A country has a national and sometimes provincial or state parliaments, depending on whether they are a “unitary” or “federal” system of governance. These parliaments are made up of members who have been elected by the people. Parliaments usually have special committees that are called “portfolio” or “standing” committees. These committees deal with all socio-economic matters that are present in the country’s economic structure. Mining is invariably one of these topics. Sometimes Parliamentary Committees are only concerned with mining as a topic area, but most often, mining is linked with energy, or is part of an overall “industry” theme.
Regardless of the formation, these Committees have an important role to play in relation to mining institutions. Depending upon the jurisdiction, Parliamentary Committees can provide an oversight function in the management of the mining sector. In Zambia, for example, Parliamentarians visit mining areas in the Copper Belt to meet with communities and hear about issues regarding mining development in the area. Many Committees call public hearings before mineral legislation is passed, expecting the mining regulator to answer questions that the Parliamentary Committee may pose. Other Parliamentary Committees are much less active, or involved with their topics. These committees tend to wait for legislation to be passed, and then “rubber stamp” it, without due regard for public input.
Several years ago, civil society involved with the extractive sector in Tanzania used the opportunity presented by Parliament’s role in overseeing the revision of the 2008 mining law to influence the outcome of the new Bill. Policy Forum, the umbrella civil society group in Tanzania, along with one of the other non-governmental organisations, Revenue Watch, prepared a handbook for civil society to increase their understanding of how it could work with Parliament to make changes to the draft legislation so that mining would benefit all people in the country.
The oversight effectiveness of a Parliamentary institution can only be as strong or as effective as the government will enable it to be. Some countries have weaker Parliamentary institutions that allow the bureaucracy to make decisions without seriously considering Parliamentary input. Sometimes this is because the members of parliament may not have been elected fairly, or understand their role to represent the interests of the people. Other times, when Parliament is a fairly new introduction to a country that has been in a war-torn or post-conflict state, for example, parliamentarians may abuse their positions for access to economic opportunities or other forms of personal gain. It is important for the process of electing members of parliament to be transparent and fair. Parliamentarians must not be in Parliament to enrich themselves. Legislation that requires disclosure of personal assets, involvement in businesses, and other economic activities will support the strengthening of this important type of mining institution.