The revised MMMA is also aimed towards minimizing inequalities of income, concentration of wealth, and equal distribution of business opportunities and public facilities
Upon the invitation of the economic affairs committee of the National Council to clarify whether or not the government will table the Mines and Mineral Management Act (MMMA) 1995 for amendment in the summer session this year, the minister of economic affairs, Lyonpo Loknath Sharma assured that the government is working towards definitely tabling the bill as soon as possible or in the summer session this year.
Eminent member and chairperson of the economic affairs committee of the National Council, Dasho Tashi Wangyel said that the recommendation to revise the MMMA 1995 has been one of the most repeated discussions that the house of review held since the first parliamentary election.
“The previous governments have also failed to address our objective for pushing forward the MMMA 1995 for amendment in the parliament despite findings by the National Law Review Taskforce that the current Act is in contravention with the provisions of the Constitution given the very long gap since its formulation (24 years),” said Dasho Tashi Wangyel.
Acknowledging the concerns of the house, the economic minister said that the mining sector is regulated through the MMMA1995 and its subsequent regulations, both of which hasn’t been reviewed or revised resulting in an archaic law that does not address the changing economic needs as well as the needed regulatory oversight.
“We are working hard to revise the MMMA 1995 to introduce it as a MMM bill in the parliament.
I am happy to inform the house that a brainstorming session involving experts from all the relevant sectors is underway in the capital to fine tune the bill. A lot has been already done including consultation with national and international experts. However, as the new government takes over, it is important to revisit the bill and ensure that the vision is well aligned,” said Lyonpo Loknath Sharma, adding that the government is as equally concerned as the house of review if not more.
The economic affairs minister said that the revised MMMA 1995 will promote modern scientific mining and improved environmental stewardship. The reforms will promote in-country value addition with a better mineral management and progressive fiscal regime. And lastly the reforms will target for a holistic industry development and value chain creation while ensuring broad based ownership and benefit sharing with the citizens through Corporate Social Responsibility. These enabling provisions have been incorporated into the revised MMMA and the Government expects these provisions to address the challenges and issues plaguing the sector today, said Lyonpo Loknath.
Providing an overview of the mining sector, the economic minister said that it has been designated as one of the five jewels of the nation of the economy- given its tremendous potential for creating economic opportunities. The sector, Lyonpo acknowledged, however continues to remain underdeveloped and a majority of the mining activities are relatively small in size that includes mining of dolomite, gypsum, limestone, slate, coal, marbles, quartzite and talc among others.
“There are 24 active mines and 36 quarries and together as a sector contributed 4.22% share of the GDP in 2016-17. Export of major minerals and mineral based commodities in 2017 amounted to Nu. 15.71 bn which constitutes 42.2 percent of Bhutan’s total exports. These export figures will be even higher if the value of other smaller mineral and mineral based commodities were also accounted for. What is surprising is even when less than half of potential is being explored, the earnings are impressive. It has huge opportunity in future,” he said.
Lyonpo also mentioned that the sector also provided direct employment for a total of 1,149 individuals, which is about 0.33 percent of the total workforce or employment in the country- to this the members of the house also proposed for more Bhutanese youth engagement in the mining sector through the revised MMMA.
The economic minister said that all the active mines and quarries in the country are spread across an area of 3,716.42 acres which is about 0.03 percent of the total land area of Bhutan. “Contrary to the perception that there is widespread mining and adverse impacts all around Bhutan, it can be seen from the numbers that in reality the mining sector is very small and yet contributes significantly to the economy.”
Lyonpo Loknath said that findings of a study carried out showed that Bhutan has significant amount of certain mineral resources such as limestone, graphite, gypsum and dolomite among others. “However, they are nowhere near the optimal rate of utilization. The mining sector can be an important catalyst for the development of our industrial base and be the low hanging fruits for economic diversification. Most of our mineral deposits are located in the southern foothills and near our industrial estates thereby making them convenient for transportation to the nearby markets.”