KOTA KINABALU: A controversial gold mine on Sabah’s east coast district of Tawau is legal under a Sabah mining law says Datuk Abidin Madingkir, despite a stop work order being slapped on it by a federal-level agency.
The Assistant Minister to the Chief Minister said that the mine in Bukit Mantri is operating under the Sabah Mining Ordinance 1960 which provides for the Sabah Lands and Survey Department to oversee the mining operations.
This is despite the fact that the federal-level Mineral and Geoscience Department (JMG) has issued a stop work order on the mine since November.
“Under the Sabah Mining Ordinance, the Director of Lands and Survey is the Chief Inspectorate of Mining in Sabah.
“We have our own Mining Ordinance (to oversee mining),” he said when contacted yesterday.
He declined to elaborate further on the ongoing controversy and the fact that the mine is still operating despite the JMG’s stop work order.
The controversy first came to light when Merotai assemblyman Sarifuddin Hata brought it up at the Sabah Assembly in November last year when he asked whether the mine was operating legally.
This is since the JMG had not renewed the mining company’s licence and had issued a stop work order on the mine.
In response, the Sabah government maintained that the gold mine was operating legally but it did not make any reference to Sabah mining law or the federal JMG order.
Sarifuddin, who is Opposition Parti Warisan assemblyman, subsequently lodged a report with the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) in December urging them to investigate alleged wrong-doings by the mining company.
It is learnt that Sabah MACC had probed the mining company but found that Sabah was using its own mining laws to license the mine’s operations.
On Feb 6, state Customs officials briefly detained several individuals attached to the mining company and seized about 110kgs of gold bars at the Tawau airport.
Customs Department assistant chief director for Sabah, Datuk Mohd Nasir Deraman said that the gold bars were returned to the company after they found that there was no breech under the Customs Act.
Following the Customs seizure, Sarifuddin on Feb 9 threatened to lodge a second report if the JMG refuses to investigate claims that the mine was operating illegally.
Sarifuddin asked how the company was able to mine gold and bring gold bars out of Sabah when the legality of the mine’s operations were in question given that mining falls under the Mineral Development (Licensing) Regulations 2016.
Under this Act, a company must obtain among others, a mineral licence or a processing licence from the federal-level JMG.
“Is it enough to have a permit from the Sabah Land and Surveys Department to mine and sell the gold bars just like that?,” he said.
In October last year, MACC charged two company directors for cheating the state government of over RM1.3mil in royalties between 2019 and 2023.
Lo Fui Ming and his son Lo Teck Yong pleaded not guilty to a total of 24 charges before Sessions Court Judge Jason Juga at the Special Corruptions Court on Oct 25.
According to the facts of the case, the two men were accused of cheating the state government through the Land and Surveys Department for allegedly declaring incomplete items sold in their gold mining project.