Officials Vow, Once Again, to Clamp Down on Hpakant Mining

By Moe Myint 12 May 2016

RANGOON — Union Minister Ohn Win on Wednesday promised to rein in the destructive jade mining projects centered in Kachin State’s Hpakant region, saying he will bar new extraction ventures from being launched in the jade-rich area.

The bold declaration was in response to Khin Maung Myint, an Upper House lawmaker with the National League for Democracy (NLD) in Kachin State, who urged that action be taken not only in light of the scores of deaths in recent months from landslides in mining areas, but also regarding the lack of environmental safeguards in place to curb the effects of ongoing projects.

Ohn Win, Burma’s minister of natural resources and environmental conservation, said a management committee consisting of relevant departments and local authorities from the Hpakant region would need to be formed to inspect mining firms and oversee their excavation, disposal and environmental pollution prevention procedures.

“There are regulations that firms must follow. When these regulations aren’t followed, disciplinary action must be taken against disobedient firms,” Ohn Win said.

However, Da Shi La Seng, an NLD legislator representing Hpakant Constituency No. 2, pushed back, saying that the government always claims that it will investigate mining activity but that it has never succeeded because most mining companies enjoy a cozy relationship with local authorities, such that whenever high-level bureaucrats are called in for inspection, “all the backhoes suddenly disappear” from the mining sites.

“During Union Minister Ohn Win’s tours [of the mines], [mining] vehicles are missing because businessmen are tipped off. But when he leaves, the vehicles are all over the terrain,” Da Shi La Seng said.

He added that the minister should do an unannounced visit if he was truly keen to investigate the Hpakant region, and that he should work with both civilians and local NLD members.

According to Da Shi La Seng, one of the primary challenges to enforcing the law when it comes to jade mining in Hpakant is that firms are not beholden to state-level ministers.

The Ministry of Mines, which was subsumed into Ohn Win’s ministry under a cabinet restructuring, has said previously that although it issued permits for 10,282 vehicles and heavy-mining construction equipment to the Hpakant region, only 6,109 of these vehicles are in use. Roughly 4,000 vehicles, such as excavators, bulldozers and dump trucks, have been banned.

More than 850 licenses have been issued to firms to mine at over 8,000 sites since private companies were given permission to mine in 2007. The region has been plagued by a string of landslides since late last year, including a collapse on Nov. 21 that killed more than 100 people.