Mining Governance: Weak Institutions and Greedy Politicians

Despite seemingly clear codified decision-making procedures that exist on the paper, the majority of the mining governance related decisions has been non-transparent and becoming more difficult to understand the politics behind them. Laws, standards, and regulations are passed today, but will be changed tomorrow.  Some of them never enforced while others are selectively enforced.  Then, politicians, bureaucrats, and private sectors blame each other before the election. Ministries, agencies, local governments sign ceremonial documents to implement these laws, standards, and regulations afterwards.  Even though the constitution stipulates the powers and responsibilities of the president, speaker, prime minister, and parliament members, all launch destructive campaigns (through media, and through their personal twitters) renouncing and denouncing mining governance related decisions.

So, for a small, landlocked state, these public relations competitions of the 100 individuals in power as well as the hundreds of others who are planning to compete for power will lead to turmoil by weakening the state institutions – which would ensure the implementation of wonderful ideas of entrepreneurial, competitive politicians. Without strong institutions, politicians can not restrain their greed for mining rents, including bonds, loans, kickbacks, royalties. They continue to use currencies (i.e., money and populism) for the political power and then use their political power to enrich their clientelistic network, to marginalize their opponents, and to hide their wrongdoings.  These politicians just  want to keep the state institutions (i.e., the bureaucratic and administrative power) as weak as possible; otherwise, the strong state institutions could constrain their parochial interests and greedy behaviors.  As a result of the instability, state institutions become vulnerable to pressures of domestic groups, external actors, and/or combination.

This is becoming the case of Mongolia.  The political power is well-dispersed and hard to pinpoint, especially, if we follow the mining-related decisions.  Who has political power? Maybe the power is too well dispersed among these actors; therefore, state institutions are weak and agents are not-willing to enforce decisions.

(1) President, Parliament Members, Ministers, Governors, Citizens’ Khural Members;

(2) Political parties, factions, individual politicians;

(3) Homeland Associations, horse-racers’ associations, business associations; ninja miners;

(4) Activists, environmental and social movements; and,

(5) External actors.

Inargueably, the power is not in the state – administrative and bureaucratic institutions; therefore, any institutions of Mongolia are weak and dependent from the political atmosphere.  Provincial administrations are vulnerable to local and also national politics.  Public servants at ministries and agencies feel insecure because of frequent changes of ministers, secretaries, and departmental chiefs.  For their job security, public servants either remain silent, inactive or seek protections from prominent figures, political parties or provincial homeland associations (e.g., prominent ones are Uvs and Khovd). Because of apparent political mingling by politicians, wealthy businesspeople, and political parties, people seem to lost their trust in judicial and law-enforcement agencies.  As the state institutions began to lose the faith of their own employees and public, they also lose their institutional capacity and coherence to enforce laws, standards, and regulations – even if they have assisted with various international institutional capacity building projects and instructed with many new directives of their newly-elected politicians.  At the end, these weak institutions would turn into simple tools for greedy politicians, factions, and groups to fulfill their parochial interests.  Therefore, the most apparent way of fixing the messy field of mining governance is to strengthen state institutions – by insulating them from the dirty politics of politicians and factions.  Only a strong state institution could enforce good ideas (i.e., laws, standards, regulations) and constrain greedy politicians.  The strong institution provides stability and certainty for investors rather than individual politicians, parties, and factions.




About mendee

Jargalsaikhan Mendee is a Deputy Director of the Institute for Defense Studies of Mongolia. He holds a PhD in Political Science from the University of British Columbia, and MAs in International Relations from the US Naval Postgraduate School and in Asia-Pacific Policy Studies from the Institute of Asian Research of the University of British Columbia.
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