PMO seeks public opinion on Mines and Minerals Bill

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When this paper went to the press, there were 143 comments in response to the Facebook post by Prime Minister’s Office on Mines and Mineral Bill

In what is certainly a welcome move, the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) is seeking public views and opinions on the Mines and Minerals Bill that will be tabled in the upcoming session of Parliament, which starts on May 23.

The PMO posted on its official Facebook page on Thursday that the government, on its part, is going through every single page of the Bill, looking at it from all possible angles and trying to answer all questions.  “We would like to know what you think. What is your view?” states the Facebook post, titled Digging Deeper.

“Our country is small and natural resources are limited. We are mindful of the constitutional clause that the national wealth belongs to the people and that we should ‘maintain intergenerational equity’ states the post.

Prime Minister Dr. Lotay Tshering states that this bill is very close to his heart. “Coming from lower income group, and symbolically an election agenda on which we fought, growing income disparities is one of our biggest concerns. Its implications are huge and worrying. So, it is imperative to ensure that we don’t bring about policies that widen inequalities.”

The post also states that considering economic development, the government will study how the state can play a part while also encouraging wider private participation. “How do we strike a middle chord? But ultimately, we are one and with the wisdom of the Parliament, we will do what is best for this country.”

The draft bill has also been uploaded on the website of Ministry of Economic Affairs seeking public views. The draft bill states that the government considers it expedient to reform the law on regulation and management of mining activities in the country for long term development of mining sector, building mineral value chain, ensuring broad-based ownership, achieving economy of scale of mines, enhancing transparency and accountability, and ensuring scientific, environment-friendly and socially responsible mining.

The post generated substantial discussions, likes and shares, with 143 comments (at the time of writing of this story). Many lauded the PMO’s efforts to provide a platform on social media to share their opinions and concerns. A majority of the comments indicated that the amendment of the Act was necessary.

One of the social media users commented that the mining policy should be looked from various aspects not just accessible economic hubs.

Some expressed that the mining should be corporatized while others said that it should be privatized.

Some expressed that the mining requires huge investments and infrastructures and a gap is created because lower income group cannot make such investments. “It is already firmly held by those who are already established businessmen. They expressed that government should corporatize mining business thereby directly adding its income into the governments revenue. Mere tax collection won’t maintain intergenerational equity out of this national wealth.”

A comment stated that mines and minerals extraction agency should to be 51% owned by the respective local population of the area and 49% by the private or government enterprise funding or operating the unit.

People also suggested that the government should provide license to multiple players to avoid monopoly over the business, “which will greatly aid in narrowing the income gap at both organizational and personal level of citizens.”

A Facebook user stated that the government of the day would be doing a great job if mining companies were heavily taxed, leaving them with only a net profit of about 10%. “Even this profit per se is worth millions.” He also mentioned that this taxation policy must be urgently formulated and implemented even if it costs the government of the day.

Some have expressed that it is best to corporatize the mining sector so that citizens get the opportunity to invest on the shares while others have suggested that the mining sector, since the natural resources belong to the people of the country, should pay dividends to all citizens.

Some have suggested that the government should increase the royalties on minerals extracted and to limit the mineral lease period to 5-10 years. The previous National Council members had stated that it would be constitutionally right if this income-generating sector is owned and managed by the state, if there is a show of reluctance to pay the tax as approved by the government.

Dechen Dolkar from Business Bhutan

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