Prime Minister Dasho (Dr) Lotay Tshering

PM says no major decision on auction of mines during pandemic and until Mining Act is ready

NA and NC form joint committee on Mines and Minerals Bill 2020 to resolve major differences

The National Assembly and National Council have recently agreed to form a joint committee for resolving major differences on the Mines and Minerals Bill 2020.

The Bill which had been passed in the National Assembly had undergone such dramatic changes in the National Council that it came out looking like a different bill in December 2020.

The National Council Chairperson Tashi Dorji said that entire Bill is disputed given the major differences.

The biggest change made by the National Council is whereby all major mines are to be given only to State Owned Enterprises effectively nationalizing mines.

The original draft of the Mining Bill and the version that passed in the National Assembly allowed a mix of both  as it gave the the government the prerogative to either auction the mines or give it to SOEs.

Another difference is that for surface collection of boulders the NA had mandated only the DGM but the NC had given the authority back to the Department of Forest and Park Services citing the limited staff of the DGM in the ground and so its inability to give that service.

The Prime Minister Dasho (Dr) Lotay Tshering said the Mining Bill that went from the NA to the NC underwent a 360-degree turn and given the differences there was a danger of it becoming a dead bill if it came directly to a joint sitting of Parliament. He said it is good that the two committees can sit together and come out with a middle path and be more liberal.

The committees will discuss and make a presentation to their respective houses. The Bill will then be put up to the joint sitting in the summer session or budget session which is expected to start by the May and finish by the end of June.

Meanwhile the Prime Minister said 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.

The PM said that the pandemic can only be called off by the World Health Organization.

He said the coal mine would definitely remain with the SMCL given that it is strategic since it is not even enough for the domestic industries like cement industries in the first place.

The Prime Minister said there is one section that favors giving the mines to SOEs directly and another section that favors auctions but for him it will be the long term interest of the country. He said there no policy from the government deciding on either side.

He said the government does not want a major transaction during the pandemic. The lucrative Chunaikhola dolomite mine was supposed to be auctioned on 3rd June 2020 but the PMO through a letter on 1st June 2020 cancelled the auction saying a good price may not be secured during the pandemic. 

The PM said a call can also be taken only after the Mining Act is in place as currently there are wide differences between the NA and NC on the bill over mine ownership with NA favoring a mixed model of both SOEs and auctions and NC wanting only SOEs to play a role.

The PM said if left to the current 1995 Mines and Minerals Act then the only way out is to auction the mines.

He said the government’s final decision would be based on the confidence of the government in SMCL in managing the mines, unbiased public opinion and the long term interest of the country.

Lyonchhen said that he is on the fence and not tilted either to the SOEs or to those calling for auction.

He said that if the resources are managed efficiently then he does not mind any agency or the private sector managing it.

Lyonchhen said that his government is politically left leaning but not absolutely to the left as it would be difficult to march forward and also not entirely on the right side. He said he is studying the 21st Century Roadmap and he in fact asked the team why we cannot have a Bhutan school of thought.

Lyonchhen said that the term strategic and non strategic minerals is misleading. He said people say dolomite can last 200 years but that is a projection made in the 1990’s as with the change in technology and demand the 200 years’ extraction could also be done in 20 years in the future.

Lyonchhen said that hence all minerals in Bhutan are strategic.

He thanked JMCL for bringing out the real value of dolomite.

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