PM orders a halt to alabaster projects in Attapeu
Prime Minister Thongsing Thammavong has issued an order to halt the feasibility studies for alabaster on Phoukanghong Mountain in Attapeu province, an official in charge of the project confirmed on Friday.
The PM's order comes after the provincial authorities signed memorandums of understanding (MOU) with 48 companies to conduct project surveys on the stone resource before the excavation process can take place.
The order to halt this project took place as the government wanted to inspect the stone resources and assess its value in terms of national socio-economic development.
Under the PM's order, the 48 companies will have to stop their project surveys pending the decision by the government.
Director of Attapeu Provincial Department of Natural Resources and Environment Mr Sisavan Chanthaphayboun told Vientiane Times on Friday that, “We just received the PM's order today.”
Mr Sisavan said the PM's order assigned the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment, the Ministry of Energy and Mines and the Ministry of Planning and Investment to inspect and conduct a survey on the alabaster and report it to the government.
There are concerns that provincial authorities in Attapeu may be overreaching on the powers within their jurisdiction by signing the mou s with the companies for future concessions.
Under Lao law, provincial authorities can only grant concessions on land areas up to five hectares in size and concessions on any areas larger than that require the approval of the central authorities in Vientiane.
Provincial authorities in Attapeu have moved to get around this restriction by slicing up the 1,020 hectare site on P houkanghong Mountain into five hectare parcels which they will grant separately.
While this may not be technically illegal it certainly goes against the intent of the relevant legislation, which was designed to ensure central authorities are the final arbiters for the approval of large scale projects of national significance.
A senior lawmaker Mr Duangdy Outthachak said that it is ok to divide the area up into five hectare sites if they are being granted to different companies but if more than one parcel of land was to go to the same company then this would be illegal.
Similarly, if the same parties or interests behind the venture have registered numerous companies in a bid to get around the restricti ons, this would also cast doubt over the legality of the ventures.
With so many companies interested in taking out concessions to exploit the alabaster, local business people would like all parties and companies to have the chance to secure a five hectare site, not just those with connections and access to officials.
Some 90 percent of the 48 companies which have signed the MOU to exploit the alabaster are Lao companies but many people are of the view that they are in fact backed by Chinese and Vietnamese business interests.
Phoukanghon g Mountain which is some 7,800 hectares in size is located about 60km from the provincial capital.
Attapeu Provincial Department of Natural Resources and Environment estimates that about 250,000 tonnes of alabaster is available on the surface of the land on an area of 1,020 hectares on the mountain.
By Times Reporters
(Latest Update September 08, 2014)