Interview: Damjin Damba
Is there room to introduce environmental safeguards while minimising the impact on exploration?
DAMJIN DAMBA: Protection of the environment is a global issue, and our environmental rules and regulations are on a par with the international community. There are several laws in this field, such as the Subsoil Law, the Land Law and the Environmental Law, all of which are good and appropriate. The problem is that the laws are not being implemented and/or monitored directly or correctly. We need to implement and enforce these laws without hurting the mining industry. In this sense, more needs to be done to monitor and supervise the sector so that environmental regulations are properly followed. Mongolia has been a bit too loose in this sense; we have had a number of geographical areas where the surface has been damaged and contaminated.
Now we have to work to fix this damage. The National Mining Association started the Responsible Mining Initiative for Sustainable Development, which essentially advocates the rehabilitation of mines while operations are taking place. The idea of green development in the mining sector and the laws behind it are supported by the Mining Association, and therefore our members are supporting these policies too.
At the same time, the communication flow between the mining industry and local communities must be improved. Many believe that bad environmental practices will continue, and this negative perception needs to change. The main challenges looking forward will thus be ensuring that all stakeholders involved follow the rules and regulations in this field, while at the same time communicating properly with locals on the positive changes they could and should expect in the future.
Private mining firms have been getting involved in infrastructure development via public-private partnerships (PPPs). Is this a long-term solution?
DAMBA: Infrastructure development is mainly the responsibility of the state, but there can be cases where a PPP might prove to be more appropriate to develop certain areas. Infrastructure affects many aspects in several sectors, not just mining, including the environment. For example, heavy trucks going mainly in one direction on unpaved roads damages the soil. This would have been avoided had there been more emphasis on paving roads in Mongolia in the past.
However, the government has started focusing much more on this, and we are now seeing many infrastructural developments that will have a big impact in the country and on its economy. Collaboration with the private sector will also continue to be important, as the financial burden of such developments will have to be shared with private companies in order to keep rail and road projects moving forward.
To what extent is the availability of skilled human capital an obstacle to the development of the mining sector? What can be done to solve this?
DAMBA: Contrary to what many might think, the availability of specialised labour is not a real hindrance for the development of the mining sector in Mongolia. In 2012 we celebrated the 90th anniversary of the industry. During this period, we have trained and taught many Mongolians to serve the growth of the sector.
Today, however, Mongolia’s education system, especially as regards the mining industry, is still in a period of development, coming from a somewhat obsolete system. Therefore, many of our young talents are seeking better training in other countries with well-developed mining industries, such as Canada, Australia or the US.
Mongolia’s mining labour force has a real understanding of the industry in this country and is ready to serve the growth of the sector. The government is also working in this direction to better prepare specialised labour for the mining industry, working with international institutions in Mongolia, creating vocational and training centres. We are seeing significant developments in this area, and I am confident that well-trained, specialised workers will be available in the future to help maintain the growth of the country’s mining sector.
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