English | Dzongkha Sunday, February 23, 2020

Accepting applications for lease of mines and quarries but not issuing licences:PM

Sep 13, 2019

Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering said that the government is accepting only applications for the lease of mines and quarries and has not issued licences. He was clarifying on the issue at the Friday Meet today.

The National Council yesterday wrote to the prime minister calling on the government to continue implementing the moratorium on new applications for the lease of mines and quarries until the Mines and Minerals Management Act 1995 is passed by the Parliament following due legislative procedure. This comes after the Department of Geology and Mines issued a notification earlier this week lifting the moratorium.

Thanking the National Council (NC) for reminding the government about lifting the moratorium on the mines and quarries permit issuance, Lyonchhen said it is a typical example of check and balance.

“When I was going through NC’s letter, there is a subtle yet big difference between allowing and issuing a permit to accepting applications. This moratorium now that we removed is to accept applications. We are not going to issue licences. Although the line is very thin. Once that act is out, we will allow businesses according to the act; that is the issuance of licenses,” he added.

“One application will take at least a year or a year and a half and some two years to approve. So if you wait for the act to pass, and then accept the applications that mean waiting for another four years or three years to start the business. So are we not timing our actions accordingly? If the worry is about accepting applications, then NC is absolutely correct. If NC’s concern is the issuance of licence not in keeping with the law of the country then we are also equally concern. That is why we have decided not to issue licences.”

The prime minister also said he will be answering to NC letter soon with the clarification.

“Now the unspoken worry here is if it is being politicised or if we are going to favour our supporters? I will ensure that this will not happen.”

In the letter, the NC stated that during the 22nd session of the Question Hour session with the Minister for Economic Affairs on January 16, this year, Lyonpo said that the issuance of licences and renewal of licences will be suspended until the Mines and Minerals Management Act 1995 (Amendment Bill) is passed by the Parliament.

‘Further, the Minister specifically mentioned that unless the Amendment Bill is passed, the moratorium imposed in 2014 would not be lifted,” reads the letter.

The letter stated, “Contrary to the Government assurance given to the National Council, the Economic Affairs Ministry through a letter issued on 21st August 2019, ordered the DGM to extend the lease of Eastern Bhutan Coal Company till December 31, 2019”

“Such a decision of directly allocating high-value strategic mineral resources to a private entity could undermine the principles of fairness, transparency and propriety.”

The Economic and Finance Committee of the National Assembly is currently reviewing the Mines and Minerals Management Act (MMMA) 1995(Amendment Bill) for deliberation in the winter session of the Parliament. Following that it will be tabled in the next session of the National Council.

The letter says, “Considering that the MMMA 1995 is currently being reviewed in the Parliament, the lifting of the moratorium by the Economic Affairs Ministry, at this precise juncture, preempts the decision of the parliament and also directly undermines the supremacy of the parliament.”

The moratorium on the issuance of new licences was imposed from 2014 till 2019 to enable the revision of Mineral Development Policy.

Sonam Pem

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