NA flounders in naming monitoring agency

MB Subba

The Mines and Minerals Bill 2020 provides for an independent regulatory body as a monitoring authority. Today,  the Ministry of Economic Affairs (MoEA) carries out both implementation and monitoring.

However, the National Assembly yesterday failed to agree on the name of the regulatory body even though the Bill was introduced in the House eight months ago.

The proposed name of the monitoring body in the Bill was the Mining Regulatory Authority. Members proposed two additional names – Mines Authority and Mines Legal Authority.

In what was an indication of lack of adequate homework from the ministry and the legislative committee, the House spent a significant amount of time pointing out clerical errors and mismatch between Dzongkha and English texts.

Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering said that people would be concerned if it is said that the House could not finalise the name. He said that there are a number of authorities in the country and that a similar name could be given.

The prime minister said that the august House does not have all the required expertise. He advised the committee could come up with a name after consulting with experts.

The House also debated for a need to enact a separate law for the monitoring body. But most members did not support the argument, saying that it was unnecessary.

Opposition Leader Pema Gyamtsho (PhD) suggested for a separate Act to protect the independence of the monitoring body. He clarified that such a law may not be required immediately but that it could be considered in the future as the Mines and Minerals Bill is for a long-term purpose.

Economic Affairs Minister Loknath Sharma acknowledged the need for the monitoring body. But he said that no separate law governing the monitoring body was required.

“There are many authorities in the country and all such authorities may require an Act each,” he said.

Panbang MP Dorji Wangdi said that similar authorities, including Bhutan Agriculture and Food Regulatory Authority (BAFRA) Bhutan Infocomm and Media Authority (BICMA), have their own Acts.

Bartsham Shongphu MP Passang Dorji (PhD) said that a separate law would be required if the implementation of the Mines and Minerals Act does not address the problem. “If required the law has to be enacted.”

Chairman of the economic and finance committee, Kinley Wangchuk, said that the committee did not discuss the requirement of law for the monitoring body. “One of the reasons not to have a separate law was that too many laws may impede services,” he said.

He said that the committee while reviewing the Bill looked into issues related to sustainable operation of mines, employment generation, environment and narrowing the gap. He said the Mineral and Minerals Management Act of 1995 is being amended after 25 years.

Kinley Wangchuk added that the ease of operating mines was also considered. “The objectives of this Bill are, in relation to prospecting, exploration, mining, processing, exporting related activities, to ensure equitable benefits for the people of Bhutan and ensure inter-generational sustainability of the mineral resources.”

Opposition Leader Pema Gyamtsho said that while some people were of the view that the mines and minerals are benefiting only a handful of people, others think that the mining should be operated by the state for the benefit of all.

He suggested that protection of environment and culture, religious monuments and health of people in the community should be included in the objectives. Since mining is a capital-intensive business there would not be many investors in the sector.

“The government should provide the private sector with the opportunity to operate mines by putting in place proper rules and regulations. The strategic mines and minerals should be operated by the state,” he said.

According to the Opposition Leader, it takes a long process to obtain a mining license but there is no proper monitoring system in place. “If the people were to benefit from mining, there should be a proper tax collection system,” he said.

Economic Affairs Minister Loknath Sharma said that it was high time to amend the Mines and Minerals Management Act of 1995 and that the new Act should benefit for many years to come.

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