June 16, 2010
Micro mining prospectors, small-scale or community mining, or individual artisanal miners, that we usually call as “ninja” miners, are the cancer of Mongolian society that has been ever growing uncontrolled year by year in the past decade. It is largely depend on Mongolia’s politicians whether this cancer turns into malignant tumor that may affect normality of the society or benign tumor that may disappear as the economy grows, and more and more highly paid jobs are created.
Lawmakers for the last three consecutive terms in parliament were too silent over this “cancer”, but it matters us a lot.
Contributory sector of the national economy, mining officially employs around 40,000 workforce including 6,000 workers in Erdenet copper mining corporation. But countrywide we have outnumbering unauthorized miners in Mongolia. According to a formal figure reported by the Government to Parliament, the number was estimated around 35,000 ninjas were engaged in illegal extraction of gold, coal, spar, tungsten and many more different kinds of ground minerals in 18 out of 21 provinces. This number may be exceeding more than 40,000 when local public servants, and residents occasionally join them over the weekend.
Ninjas, around four percent of Mongolia’s total workforce population, are carving out a new nation, making a totally different way of living under severe shortage of water supply, and shelter built in unhygienic condition.
They tend to have strong superstitious beliefs in their everyday life like the more you drink with money made from gold mining, the more you will gain, or if you start by a group of nine, you will be stronger than deity of the mountain.
A small quantity of gold, found after digging unsafe holes and washing earth in big bowl for a whole day using toxic chemicals, is sold to nearby parked vehicle with dark tinted windows, and eventually ended up with alcoholism and prostitution take place over night. World of ninjas has become ever strongest today in Mongolia. However, artisanal mining has been in existence in most developing countries with abundant natural resources. Even United States and Australia had experienced such informal mining in their history.
I was told by a foreign expert in this field that illegal mining is pursued because of four major reasons only. Those are sharp economic downturn or loss of livelihood due to severe natural disaster, getting rich in short time, undertakes the activity of mining seasonally or temporary self-employment. But in Mongolia we have all those four reasons.
What move shall we make? At any cost, illegal mining should be eliminated. This cancer is growing bigger and becoming more toxic as the decision makers keep passing of bill on hold. In this sense, today’s politicians are accountable for their too ignorant failure to take necessary step
Election of members to parliament is meant to stop all activities that may cause damage to the safety of humans, but those members of parliament, State Great Khural, have become like ostrich that buries its head in the sand imagining that the whole body is concealed.
Not for just passing a law to legalization of ninja type of activities, but we need more efficient law that formally regulates this present-day contradicting relation in accordance with acceptable international standard. In a place where dozens of thousands of illegal miners are working, if there is no rule of law, unlawful manners would take effect.
Local government needs to have more power to take control on the activities of illegal miners within acceptable frame, because they getting out of social control. In Khovsgol province’s Tsagaannuur soum, illegal miners and local tsaatan, reindeer herders, are conflicting with each other, some cases even involve gun shots.
Ninjas are armed with guns today. Criminals have their own rule set up in a place, where there is no rule of public law. They tend to become more organized, and fight with others for land, some worst cases proved that it might turn into a civil war.
In an African state, civil war wages from a local armed conflict for the land of diamond deposits. In those countries, such “cancer” has already become a “malignant” one that threatens to-be or not-to-be of that nation. In Mongolia, I hope we still have chance to keep it “benign”.
Five metric tons of gold is extracted annually which equals to almost all industrially mined gold sold to Bank of Mongolia. Since enforcement of hefty windfall profits tax of 68 percent, gold sales to Bank of Mongolia has declined by three fold, and gold smuggling takes place in turn. Actually Bank of Mongolia should have bought at higher price than black market for its gold reserve.
Formal legalization of illegal mining will be key fundamental basis to keep it controlled and open. The choice is at the hands of State Great Khural members of today as it soon will discuss a draft law to regulate this “cancer”. We want to live in peace and proud.