|The government revised procedures for artisanal and small-scale mining (ASM) in May 2017 to establish a registry of artisanal miners, provide effective regulatory tools to mitigate environmental impacts from ASM and raise the requirement for the capacity of machinery.
Executive Director of Mongolian Root Union of Artisanal and Small-Scale Mining (ASM Union) D.Bayarmaa spoke about growing concerns in the ASM sector and the newly approved procedures in the interview below.
The ASM Union was founded on May 2, 2013 and takes measures aimed to protect the rights of artisanal miners and promote the development of sound environmental practices for safer and healthier living condition for locals. At present, 67 ASM NGOs and approximately 6,200 artisanal miners are registered at the ASM Union.
First of all, can you tell us about the ASM Union and artisanal miners? Why was the union established and what does it do?
Since its establishment in 2013, the ASM Union has strived to protect the rights of people engaged in ASM, deliver their voices and opinion to policymakers, and give a positive understanding about responsible and sound environmental practices to miners across the country.
During the transition from a centrally planned economy to a market economy in the late 1990s and early 2000s, many factories shut down, which took away jobs and the main sources of income of countless people. Unemployment rose at an alarming rate at the time. Many herders lost precious livestock due to consecutive years of severe drought during the start of 2000. Due to these reasons, people started mining independently to make ends meet and take care of their family. These people were commonly known as “ninja miners”. Nowadays, they are referred to as artisanal miners.
Executive Director of Mongolian Root Union of Artisanal and Small-Scale Mining D.BayarmaaThere’s a big difference between who are now considered a ninja miner and small-scale miners. Small-scale miners are people who have signed agreements with soum mayors and operate in approved land in accordance with the law and safety regulations. These people also conduct rehabilitation activities after mining operations.
Responsible small-scale miners have created many good practices. Our union has its own trainers who not only provide services to small-scale miners but also try to improve formation and organization of artisanal miners. Last year, we trained over 4,000 artisanal miners and gave them a comprehensive knowledge about safe and eco-friendly activities. Right now, more than 6,000 small-scale miners of 69 companies in 45 soums of 15 provinces have joined our union. The number of our members are increasing every passing year.
In May, the government passed a revised version of procedures for ASM. How will this benefit people engaged in ASM?
Miners believe that it’s a very beneficial legal document because opinions from small-scale miners were incorporated in the new procedures. The ASM Union has been raising awareness of these new procedures to associated government agencies.
I’m very grateful to everyone who listened to our proposals and allowed us to participate in the drafting of new procedures for ASM. We, small-scale miners, believe that it’s a huge achievement for us. Now, we must follow these procedures and be more responsible when mining. According to the newly approved procedures, small-scale miners must be a legal person who is part of a partnership specified in Article 35.1. in the Civil Code of Mongolia Partnership, a cooperative specified in Article 36.4., or is part of an unregistered union or partnership specified in Article 481.1. Various business opportunities and financial advantages will become available to independent miners if they become a legal person by joining a cooperative or partnership.
Unregistered partnerships used to be established with five or more members but now, there needs to be at least nine people to create a partnership according to the revised procedures. This is a good thing. The amendment that’s most appreciated by small-scale miners is the fact that the capacity of machinery was raised seven fold. Miners have been discussing this matter and asking associated organizations to raise the capacity of machinery for many years. We used to operate an internal combustion engine of a cylinder capacity not exceeding 500 cm3, but now, we’re able to use two or more engines of a cylinder capacity exceeding 3,500 cm3.
It’s relatively hard to be a person engaged in ASM. All of us involved in ASM are very happy that the newly approved procedures incorporated proposals from miners and include several articles that respect the interests and rights of artisanal and small-scale miners.
The accountability system is very important for small-scale miners. Amendments connected to the accountability system have been made in the new version of procedures. As long as you’re engaged in ASM, you have to contribute to the local economy by paying taxes, follow the labor and safety regulations, and rehabilitate mined areas.
Can you tell us about the procedure for getting a land permit?
Members of an unregistered cooperative and partnership had to submit their application for land purchase to the Mineral Resources and Petroleum Authority through a Soum Mayor’s Office. Through revised procedures, their submitted applications will be delivered to a Provincial Mayor’s Office, which will then send it to the Mineral Resources and Petroleum Authority along with required documents. If the authority approves, the affiliated provincial council will go through the application and make the final decision within 10 days. The land specified in the application can be used for ASM once the partnership or cooperative seals the deal with a contract.
…It’s crucial to change the current system in which miners have to submit gold to Mongol Bank through an exchange. This is one of the most urgent problems faced by artisanal and small-scale miners…
The public lacks basic knowledge and understanding about ASM, as mentioned by some miners. Does this cause any harm or obstruction in the ASM sector?
There are many occasions when artisanal and small-scale miners face challenges because of locals who don’t know much about ASM. It’s common for people to gather in areas rumored to have gold. The ones who crowded these areas are, what they call, ninja miners who aren’t a member of a cooperative or partnership, and they dig around for gold but don’t take rehabilitation measures. The irresponsible and illegal actions of these people create misunderstandings about small-scale miners who operate in a specific area in accordance with related legislations and regulations. The state needs to tighten control and regulations in areas where ninja miners are operating at.
Article 6.11.5 in the new Law on Conflicts, which is to become effective on July 1, states that anyone who violates procedures that regulate relations related to ASM will be fined with 74,000 MNT, and if it’s a legal person, he or she will be fined 750,000 MNT. In my opinion, small-scale miners should also pay attention to engaging in responsible mining activity. Overall, the accountability system should be improved for all parties.
You said that it’s essential to take rehabilitation measures. Do artisanal and small-scale miners regularly rehabilitate and restore mined lands?
The ASM Union participated in the Asia Foundation’s Engaging Stakeholders in Environmental Conservation Project Phase II (ESEC II), financed by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation. Within the scope of the project, our members trained around 10 small-scale miners to become environmental trainers who teach low-cost rehabilitation practices. The new trainers recently organized a workshop for other miners operating in small communities. Participants restored 210 hectares of land using the new method they learned at the workshop. In particular, they conducted biological and technical rehabilitation in the area. However, there’s been some instances when mining companies and individuals raided areas we rehabilitated without license or permit. Every time that happened, the ASM Union notified it through a press conference and stopped their illegal activities.
Due to content-related problems, artisanal and small-scale miners deliver their gold to Mongol Bank through an exchange. How can we change this so that miners can hand over their gold directly to Mongol Bank?
A mechanism is being created to allow miners to directly submit their gold to the minerals fund of Mongol Bank. In 2016, 18.3 tons of gold was handed over to Mongol Bank at the national scale. Apparently, 10.3 tons of the total submission was handed over by individuals and most of these individuals were artisanal and small-scale miners. It’s crucial to change the current system in which miners have to submit gold to Mongol Bank through an exchange. This is one of the most urgent problems faced by artisanal and small-scale miners. It’s time we created a proper gold mining supply chain for the ASM sector. The state has already begun paying attention to this matter and is incorporating it into their plans. Independent miners are required to come to Ulaanbaatar to have the karat content of their gold determined because Mongol Bank only accepts gold that has been tested by the Gemstone Testing Agency. I believe it would be extremely beneficial if branches of this agency are opened across the country. For starters, branches can be built in different regions and slowly expanded into other regions.
This interview was originally published in Mongolian on mminfo.mn