Newly sworn-in Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe said the Haitian government is drafting legislation to regulate the country’s nascent mining industry. His statement on Tuesday came shortly after the Associated Press reported findings in the northeastern mountain region of precious metals—including gold, silver and copper—potentially worth $20 billion.
According to Lamothe, the new legislation will lay out rules allocating a portion of royalties to the Haitian government and putting in place protections for the people and environment that could be affected by the mining. “The most important thing,” he said, “is to have the correct mining law.” The legislation is expected to be sent to Parliament soon.
Gold was last gathered in Haiti by the Spanish in the 1500s. After they moved on to Mexico, Haiti’s reserves remained largely unknown. In the 1970s United Nations geologists documented notable pockets of gold and copper, but foreigners remained unwilling to invest in the industry within Haiti because of the country’s long history of corruption and instability. Since the 2010 earthquake, though, U.S. and Canadian companies have invested $30 million in exploratory drilling, worker camps, new roads, and laboratory studies.
Haiti’s current mining laws date back to 1976, although in 1996 the firm SOMINE negotiated permits with President René Preval to extract metals out of the mountains. Lamothe said the legislation currently being drafted is designed to benefit Haiti while also attracting foreign investment with the promise of profiting from the mines. He said he hopes Haiti will receive “as much as possible” of the mining revenue “without hampering the profit motive of the mining company.
Lamothe officially became prime minister on Monday, after Parliament approved his Cabinet and policy plan. He filled a vacuum left by former Prime Minister Garry Conille, who resigned three months ago after only four months on the job, due to differences with President Michel Martelly. In addition to the mining legislation, Lamothe emphasized social investment, including garbage clean-up, better roads and programs to help mothers living in poor neighborhoods in the capital city of Port-au-Prince.