Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Balochistan powers on big mines projects cut — almost

Shaheen Sehbai

- Tuesday, November 10, 2015 - From Print Edition

DUBAI: In what may be a landmark decision for Balochistan, and Pakistan, an extraordinarily powerful broad-based executive forum has been created which will decide the fate of Balochistan’s entire minerals and natural resources potential, including Reko Diq, Saindak and all other big mines and deposits.

A Mineral Resources Development Board, headed by the chief minister of the province, was quietly notified by the Governor of Balochistan on Oct 26 and the powers it has been given are wide-ranging, encompassing many powers of both the provincial and the federal government.

With only two politicians (the chief minister and one minister), seven top bureaucrats have been included, especially one from the federal government, as members.

Though the terms of reference and how will the board function are not yet clear, it is assumed that all decisions will be made on the basis of consensus, or majority, with the CM having one vote, equal to the others.

“Obviously the decision-making powers have been shifted from the province to a set of bureaucrats, most of whom will be controlled by the Centre and the security and defence establishments,” a mining expert working in Balochistan for years said. “This may however prove to be a good thing,” he quickly added.

The move has been so secretly worked out and notified that not many know its origin, who pushed it, what impact it will have on Centre-province relations and how it will impact on the huge cases of Reko Diq, now in international court of arbitration.

According to the notification, besides other functions the Board will guide and advise the Balochistan Mines & Minerals Development Department/ Mines Committee on large-scale mining; it will give vision and guidelines for development of precious metal resources of the province; will consider cases of proven reserves etc; will have exclusive powers to grant Exploration Licence (EL) and Mining Leases (ML) for Reqo Dik and Saindak gold and copper deposits besides all mineral deposits of precious metals, including gold, copper, iron, chromites etc; exploration and mining licence of all large scale mining leases; all areas surrounding Reqo Dik gold and copper deposits and Saindak area deposits will also be the exclusive jurisdiction of the Board both for small- and large-scale mining concession and all cases which fall in the above categories will be transferred to the Board by the Mines and Minerals Development Department with immediate effect.

“This is a coup d’etat, although only on the riches and wealth of the province,” a Baloch leader said, when told about the notification.

The local mining industry is alarmed and is planning to challenge the creation of the Board in higher courts as it claims the powers of the province have been grabbed illegally. How this legal battle may pan out is yet to be seen.

The Board comprises the Chief Minister Balochistan as Chairman, Minister for MMDD Member; Chief Secretary Balochistan Member; Secretary MMDD Secretary/ Member; Secretary Finance Department Member; Secretary Home & Tribal Affairs Department Member; Secretary Law & Parliamentary Affair Department Member; DG Minerals Ministry of Petroleum & Natural Resources Member; and DG Mines & Minerals Development, Balochistan, as Member.

Experts say the Balochistan government does not have the necessary wherewithal including HR and management structure, technical, legal, financial, security cover both for physical and investment security etc for big projects involving FDI and thus Balochistan’s multibillion dollar resources should not be left to the almost crippled Balochistan government as it is, in a way, a national security issue.

A recently retired army general says Reko Diq and other mines come under the national security umbrella.

Major General (R) Mohammad Farooq, who handled the Chalamang project in Balochistan some years back with extreme success and who has written a number of papers on the province, says constitutionally, it is the provincial government that makes rules for grant of mining concessions or titles in respect of minerals.

“However, the Constitution empowers the federal government to formulate mineral policies, coordinate with national and international entities for tapping of latent resources. In the case of Reko Diq, there are a number of rare earth elements which can be categorised as nuclear minerals falling in the domain of the federal subject.”

Gen Farooq says on Reko Diq open competitive national or international bidding supervised by eminent persons representing the federal and provincial stakeholders could bring in transparency.

However, to quantify the element of transparency further, the bidders must be asked to include the process of smelting and refining in their bids and then quote rates of metals (finished products) lower than the prevailing international price, which the Government of Pakistan should purchase.

Asked if he agreed the security establishment should play a more direct and active role in monitoring and having an oversight on these projects like the CPEC which has been taken in his wings by the Army Chief, Gen Farooq said: “May be, yes, to oversee fair play and transparency.”


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