By KYAW LIN HTOON & THOMAS KEAN | FRONTIER
THE Myanmar Centre for Responsible Business has urged a total overhaul of the legal framework for mining just weeks after the government enacted rules to bring into force the amended Myanmar Mines Law.
The Ministry of Natural Resources and Environmental Conservation issued the rules for the Myanmar Mines Law on February 13, more than two years after amendments were made to make the sector more attractive to investors and addressing social and environmental concerns.
Important changes include the possibility of longer permits and foreign investment in small and medium scale projects. The amended law also contains stipulations that investors contribute to an environmental fund and consider post-mine rehabilitation.
But MCRB director Ms Vicky Bowman said the new regulations were still based on the “outdated” 1994 Myanmar Mines Law. “The 2015 Amendments to the Mining Law only made minor changes; and the 2018 Rules, since they are based on that amended Law, can also only tinker at the edges,” she said.
‘The entire approach needs a rethink’
Bowman was speaking at the launch of MCRB’s sector-wide impact assessment on mining on March 8. The 248-page report was compiled based on field research focused on tin, gold and limestone mining in eight states and regions, as well as a review of current laws and initiatives.
It identified five key challenges for achieving responsible mining, including a lack of clarity in policies, laws and regulations; lack of capacity to monitor and address environmental, social and human rights impacts; the impact of mining on local communities; challenges to governance of mining in conflict areas; and widespread informal mining.
In a statement released after the launch, Bowman said the government should draft a National Mineral Resources Policy, based on a transparent and consultative process. The policy could then serve as a basis for an overhaul of all mining laws.
“The entire approach to mining in Myanmar needs a rethink. Our field team observed so many negative impacts when undertaking the research for this assessment. Most of the harms were felt by workers – including women and children – and borne by the environment,” she said.
Delegating authority, environmental protections
The assessment was released just week after the ministry issued rules to bring the amended mines law into force.
Director General U Khin Latt Kyi from the Minister for Natural Resources and Environmental Conservation’s Office told Frontier there were three key points in the rules.
The first is that they give authority to the state and region-level governments to manage small and medium scale mines. “In future, Nay Pyi Taw will only manage large-scale production. That’s one of the obvious differences with the previous rules enacted in 1996,” he said.
The second key change is that the rules give more authority and responsibility to the respective levels of government to monitor the operations of mining companies, such as whether they are damaging the environment or if they have failed to conduct corporate social responsibility activities as promised. “The departments will now be able to control and manage [companies] well,” he said.
The third change is that the rules require mine operators to submit to submit a mine rehabilitation plan to the ministry.
The rules also introduce many other changes to support the development of the industry, he said, noting that they contain 225 sections compared to just 124 in the 1996 version.
“The mining sector is broad and there are a lot of different tasks to carry out in order to reform it. These rules are a solid foundation for us to do that,” Khin Latt Kyi said. “They can bring many improvements to the sector.”
Mr Eugene Quah of Eugene Quah & Associates, a boutique business advisory firm focusing on Myanmar, said the release of the “long-awaited” regulations was a “positive development” for the industry.
He said the International Investors for Mineral Development Association – an industry association with 23 members, including Eugene Quah & Associates – was looking forward to working with the government and other stakeholders to improve the regulatory framework so that it supports responsible mining and is attractive to international investors.