By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
Legislation that will create a new regulatory regime for mineral mining and exploration, and features a "minimum" 25 percent profit sharing with the Government, was tabled in the House of Assembly yesterday.
The Mining Bill 2023, which will create a Department of Mining to oversee the industry if passed into law as-is, stipulates that "all rights of ownership in, and control of, minerals" automatically vests in the Government regardless of whether the land upon which they are discovered is privately owned.
The Bill, which appears to be an effort to provide greater regulation over The Bahamas' natural resources, and to ensure a greater share of the proceeds go to the benefit of the Government and Bahamian taxpayers, bans mineral prospecting without possessing the proper approvals and licences and threatens fines of up to $150,000 and two-year prison terms for violators.
While no industries are specified in the Bill, it will likely apply to aragonite, limestone and sand mining activities, and possibly even Morton Salt's salt harvesting activities in Inagua. It remains to be seen how holders of existing licences will be treated, and if they will be grandfathered in under the new legislation.
"This Bill seeks to establish a legal, fiscal and regulatory framework for a mining industry, and provides for the creation of a Department of Mining as the regulatory authority," the Bill's "objects and reasons" section states. "Sections eight to 11m of the Bill establish that all rights of ownership and control of minerals in The Bahamas are vested in the Government, and expressly prohibits prospecting and mining operations... without required approvals."
Besides the "statutory fees, levies and other payment obligations" that mining licence holders will face, but which are not specified in the Bill, they will also "be subject to profit sharing arrangements under which the Government shall be entitled to a minimum of a 25 percent of the profits of the mining operations".
The Public Treasury's gains do not stop there. "A holder of a mining licence may be subject to state participation arrangements under the terms of an agreement entered into pursuant to section 15, under which the Government shall be entitled to acquire a minimum 10 percent equity interest in the holder of a mineral right," the Bill adds. "The minister shall make regulations to provide for state participation in mining operations."
Royalties, meanwhile, will be calculated at a rate based on "the gross sale value of minerals produced from mining operations". While these royalty payments can be deferred, mineral mining licence holders also face having to pay a surface rental fee to the Government.
"Section 15 provides for the ability of the minister to enter into an agreement governing the grant of a mining licence which sets out any conditions relative to the mining right, the implementation of any profit sharing and state participation arrangements between the Government and the holder of a mineral right and any further fiscal impositions which are agreed," the Bill states.
However, the legislation also gives power to the Cabinet to compulsorily acquire private land "or rights over private land" so that it can be used by a licence holder for their operations. Compensation to the impacted party is to be paid by the mining firm in what appears to be an extension of the laws involving the "compulsory acquisition of land for a public purpose".