Vientiane Times, June 26, 2012
The government won’t consider any new investment proposals in mining or land concessions for rubber and eucalyptus plantations until December 31, 2015. The slowdown will give the government time to review policies and assess the effectiveness of existing projects. The government will also speed up the survey and allocation of land to identify which areas are suitable for investment, and which areas should be preserved. Minister of Planning and Investment Mr Somdy Duangdy made these observations yesterday when res ponding to concerns raised by National Assembly members after a spate of development projects have encroached on villagers’ land and affected the environment.
Mr Somdy said the problem had occurred because of a failure to properly survey and allocate land for such projects. “We approved large plots of land without looking into the details, like what land belonged to the state and which belonged to local people,” he said. “We will now inspect all approved investment projects. Next, before approving any more projects, we will ensure that a thorough survey and allocation of land is undertaken.” Mr Somdy also said the government would review a land compensation policy for villagers affected by such projects. “I think we need the participation of local people in all development projects in order to avoid problems. Any project that doesn’t benefit villagers in the area should not be approved,” he said.
Meanwhile, NA members want the government not to approve new mining projects beyond 2015, and to encourage the business sector to invest in agriculture production to ensure food security. Mr Somdy couldn’t say whether the government would call a halt to new investments in mining, and rubber and eucalyptus plantations after 2015, as it would depend on the findings of the project review. Investment plays a significant role in the development process, but has caused problems for villagers who have lost their land and livelihoods to make way for projects that exploit natural resources. Since 1998, the government has approved 4,470 investment projects worth US$24.4 billion. Of the total, investment capital of US$5 billion has come from domestic businesses and the rest from foreign investment. The biggest investment is in the mining sector, which amounts to about US$5.5 billion, followed by hydropower development (US$5 billion) and the agriculture sector (US$2.6 billion). The main area of interest lies in mining.
In total, the government has approved 171 mining projects. Of this, 122 mining projects have been approved for prospecting and exploration and the rest have been approved for excavation and processing. Mining operations now cover about 23 percent of the country’s total land area. The government has approved 57 projects in the agriculture sector and signed memorandums of understanding with the investors of 13 projects covering an area of 132,000 hectares. The remaining projects have been given to investors for development, on an area of 297,000 hectares. The majority of these projects are rubber, eucalyptus and sugarcane plantations.