Keep foreign companies out of the local gem mining industry- President

Altaf Iqbal

The Gem and Jewellery Authority has been directed to keep away foreign mining companies attempting to enter the local gem mining industry through local companies.

The directive was given by President Maithripala Sirisena after he was alerted that foreign companies were already buying up lands through local companies in the Ratnapura district for potential gem mining.

More than 100 acres of land has been purchased by the companies in Dodampe, Paradise Estate in Kuruwita and in the Karangoda area in the district.

Authority Chairman Sanjeewa Welagedara told the Sunday Times that at a meeting with the President on Friday, representatives of the gem industry handed over a detailed report warning about the potential dangers of foreign companies getting involved in the industry.

“We will be keeping a close watch on companies applying for gem mining to prevent foreign companies entering the market via local companies. Before issuing permits for mining we will check on their background first,” he said.

On a Presidential directive a Task Force comprising Government officials will be appointed to monitor and prevent entry of foreign companies getting involved in gem mining here.

Concerns of the local gem industry have been further heightened with the recent announcement at an international gem auction in Singapore that unpolished Sri Lankan gems will be made available at next year’s auction.

However, Sri Lanka does not permit the export of uncut or unpolished gems. “One of our tasks would be to monitor any attempt to prevent smuggling of gems out of the country,” Mr Welagedara said.

Earlier the Government cancelled 16 mining licences issued during the former Mahinda Rajapaksa government to a foreign firm involved in producing rough emeralds. The company has gem mines in Zambia and Mozambique.

Ratnapura Gem and Mining Merchants’ Association President Sarath Ananda said that during the meeting with the President it was explained to him that the foreign companies have sophisticated equipment enabling them to detect gems underground, adding the industry here will collapse within 10 years.

“We have advised land owners to be careful when selling lands to foreigners via local companies,” he said.

Ratnapura District Government Agent Bandula Harishchandra told the Sunday Times that in the event of a suspicious land transaction taking place, a motion could be moved at the District Co-ordinating Committee meeting to block the sale of such a land.