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The Great Mineral Robbery


Excerpts from ‘Seeing numbers in chaos’ in this week’s edition. For elaboration, visit www.eesrilanka.wordpress.com

• The robbery of minerals has been going on for a while. The Geological Survey and Mines Bureau (GSMB) is accused of obstructing local processing by state enterprises, of selling wholesale mineral wealth off to foreign multinationals, and of failing to invest in the industrial development of the rural communities where the mines are located.

     Meanwhile, scattered news items report sometimes armed conflict between authorities and merchants over ‘sand’. Almost one-third of the total sand is supplied illegally.

     ‘Minerals mined in Sri Lanka have included clays, feldspar, gemstones, graphite, mica, phosphate rock, salt, silica sand, stone (limestone, quartzite), titanium minerals, and zircon. The mineral-processing industry could produce cement, lead (secondary), iron and steel semimanufactures, and petroleum products.’ The GSMB is giving it away to foreign multinationals.

     The Mines and Minerals Act No33 (1992) says sand belongs to the state, with GSMB issuing 3 types of licences for exploration, mining, trading and transport of minerals. The GSMB identifies locations and quantities of deposits. Mining and transportation must accord with the National Environmental Act and other related agencies. Unfortunately, illegal sand mining taking place at a massive scale is yet to be controlled effectively.

     White settler countries developed mining and foreign trade with expatriate investors, but the shift to agriculture and manufacturing which transformed their economies was brought about by white settlers, who relied on the home market. Settlers produced many mining requirements – such as clothing and food for mine workers, explosives and other needs. White Rhodesia impounded the surplus from mines, terminating royalties paid to shareholders abroad. Exchange controls  prevented surplus from being spent abroad by local owners. The English soon decided it was better to hand over limited rule to the white-Blacks who had no idea about industrialization, than the white settlers who competed with them.

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