New concessions to explore gem-rich areas in upper Myanmar will not be granted until by-laws to the Myanmar Gemstones Law have been passed, which is unlikely to happen under the outgoing government, officials from the Ministry of Mines said.

The ministry asked local companies to submit applications to explore mining blocks in Kachin State, Shan State and Sagaing Region in August last year. The deadline for applications – initially November 2015 – was extended to January 18 to allow companies to prepare the necessary documentation.

Concessions are due to be issued for private companies to explore areas including Hkamti in Sagaing Region, Mine Shu in Shan State, and Nant Yar Sate and Maw Han in Kachin State.

The approvals process has been held up after a second amendment to the Myanmar Gemstones Law was passed by parliament on January 29.

From this date, the ministry has 90 days to draft by-laws, which will likely be passed after the new National League for Democracy-led government has taken power in March, said a spokesperson from Myanmar Gems Enterprise under the Ministry of Mines.

“The second amendment of the Myanmar Gemstones Law could include different rules on mining blocks to the old law, so we should wait until the by-laws are complete,” he said. “We are also still examining the proposed blocks at this stage, though we have received applications.”

Applicants wishing to mine in one of the designated areas, or in other areas, were asked to submit proposals to the Myanmar Gems Enterprise head office in Nay Pyi Taw. Along with a proposal, they had to pay K1 million (US$770) in addition to advance fees for fieldwork.

U Ye Htun, a representative of the Pyithu Hluttaw, previously questioned whether the government would allow as many new companies in the new round of permit applications as it had done in previous rounds. “If there’s no discipline it will harm the environment and the country,” he said.

Civil society groups and activists have called for more regulation and oversight of the sector, and will expect the incoming government to address these concerns, many of which are likely to impact the new mining blocks under consideration.

The ministry is still considering bids by private companies to extract gems in these areas in accordance with the amendments to the Gemstones Law and assessing the social and environmental impact of the proposed projects, said the Myanmar Gems Enterprise spokesperson, who asked not to be named.

One major change under the new law is that the central government will grant state and regional governments the power to issue mining permits for small and medium-sized enterprises. In the first amended law, only the central government had authority to grant permits for all gem mining blocks, regardless of their size.

In practice, this means the Sagaing Region or Kachin State government will be able to grant permits to small companies looking to mine small plots in the region, said U Htun Hla Aung, secretary 2 of Myanmar Gems Enterprise Association.

“The aim is to break up some of the big mining monopolies and give more of an opportunity to other companies, whether big, medium or small,” he said.

“Huge companies dominated in the past. Now we want to help poorer people. There has been too much digging with huge machines which are only affordable to the rich.”

Link: http://www.mmtimes.com/index.php/business/19030-local-mining-applications-delayed-by-new-gemstones-law.html