A temporary stay on the issuance of quarry licences has been announced, with cultural and environmental considerations behind the ban.

During a recent meeting of the Working Group on Energy and Mineral Resources (Group N) of the Government-Private Sector Forum (G-PSF), Minister of Mines and Energy Keo Rattanak issued an order banning licences from being issued without thorough vetting.

Group N is responsible for addressing challenges in the field of mining and energy, with the stated goal of putting national interests – and those of the people – at the forefront of its decision making.

“I believe the public will be pleased with my instructions,” said Rattanak.

“We need to balance the Kingdom’s development with its conservation. There is currently an over-supply of stone for construction, so the private sector will still be able to meet demand, and prices will remain stable,” he added.

He explained that because the ministry respects the principles of the free market, it will never prohibit people from applying for quarry licences. The new directive simply means that when someone applies to open this kind of business, the ministry will conduct thorough checks. The vetting process will include a company’s adherence to tax laws, as well as environmental concerns.

“It is a question of balancing economic growth with conservation issues. Many of the Kingdom’s mountains and rock formations have historical, cultural or eco-tourism value and I do not want to see them irreparably damaged. Yes, we need stone for construction, but not at the expense of quarries destroying the landscape,” he said.

He added that he had instructed the General Department of Mines to work with the provincial mines departments, in order to carry out consultations with their counterparts in the departments of culture and tourism.

During the meeting, Hak Bunthorn, a representative of the private sector in the field of quarrying and construction, suggested that some quarrying operations had gone out of business due to unfair competition. He said his association has received many complaints about illegal quarrying, but has been unable to find a solution to the problem.

“We ask that the ministry intervene in some way. They have noted that they support the free market, so I believe that they should step in if a business is somehow able to undercut its rivals. I would like the minister to provide additional comments on this issue,” he added.

Rattanak replied that it would not be possible to grant the request, because intervening in the competitive free market may affect consumers.

“In a free market economy, prices cannot be guaranteed. The government has an obligation to make sure that competition is fair. This means that all companies must respect the same laws, pay the same taxes, and meet the same obligations. Sometimes a company goes bankrupt because it did not operate as well as other firms. We cannot intervene in the free market,” he said.

He explained that the government cannot set prices in any industry, but will work to ensure competition is fair.