In 2000, Australia’s Kingsgate Consolidated, via its local subsidiary Akara Resources, won the Thai government concession to operate a gold mine. By 2008, it was running two gold mines in an area totaling 3,900 rai, covering Pichitr, Pitsanulok, and Petchburi provinces.
In 2020, Thailand may have to pay Kingsgate 750 million US dollars for what the Thai media dubbed “the price of stupidity.”
(a timeline by Access Trade)
Akara first won the concession to operate South Chatree Mine from 2000 to 2020. It then won the concession for North Chatree Mine from 2008 to 2028.
From 2007, villagers in the area protested against the mining company, citing water contamination. In 2014, according to reports, blood tests of villagers showed an unusual level of the chemicals manganese and cyanide.
In 2015, the Department of Primary Industries and Mines ordered the mines’ temporary closure for 30 days and hired a company to investigate chemical leakage. The finding showed no leakage of cyanide.
Conflicts escalated between villagers who supported the mines (those who worked for the mines and benefited from the economic boost in the area) and those who opposed them.
In January 2017, Prime Minister General Prayut Chan-o-cha, during the junta regime, ordered the mines’ closure via Article 44, the legislation that gave him full dictatorship power over the Kingdom of Thailand.
Following the closure of the mines, Akara laid off 750 workers. Around 5,000 residences petitioned the prime minister against the closure of the mines.
On 5 November 2017, Kingsgate filed a 750 million US dollar lawsuit against the Thai government, alleging that the usage of Article 44 violated international trade agreements.
On 27 August 2020, reports revealed that the Prayut Government planned to use 111 million baht to fight the case.
On 31 August, the parliament opposition lost a vote 38 to 21 to halt the use of taxpayers’ money to fight the case.
The opposition argued that the fund was authorized by the junta government leader, which the Constitution Court previously categorized as “a person who’s not a state employee.” Therefore, the opposition said General Prayut had no legal ground to authorize the state fund of 111 million baht.
However, a parliament committee is recommending to reduce the amount by 12 million baht.
What does it mean?
If, indeed, Akara contaminated the water in the area, which endangered residents’ health, the law should hold them responsible.
However, there is such a thing as “due process of law” and the terms of trade agreements between Thailand and Australia. Akara is a subsidiary of the Australian company, Kingsgate.
Article 44 served the power of authoritarianism, which the international community does not recognize. General Prayut got away using the law to subjugate the Thai people because the power of tanks and guns backed the law.
However, Article 44 did not extend beyond the Thai borders, while Akara is an extension of a foreign company.
This is not to say Akara should not be held responsible if it had done wrong. It should be held accountable to the fullest extent of “democratic” laws. This means the due process of law that requires transparent investigation and judicial process.
But when one used dictatorial power at a snap of the fingers, the 111 million baht is the price the people of Thailand likely has to pay. By the end of the year, if the Thai government doesn’t win the case, we can tag on another 750 US million dollars.
That’s not only “the price of stupidity” but also of “arrogance.”