A discussion was held under the patronage of President Maithripala Sirisena regarding the issues faced by gem businessmen and the gem mining industry, at the Presidential Secretariat on Wednesday.
During this meeting with Sirisena, the representatives presented in detail the difficulties faced by them due to the examination of licences as well as the arrests made by individuals who did not belong to the National Gem and Jewellery Authority at legally authorised mining sites.
The President said that those investigations should be carried out without any hindrance to those legally engaged in mining.
They also pointed out that issues had arisen within the industry due to mining activities being allowed only from 6.00 a.m. to 6.00 p.m. Water draining in mines should be started at 2.00 a.m. and throughout the day and night maintenance work must be carried out to prevent the collapse of mine walls. The President later instructed the relevant authorities to remove the time restrictions.
Furthermore, Sirisena was apprised on problems with the issuing of licences and he instructed the relevant officials to follow a proper and efficient system to issue licences and grant the requisite permission to respective institutions, including the Department of Agrarian Services, within one week.
The President also paid attention to a request made by industry stakeholders over the new tax imposed on gem exports in the new Budget and said that a decision would be made at the next Cabinet meeting on this tax proposal.
The President instructed the Gem and Jewellery Authority to limit mining using backhoe machines and only allow the use of these machines in places permitted by the Gem and Jewellery Authority under the supervision of the governing body.
During this meeting, representatives also briefed the President on the non-implementation of the proposals submitted by the association on previous occasions, and the President, taking this issue into consideration, instructed the Secretary to the Ministry of Mahaweli Development and Environment to submit a report within two weeks stating the facts that have already been implemented out of that proposal as well as the decisions that have not been put in place.
Sirisena said that it was the responsibility of gem industrialists to pay special attention to environmental conservation.
One of the main reasons for the recent floods that affected several districts was mining and the failure to take action to conserve these areas. He added that illegal mining activities were also the main reasons for the spread of dengue fever in the district.
The President also noted that the Government had taken multiple steps to uplift the lives of those who work in the gem industry. The President also appreciated their contribution in bringing foreign exchange into the country. Representatives of the gem industry presented many ideas and suggestions on the steps that should be taken to develop the industry.
Ministers W.D.J. Seneviratne, Thalatha Athukorala, the Secretary to the Ministry of Mahaweli Development and Environment Anura Dissanayake, D.M.D.O.K Dissanayake and the Chairman of the National Gem and Jewellery Authority were among those present at the occasion.