Jigme Mining Corporation Limited, Samtse ( Photo Courtesy: GeoMining_Official)

Mining Bill deadlock in Joint Committee over fate of Dolomite

The National Assembly (NA) and National Council (NC) joint committee formed to trash out differences over the Mining Bill are still unable to reach common ground even after five meetings including a first meeting that was held in a resort in Paro for around 4 days.

The main difference between the two sides is on the ownership of the mines with the NA members favoring the mixed model that would allow both State Owned Enterprises (SOEs) and private players and the NC wanting only SOEs for major mines.

A source who is aware of the proceedings of the committe said that after five rounds of discussions the final sticking point now is the NC members demanding that only Dolomite specifically be mentioned as coming under SOE ownership while they are okay with a mixed model for the rest.

The NC members wanted this given the huge economic viability of dolomite. However, the NA members felt that given that Bhutan has huge dolomite reserves and given the good performance of the private sector in finding new markets and extracting it efficiently the private sector should not be ruled out.

The NC members were open to giving things like boulder collection and dredging to the private sector but here the NA members observed that it would not be fair if the SOEs took over only the profitable bits and left the rest to the private sector.

The source said that even in the issue of land reclamation the private sector was doing a very good job but now that it has been given to the SMCL it is not going well. He said that when it comes to a private miner the community can come together and demand things but in case of an SOE mine then they would be told the government is doing it and they would be afraid to oppose the government and demand the community needs.

The NA members as a compromise to address concerns of a few getting wealthy even proposed to insert clauses in the bill where a minimum of 5 promoters or even 10 promoters are needed for a mine. The Bill already says that 49 percent of the shares of the mines have to be floated to the public.

The National Assembly (NA) and National Council (NC) had agreed to form a joint committee in March 2021 for resolving major differences on the Mines and Minerals Bill 2020.

Given the major and many changes made by the NC to the NA’s version of the Mining Bill in December 2020 the entire bill became disputed between the two houses.

The main dispute was the ownership clause as the NC had amended the Bill to say that all major mines are to be given only to State Owned Enterprises which would be effectively nationalizing mines.

Given the differences and deadlock so far the NC members are heading back to discuss and take further instructions from their plenary.

By contrast the NA members of the committee are already empowered to take decisions as the bill would anyway go for a vote in the joint sitting.

The source said that they are running out of time as the summer session approaches closer and the joint committee would give a crack at it again but failing that then the Speaker under the legislative rules of procedure section 59.A.2 can defer the bill for a future joint sitting.

Earlier, the Prime Minister Dr Dasho Lotay Tshering had told this paper that no major decisions will be taken on the auction of major mines like dolomite and gypsum during the pandemic until it is over and until the Act is ready.

He said that SMCL will manage the two mines during the pandemic period to keep them afloat and ensure supplies.

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