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Mineral resource-related civil society network submitting a letter to the coalition of opposition parties asking for an inquiry into the restart of Phichit Gold Mine by Kingsgate Consolidated Limited, exposing four major flaws and how the mine has caused grave health impacts on the public, the environment, nature and local ecology.

A civil society group submits a letter to the members of the parliament.

At the Parliament on 2 February 2022, human rights defenders from the Network of People Who Own Mineral Resources, handed a letter to the coalition of opposition parties demanding a parliamentary inquiry into the restart of the Phichit Gold Mine by the Kingsgate Consolidated Limited. 

Dr Chonlanan Srikaew, Nan MP and Leader of the Pheu Thai Party, in his capacity as the Leader of the Opposition, along with Pol Col Thawee Sodsong, Secretary General of the Prachachat Party, Nikom Boonwiset, Leader of the Thai People Power Party, Wirat Warossirin, Deputy Leader of the Thai Liberal Party, Chaithawat Tulathon, Secretary General of the Move Forward Party, Apichat Sirisunthon and Thiratchai Phanthumat, MPs of the Move Forward Party, personally accepted the letter on behalf of the opposition parties. 

Juthamat Srihatthapadungkit, a Women Human Rights Defender from the Network of People Who Own Mineral Resources and PPM said that today the Network of People Who Own Mineral Resources has submitted a letter to representatives from all the opposition parties urging them to scrutinize the exercise of power by the Prayut coalition and its cronies concerning the Kingsgate Gold Mine.

Having been monitoring the situation of the Akara Gold Mine, the Network of People Who Own Mineral Resources is aware of the flaws of the mining operation. In our opinion, the Akara Gold Mine should be shut down. Nevertheless, the Akara Gold Mine should be shut down by invoking domestic laws instead of invoking power beyond the bounds of the normal law. 

The WHRD from the Network of People Who Own Mineral Resources has read out the letter submitted to the opposition parties urging the scrutiny of the exercise of the state power regarding the Kingsgate Gold Mine as follows; 

The first flaw of the operation of Kingsgate Gold Mine by Akara Resources. PLC is how public participation and community participation in the operation of the gold mine which covers the area of the three provinces including Phichit, Phetchabun and Phitsanulok has been impeded all along. There has been no social sanctions and public and community participation which can be enforced to specifically oversee the operation of the gold mine throughout the supply chain. 

There has only been ‘a consultation and the right to be merely informed’ regarding the application process of the mining leases and ‘a consultation and an act of seeking opinions simply to serve a ceremonial purpose’ prior to the finalization of the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA). Both procedures are a participatory process prior to the approval of the operating licenses. There are no whatsoever assurances that the opinions expressed during the consultations shall bear any impact on the decision concerning the approval of the operating licenses. And after the operating licenses have been approved, there are basically no requirements for any further public and community participation.

Secondly, the social responsibility and responsibility toward community development of the owners of the project are relatively low since only 0.1% of the value of gold manufactured is set aside for this purpose. Meanwhile, according to internationally recognized studies, gold mines abroad set aside as much as 0.9% of the value of the gold manufactured for community development. 

Thirdly, the mining is being done without a buffer zone to keep a distance between the community and the mining site. As a result, Ban Khao Mor, Tambon Kho Jed Look, Thap Khlo District, Phichit, has become a deserted village with broken families. 

Fourthly, the mining operation is made possible by evading the law or capitalizing on the legal loopholes. No concrete and clear assurances and action plans have not been laid down for the restoration of the mining area including the restoration during and after the mine is shut down to ensure the restoration of nature. 

Given the four reasons and many others, the gold mine owned by Kingsgate and Akara Resources has been subject to controversies for a long time. It has been criticized for creating immense negative impacts on the environment, society and health of nearby community. Unfortunately, the Thai government has not adduced these facts and used them effectively during the trial in the arbitral tribunal. It looks as if they were ready to surrender or to avoid the defeat in court by allowing Kingsgate to resume its gold mine operation. 

As a result, Kingsgate has reportedly been awarded licenses to resume its mining operation. The reported awarding of licenses, permits and other favors are worth more than what the plaintiff deserves in the arbitral tribunal. And this has been done simply to help the Prayut coalition avoid the defeat in the arbitral tribunal as a result of which they will be fined for about 24,750 million baht at the current rate of exchange. The Network of People Who Own Mineral Resources has been informed that the excess of favor bestowed on Kingsgate beyond what they should deserve in this dispute include;

1.Being permitted to resume its mining operation in their existing sites including the ‘Chatree Gold Mine’ with the one remaining plot (from 5 plots covering 1,259 rais) and the ‘North Chatree Gold Mine’ with the remaining 8 plots (from 9 plots covering 2,466 rais). 

In addition, the mining leases of Chatree Gold Mine which has expired since 2020 will be extended for another 10-20 years whereas the mining leases of the North Chatree Gold Mine will be extended to until 2028 given their lack of opportunity to operate their mineral business thanks to the Head of the NCPO Order no. 72/2559 to shut down all the gold mines from 1 January 2017. 

2.  Being permitted to operate in new mining sites apart from those mentioned in (1) including the many applications for licenses which had been pending for many years. According to Kingsgate’s information submitted to their stock exchange authority, their new mining site “Suwan” is located 6-10 kilometers north of the Chatree Gold Mine covering the area about 20 square kilometers or 12,500 rais. It is likely to be situated in Tambon Wang Prong, Noen Maprang District, Phitsanulok and “Chok Di” which is located 20 kilometers north of the Chatree Gold Mine covering the area bout 30 square kilometers or 18,750 rais, and it is likely to be situated in Tambon Bang Mung and Tambon Wang Yang, Noen Maprang District, Phitsanulok. The location of all these gold mine sites overlaps the territories of the Thung Salaeng Luang National Park and the Left Wang Thong River Basin Forest Reserve. 

3.  Having the leases or other licenses related to gold mine operation extended including the mining leases of the Chatree Gold Mine and the North Chatree Gold Mine such as the Metallurgical Processing Licence (MPL), the license to set up the facilities to store sludge or soil outside the mining area, etc. 

Their previous illegal acts will also be made legal this time. The expansion of their metallurgical plant to increase gold smelting capacity by three times from 8,000 tons/day to 24,000 tons/day has been developed before being awarded the permit and before the approval of the Environmental and Health Impact Assessment (EHIA). 

The legal case against them is pending in the Supreme Administrative Court, Meanwhile, by the order of the Lower Administrative Court, the gates of the expanded metallurgical plant remained shuttered. There is some implication, however, that the Thai government will make their best effort to defend Kingsgate in this legal case. 

4. Being awarded a reduced rate of mineral royalty and this is a special favor bestowed on them by the Department of Primary Industries and Mines on top of the awarding of licenses and tax benefits for their gold mine and metallurgical plant operations 

5. Listing the Akara Resources. PLC in the Thai stock exchange by a waiver of additional legal requirement 

6.  Being awarded mining leases for at least 1 million rais. The Network of People Who Own Mineral Resources is aware that prior to the final decision of the arbitral tribunal, Kingsgate has been awarded special licenses in 44 plots covering around 400,000 rais in Phetchabun including those around the Chatree Gold Mine and North Chatree Gold Mine and beyond. According to the meeting of the Mineral Resources Committee on 16 October 2020, the Thai government and DPIM are about to award special licenses, after the final verdict of the arbitral tribunal, in about 60 plots covering 600,000 rais located in the three provinces including Phichit, Phetchabun and Phitsanulok around the Chatree Gold Mine and North Chatree Gold Mine and beyond and in Chonburi, Lopburi, Saraburi and Chanthaburi. 

7. Kingsgate has been allowed to transport the remaining gold and silver ores in the existing manufacturing system prior to the shutdown thanks to the Head of the NCPO Order no. 72/2559 and have the mineral resources go through a domestic gold and silver smelting process since September 2020. 

All these lead to a question that the huge benefits bestowed on Kingsgate in order to avoid Thailand’s defeat in the trial is worth more than the damages “in the dispute”. 

What happens in the arbitral tribunal procedure is Kingsgate sues Thailand for invoking Section 44 to close down its gold mine and the law is not internationally recognized. It was also allegedly a breach of the Thailand-Australia Free Trade Agreement (TAFTA) by harassing and causing damage to investors from the treaty countries. Now, Kingsgate is forcing the Thai government to invoke a special power to reopen the gold mine and to offer them huge benefits and favors beyond what they should be awarded from the dispute. It is simply a reenactment of the use of Section 44.

Given the above reasons, the Network of People Who Own Mineral Resources finds the Thai administration has caused a devastating problem in Thailand. We are handing this letter to you since you are part of the legislative branch and are obliged to investigate the use of corrupt power by the state to ensure Kingsgate Gold Mine can be reopened at the enormous expense on public health, the environment, nature and ecology and these problems have yet to be addressed by any authorities. 

We hope the issue will be raised as a question in the Parliament and more efforts will be made to acquire information about the arbitral tribunal procedure which has long been subject to secrecy and to have it disclosed to the public. You may also use other channels at your disposal to keep the government in check and ensure more transparency in Thailand to quell the dark and suppression of the people which has been lingering in the past few years under the Prayut government. 

Meanwhile, Anan Wilairit, a HRD and President of the Nature Protection Club of Noen Maprang District, Phitsanulok, said that Noen Maprang is a major hub of mango production in Thailand and its tourist attractions are ranked among the top five including the million-year-old limestone mountains. 

If the opposition parties come here, they will witness the natural abundance which is being decimated by the mining concessions offered by the government without considering the impacts on the community. I would like to invite all of you to visit our area. We are not here to discredit the government, but we feel concerned about the consequences from the Prayut government’s policy to award mineral concession rights which is unfair and causes impacts to the community. It has caused a community breakdown including the case of Khao Mo in Phichit.

Dr Chonlanan said after accepting the letter that on behalf of the coalition of opposition parties, we hear the demands and recommendations about the Akara Gold Mine and how the affected people have exercised their right to protect national resources. The opposition parties will promptly bring these issues for the parliamentary attention and relevant procedure as proposed by the HRDs from the Network of People Who Own Mineral Resources. Previously, the issues were discussed in the Parliament in 2019. 

The opposition parties concur that the issues warrant intensive investigation. As part of the legislative branch, we realize how the existing incidence is depriving the country of the opportunities and is causing a loss of our natural resources. And this has been done simply to make amends of the mistake committed by the handful individuals in the administration including the Head of the NCPO and the NCPO and the use of the Head of NCPO decrees. 

I want to reiterate that all these decrees are repressive laws since they have not been promulgated through the legislative branch. The powers that be also enforce and interpret the laws by themselves without resorting to the judiciary in a so called “autocratic regime”. Therefore, per the request to investigate, we shall make our best effort. Initially, it has been agreed among the opposition parties that a motion for general debate on the Constitution’s Section 152 will be developed and the issue of Akara Gold Mine will be part of the issues raised during the parliamentary debate in order to scrutinize the performance of Prime Minister General Prayut Chan-o-cha.

From tomorrow onward, we can raise a fresh motion to inquire the concerned Ministers about all the facts and will see how the concerned Ministers or the Prime Minister will address the questions. Next, we have set aside resources to make a fact-finding trip to listen to and meet with the local people. We will also advocate through the relevant House Committees to conduct a parallel in-depth inquiry. This will be one of the key issues to change of the government. 

Meanwhile, Pol Col Thawee also said that it is important for the public to check out Kingsgate’s website in which they state that they have abandoned their mining operation in Chile since in Chile, a new president has just been elected, Gabriel Boric, a former student activist who now becomes the President. Such mining operations can only exist in an autocratic country. It shows that when Chile becomes more democratic, Kingsgate thus mentions in its website about the plan to stop mining there. In the same report, it mentions the conflict of interest in Thailand’s Akara Gold Mine. 

If the verdict is to come out and the Prime Minister has pledged that he would be held responsible for all the damages, the government will not be held accountable for that. But today, we realize how they are awarding national resources which belong to all Thai people to a company in Australia where they dare not even operate such a mining business since it is very polluting. 

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