YANGON—A Kachin lawmaker voiced concerns in the Upper House of Parliament about an Australian-backed company’s plan to conduct a feasibility study for a large-scale mining exploration project in an area of Myanmar’s northernmost township with snow-capped mountains and a largely untouched environment.
The Australian-backed Fortuna Metals Co. Ltd submitted a proposal to the government in August 2018 to carry out a feasibility study for a project to extract gold, metals and other minerals on nearly 300,000 acres—an area almost twice the size of Singapore—in Khaunglanhpu Township in northern Kachin State’s Putao District, where Myanmar’s largest area of forest cover is located.
Last November, the Kachin State government gave the company a green light to carry out the study. According to the Directorate of Investment and Company Administration (DICA), two directors of the company are Australian citizens and one is a Myanmar citizen.
According to the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environmental Conservation (MONREC), the government granted the company permission to conduct a feasibility study for two blocks in Khaunglanhpu Township that don’t include protected forest reserves—one block of 125,861 acres and a second block of 151,025 acres.
On Wednesday, Upper House lawmaker J Yaw Wu said in Parliament that local people are concerned about the possible confiscation of land, losing their natural resources and losing their livelihoods in areas that have been cultivated for generations due to the project.
J Yaw Wu said the feasibility study covers areas that include farmland, community forests, historical places and lands that local communities manage for rotational farming using customary tenure practices.
In Myanmar, especially in ethnic areas, people customarily use a shared land ownership system that includes freehold lands, community forest reserves and lands kept under customary tenure for rotational farming practices. The majority of people do not have ownership certificates or land titles.
J Yaw Wu warned the Parliament about the possibility of local resistance and protest as local people have not been adequately consulted about the project.
He also said that the state government should prioritize giving this kind of project to local companies.
In response to the lawmaker’s concerns, deputy head of MONREC U Ye Myint Swe said that though the company has already been granted permission for the study by the state government, the company is currently drawing up an environmental management plan (EMP) to prevent undue and avoidable adverse environmental impacts.
The deputy minister said the feasibility study will not significantly affect conservation areas, the environment or local land. If the company finds a possible mining project area, it must then carry out an environmental impact assessment (EIA), a social impact assessment (SIA) and a corporate social responsibility (CSR) plan in accordance with Myanmar’s environmental law.
U Ye Myint Swe said the company will have to submit such a proposal to the Ministry of Planning, Finance and Industry (MOFPI), the Ministry of Investment and Foreign Economic Relations (MIFER), the Ethnic Affairs Ministry and other related departments.
“The company is preparing a contract and both sides [the company and the government] will have to sign the final agreement [for the study] after the Union-level approval is granted,” the deputy minister said.