The House will also ask the OAG and RMA to table the law on owning assets abroad in the next session

Council: The National Council (NC) will table the Mines and Minerals Management Act (MMMA) 1995 in its next session if the economic affairs minister Lekey Dorji cannot explain and convince why review of the Act is taking so long during his question hour, which is scheduled to take place in a few days.

The NC made this decision after its members expressed resentment with the government’s responses to its recommendations following review of the MMMA and enactment of laws on Bhutanese owning assets and accounts abroad.

The Department of Geology and Mines (DGM) stated that the Act could not be reviewed because of lack of budget. The finance ministry replied that it has no capacity to draft a bill on Bhutanese owning assets and accounts outside the country.

The NC therefore decided to question the economic affairs minister during the scheduled question hour session.

The NC chairperson, Dasho (Dr) Sonam Kinga, said that the House will ask how much budget is required to amend the Act.

The House will also ask if this is the only obstacle in the review of the Act or if there are other issues. The House will also question whether the review can be started by 19th session.

“If the economic affairs minister cannot give us a convincing reason, we will start the review of the Act,” the chairperson said.

Earlier, the NC in its 17th session passed a resolution calling the government to strengthen the role of the State Mining Corporation. The resolutions included tabling of the MMMA to curb corruption, enhance transparency and promote development in the sector.

In the same session, the House also submitted to urgently table a bill in this session on the ownership of assets and accounts abroad by Bhutanese. The idea was to enhance transparency, curtail corruption and stave off tax evasion, and other malpractices, by facilitating legitimate business transactions.

However, in the government’s response to the NC, it stated that DGM has no budget to revise the MMMA 1995. “With regard to the revision of the MMMA, the department does not have any secured funding as of now and we are finding it difficult in implementing the activity,” it was stated.

DGM has however requested the Cabinet for approval of supplementary budget.

This in particular didn’t go down well with the House, which members labeled as unbelievable. “It has occurred for the first time that a law could not be reviewed for lack of budget,” the chairperson said.

He said that it would have been convincing if it was for construction of bridges and roads. “To brush aside review of such an important Act under the excuse of budget constraint also leads to doubt whether it isn’t for reason of profit elsewhere,” he said.

Eminent member Dasho Tashi Wangyal also questioned why the MMMA review could not be completed after eight years when even the Constitution could be drafted and endorsed by that time.

Bumthang NC member, Nima, said that since there is every chance of the government sidelining the review of the Act even in the next session, he felt the House should begin its review. “The NC should go ahead with its review in the next session since it has the mandate as House of Review,” he said.

Responding to the NC’s resolution on enactment of law for Bhutanese with assets and accounts abroad, the finance ministry responded that it has no capacity to enact a law on the issue in this session. “Usually Acts are drafted with technical assistance and currently, there is no technical assistance for drafting this act,” the ministry stated in its reply.

The ministry then went on to recommend forwarding the drafting of the law to the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) since it has a division mandated to draft acts. “In light of the above, tabling the bill in the next session of Parliament will not be possible and would require sufficient time,” the ministry stated.

Based on the reply from the government the chairperson said that the NC would write to the OAG and Royal Monetary Authority. “Though it is the government’s responsibility to write to OAG, but it is recommended that the NC write to OAG and Royal Monetary Authority as if NC were the government, the House will write to these two agencies to table the bill in the next session,” the chairperson said.

Tempa Wangdi