MB Subba

The parliament will add a new chapter in its history when the economic and finance committee of the National Assembly holds a public hearing on the Mines and Minerals Bill (MMB) 2020 on January 10.

It is the first time that the parliament will conduct a legislative public hearing (LPH). The hearing is expected to be broadcast live on BBS TV.

The 13-member committee will quiz witnesses (stakeholders) from all the sectors relevant to the mining sector. The committee has finalised about 13 themes and 24 questions.

According to the committee, witnesses are officials from department of geology and mines as the owner of the bill, department of revenue and customs, local governments, national environment commission (NEC), department of forest and park services, private miners, state mining corporation and affected people, among others.

The committee has concluded several rounds of public consultations with various stakeholder groups. But the public hearing will enable all the stakeholders to come together on one platform and provide their clarifications and opinions through the same platform.

The committee’s chairman, Kinley Wangchuk, said that the public hearing would be held to effectively and correctly review the mining issues in the country.  He added that more than 10 mines under operations are expiring soon and that it was crucial to pass this Bill soon.

“Legislative public hearing is required by parliamentary mandate but could execute only this year and therefore it is historic.

We are doing it at the niche of time,” Kinley Wangchuk said.

Members of the committee said that the public hearing would be conducted as part of the parliament’s oversight function as enshrined in the Constitution.

Article 10(2) of the Constitution sates: “Parliament shall ensure that the Government safeguards the interests of the nation and fulfills the aspirations of the people through public review of policies and issues, Bills and other legislations, and scrutiny of State functions.”

The theme of the public hearing is “Mining Operations in Bhutan: Way Forward”.

Kinley Wangchuk said that public hearings were conducted on issues in public domain and had direct bearings on people’s lives. The Mines and Minerals Bill is a topic that is discussed widely both in the National Council and among members of the public.

“There is great public interest on the issues related to mines and minerals. The expected outcome of the LPH is to help efficiently review MMB 2020,” he said.

Kinley Wangchuk said that mining was entrenched with controversies due to health hazards and environmental damage and for not contributing enough to socio-economic and environmental well-being of the people.

He also highlighted the need to keep promoting the constitutional mandate and vision on mines and minerals. Article 1(12) of the constitution states: “The rights over mineral resources, rivers, lakes and forests shall vest in the State and are the properties of the State, which shall be regulated by law.”

Mines and minerals are among the top 10 exports of the country. Seven mine-based industries (MBIs) in the country paid a total of Nu 455.8 million (M) in 2017 and Nu 601.2M in 2018 as Corporate Income Tax (CIT), according to reports available with the committee. 

The net profit earned by the seven MBIs was Nu 1.1 billion (B) in 2017 and Nu 1.3B in 2018. According to the reports, the total royalty and mineral rents levied was less due to the application of incentivised royalty system.

The hearing will take place in the National Assembly’s conference hall.

“The purpose of a LPH is to obtain public input on important legislative policy matters that affect a wide range of citizens, such as comprehensive land use plans, annual budget and critical issues among other issues,” Kinley Wangchuk said.

The programme is being sponsored by the UNDP. Funded by UNDP, the Member of Parliament and the staff of the National assembly underwent trainings on public hearings recently.

Amid several issues in the mining sector requiring immediate redressal, the committee and the government had planned to table the Mines and Minerals Bill 2020 as urgent Bill in the upcoming winter session. It failed due to objections from the National Council (NC). The National Assembly could not declare the Bill as urgent citing the Legislative Rules of Procedure (LRoP).

Both Houses must agree on an urgent Bill, which shall then be passed in the same session.

The parliament will pass the Bill in the summer of 2020 if the National Assembly passes it in the upcoming winter session and the following things go as planned. It would take longer if the Bill goes to a joint sitting.