on other gemstones.
The draft law has no provision regarding the restriction of heavy machinery in mining, said Dr. Manan Tuja, chairman of the KSDP.
“Revenues from resources have barely been used to benefit locals. We want decentralization in the draft law. We intend to attract the attention of Parliament by staging a protest. I hope lawmakers will change their decision,” said Dr. Manan Tuja.
The law was enacted in 1995 and was amended for the first time in 2003 under the State Peace and Development Council government and for a second time in 2016 under President U Thein Sein’s government. The third amendment is being debated in the Upper House.