The National Assembly yesterday passed an amendment on a law regulating mineral resources management and exploitation in a move to better regulate the mining sector and prosecute criminals.
The amendment was made due to a 2001 law that did not include a clause regulating punishments for mining operators who violated the law, officials said.
Dith Tina, a secretary of state at the Ministry of Mines, said that the old law banned ores from being exported illegally, but did not contain punishments to be imposed against anyone who did so.
One of the amended articles says that miners and mining concessionaires who commit mining offences could face a fine of up to $12,500 and up to five years in prison.
The amendments followed the recent closure of nearly 30 illegal gold mining operations in Mondolkiri province as officials with the Mines and Environment Ministries continue a compliance push in the wake of a poisoning case that killed 13 villagers downstream in Kratie province.
Villagers claimed gold-mining run-off was to blame for the deaths, but the government has officially pinned the poisonings on herbicide run-off and methanol-laced rice wine.
During the plenary session yesterday, Nhep Bunchin, a Funcinpec lawmaker, asked the Ministry of Mines and Energy to review all licenses granted to mining companies to ensure that they complied with regulations.
“The ministry should review licenses for mining study and research,” Mr Bunchin said. “In the past, we have just provided contracts for mining study and research to miners. If they find all type of mines, they must report it to the ministry and even if they find gold mines, they must ask for another license to operate.”
Mr Bunchin added that all activities of mines research and study had to be thoroughly scrutinised so that they complied with the law.
Mr Tina said that the ministry scrutinised all licenses, curtailing more than 150 licenses in 2013 to 60 licenses last year.
“In 2013, we had 156 licenses for mining study and research, but in 2017 only 60 licenses remain,” Mr Tina said. “We review all licenses.”
Mr Tina said mining research and study lasted for six months, but licenses for mining operations was for three years and could be extended for two years, twice.
“If we receive clear documentation from them that they are working and they need more time to do it, we will extend it for them,” Mr Tina said.