Bahrain to introduce sand dredging law
Manama, February 12, 2013
A law to regulate the dredging of sand from the seabed will be introduced in Bahrain for the first time, our sister newspaper, the Gulf Daily News reported.
However, Shura Council members who supported the bill yesterday complained the damage had already been done after years of unregulated offshore dredging.
Some called for dredging companies to be forced to make backdated payments, claiming they had been helping themselves to national resources at the country's expense.
Firms were previously required to obtain a licence to carry out dredging, but there were no limits on how much sand they could scoop up. Sand is an important ingredient in construction materials, but is also used in land reclamation.
"There are eight local dredging companies and four international companies currently operating in Bahrain," Municipalities and Urban Planning Affairs Minister Dr Juma Al Ka'abi told Shura Council members yesterday.
"We don't want to extract sand from the sea, but we are forced to do so due to the high urbanisation rate the country is currently seeing."
He added that dredging licences had been frozen for the past two months after responsibility for the offshore activity was handed to his ministry from the Public Commission for the Protection of Marine Resources, Environment and Wildlife.
"We are not responsible for any licensing two months ago and to ensure that all got revised I decided to freeze it for further assessment," said Dr Al Ka'abi.
The new draft law regulating the sector was originally proposed by parliament and has received government support.
The Shura Council granted initial approval yesterday, but discussions on its articles were postponed for a week to address potential loopholes.
Council member Ali Al Asfoor described extraction of sand from the seabed as "theft".
"I hope there is an article in this law that stipulates money taken from dredging companies goes towards funding marine life projects, since this was hugely affected by excessive extraction," he said.
"Sea sand is public money and national wealth that should have been protected, but over the years has been unrightfully taken through theft, which saw only a few pockets benefit.
"Money acquired through sand theft should be returned, backdated to the day this practice became a trend."
He added that nobody knew how much sand had been extracted over the years, while fellow council member Lulwa Al Awadhi agreed that companies should make backdated payments.
"Sand has been taken for free by licensed companies and sold to the public - this is clear corruption," she said.
"This crime is still ongoing and the law should be applied in a backdated manner, especially with people still feeling its effects."
A member asked why Bahrain was not getting all of its sand from Saudi Arabia.
"They have a lot and they can spare - either for free or through sales," he said.
Meanwhile, council's public utilities and environment affairs committee chairman Juma Al Ka'abi accused companies of committing environmental violations while retrieving sand.
However, member Abdulrahman Jawahery stood up for firms involved - saying sand extraction was licensed and within the law, which meant it could not be described as theft or corruption.
Meanwhile, member Saoud Kanoo - who is also Amwaj Islands board chairman - argued that imposing fees on dredged sand would drive up prices in the market.
"Imposing fees will lead to the rate of urbanisation dropping and that's something that will affect Bahrain's development as prices will increase," he said. "But this law in general is an excellent disciplinary measure." – TradeArabia News Service