… during deliberations on Mines and Minerals Bill 2020 

MB Subba

The Mines and Minerals Bill 2020 seeks establishment of a mining authority that will have a seven-member board as a regulatory and monitoring body.

The economic and finance committee after a review of the Bill had proposed to empower the authority to issue rules, regulations and notifications. However, after objections from Cabinet members, the National Assembly yesterday decided that such powers should be left with the economic affairs ministry.

Members in favour of the committee’s proposal were of the view that keeping most of the powers with the ministry limits the authority to “mere policing” activities. Members who spoke in favour of the committee’s recommendation argued that it would make little or no sense to appoint the board if it were given no authority.

The authority has been named as Bhutan Mining Authority. Members of the committee explained that the board needed to be given more powers in the interest of separation of power; and checks and balances.

After members expressed their views, some of them also raised their hands in favour of abandoning them.

Economic Affairs Minister Loknath Sharma said that it was the prerogative of the ministry to frame and issue rules, regulations and notifications. He was of the view that the authority’s roles should be limited to that of monitoring and regulating.

Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering said the power to frame rules and regulations should be left with the ministry, saying that the ministry would have the required expertise.

“Works requiring expertise should be left with the department. That’s why we have kept most powers with the ministry,” he said.

Drametse Ngatshang MP Ugyen Wangdi said that it would be more meaningful to empower the board with such powers in the interest of an autonomous authority. He also said that powers to issue mining licenses should be vested with the authority.

“If all the powers are kept with the ministry, there is no use constituting a board under the authority as an independent body,” he said.

One of the committee members and Panbang MP Dorji Wangdi cited examples of Bhutan InfoComm and Media Authority (BICMA), Bhutan Electricity Authority (BEA) and the Civil Aviation Authority, which are empowered to issue rules, regulations and notifications.

“If the Bhutan Mining Authority does not have such powers, then the role of the board or authority would be only about policing works. Then there is no need to constitute the board,” he said.

Opposition Leader Pema Gyamtsho, however, supported retaining the power with the ministry, saying that some authorities have more powers than others. “Let the ministry frame the rules and regulations and the authority monitor if they are followed properly,” he said.

The Bill states that the Mining Regulatory Authority would be an autonomous body that shall have a board and may acquire, hold and dispose of real and personal property.  

The authority shall have a Board comprising not more than seven members. The MoEA shall appoint members of the board from relevant agencies for not more than three years.

According to the Bill, the board shall approve Mine Feasibility Study report to lease a mine, take stock of the permits issued and make recommendations to the department, where relevant. 

The Bill also empowers the board to ensure execution of notification and policy directives of the ministry.  

The authority shall have a secretariat headed by the Chief Executive Officer selected through an open interview by the Board. The CEO shall be accountable to the board.

Among other roles, the authority shall lease mine as per the Mining Rights Certificate accorded by the department and issue permit for short term mining, surface collection for commercial purpose, fossicking and artisanal mining as per the Rights Certificate accorded by the department.

According to the Bill, the department of geology and mines shall frame and issue guidelines related to the management of mines and minerals in the country.

It will also produce geological maps at a regional scale as a primary source of information on geology for land planning, environment monitoring, seismic risks and geo-hazards prevention, civil works planning and mineral resource of the country.  

The Bill also entrusts the department to produce the policy declaration for geo-data management and carry out prospecting and exploration of priority minerals on its own or outsource to a person in consultation with relevant agencies.