Brazil dam disaster shows flaws in decrepit mining regulator
By Stephen Eisenhammer and Anthony Boadle
BELO HORIZONTE/BRASILIA Nov 27 (Reuters) - With leaking windows, moldy walls and piles of paper where you might expect computers, the office of Brazil's National Department of Mineral Production speaks volumes about the regulation of the country's mining industry.
The office, in the capital city of the mine-rich state of Minas Gerais, is the state headquarters for a team of inspectors that is supposed to vet mines like one 100 km (60 miles) to the southeast, where a dam burst on Nov. 5, spilling mineral waste across 800 km and into the Atlantic Ocean.
Understaffed and underfunded because of long-delayed changes to Brazil's mining laws, the agency is now under fire for failing to prevent the disaster, which killed at least 13 people and left 11 more missing.
Although no cause has been determined for the rupture at the Samarco mine, owned by multinational mining companies Vale SA and BHP Billiton, prosecutors argue its roots lie in negligent licensing and lax regulation.
"Does it have the resources to do the job?" asks Carlos Eduardo Pinto, the state prosecutor who is leading the probe into the disaster, before answering his own question. "You just have to look at the offices to know."
Legislators and mining experts say the haggard state of the agency has to do with a long-pending overhaul of Brazil's so-called "mining code," the regulatory framework for the industry.
The code, stalled in Congress since 2013, in theory would create a new and better-funded regulator. In practice, though, the law has foundered due to disagreements over royalties and exploration rights.
As a result, funding for the existing agency, known as the DNPM, stalled even as Brazil's mining profits soared. Continuación...