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Friday, December 3, 2004

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Underground spokesman explains manhole life

10,000 homeless people are living in Ulaanbaatar according to research by the Homeless People’s Movement of Ulaanbaatar, as reported by Mongoliin Medee. The movement is an unofficial organization formed by homeless people in the city. The movement had planned to organize a demonstration on Independence Day in order to demand land from the government.

Ts.Nyamdavaa, a member of a the movement’s council, said they had eventually decided to not to hold the demonstration because they should first get agreement from all the homeless people to participate in the demonstration and should register the movement officially with the Ministry of Justice and Internal Affairs. “We should live above ground because we have a right to live and stay alive under the Law on Constitution …We are living stateless and we should become integrated with society,” Nyamdavaa said, explaining that they only want the right to land and that if they have land they can to establish a town for themselves.

They established a council of seven people who are better educated. The movement did an unofficial survey of homeless people who live in manholes and garbage dumps in and around Ulaanbaatar. Their findings show that 70 percent of them are girls and women and 25 percent of them are elderly. The survey also counted 248 manholes in the city, over 100 of which have been closed and locked in the last year to protect the heating network from damage. Those who previously lived in the manholes that have been closed have now had to compete for other places to stay.

At present there are a minimum of two and a maximum 30 people are living in a manhole, Nyamdavaa said.He said that two extra people per week come to underground life from above ground and explained that most of the people living in manholes have been expelled from their families. When questioned about how the people behaved to have become expelled from their house, Nyamdavaa replied that although there are alcoholic people in manholes, not all of them are alcoholic. “It is not true to say that most of them are alcoholic. There are even people who were deeply in debt or homeless.”

He gave one example of a person who had recently come to his manhole who had been running a shop. The man had taken out a loan for his shop, but then it had burned down while he was absent. He was unable to repay the debt and he sold his house and car in order to pay the debt. When he became homeless and he had no way of earning a living, he came under great pressure from his wife and brothers. So he left his family and went to live underground. Nyamdavaa says there are many respected people living underground who are honored painters, singers, engineers, and state prizewinning teachers.

These are people who have not been able to adjust to changes in society. He points out that although those living in manholes have left their former lives, they still have feelings like other people and some of them are married to each other and have had children together. He adds that those who are living underground because of problems in their normal life are still not happy underground. “As for me, I console myself that I’m living freely and without any responsibility” he said. He explained how many homeless people earn money, saying that they go to work three times a day, collecting rubbish.

They ‘own’ the garbage bins situated close to buildings, apartments and industries and earn a minimum of Tg3,000 a day. “People think that we just collect garbage but we actually collect money because the people drop their money in the form of bottles, cans and bones from meat.

The most profitable things are bottles because we can get twice as much for them as for other kinds of garbage. I buy the bottles from people who collect them and then sell them on to bottle collection points. I also clear snow from land at the front of bars, restaurants and other organizations and get Tg1,000 from each of them. And I make a contract with the organizations to collect their cans and bottles”.He said that the homeless people are not interested in saving money because they don’t need to buy clothes or other such things. They spend the money they earn the same evening on alcohol, food and entertainment.

Nyamdavaa explained he that lives his life passing the days without any goal. There is a saying amongst homeless people that they must live to see another day. He explained this saying as expressing solidarity between those who live below ground and are not respected by the rest of society. He complained that homeless people are often beaten by police and are ejected from public transport with conductors citing that they smell. He also explained how homeless people have no rights to medical care.

He told the story of a friend who was seriously ill. They spent Tg1,000 on calling the ambulance but the medical staff refused to help, saying the people do not have any official address and that an ambulance cannot be driven to a manhole. Nyamdavaa explained some of the hardships and competitiveness of manhole life. “I could find my manhole only through my strength. I was burned three times before I found a manhole for myself” he said. On three occasions people set light to him using fuel while he was sleeping.

He says he was not injured seriously, although he had a serious head injury after a fight with people who wanted to steal his manhole. He said that groups of robbers live underground and often steal money and other things from other homeless people. He said that the robbers are from the first generation of underground dwellers, children who started living in manholes in 1990 and grew up in these places. They have been deprived of normal love and affection and are illiterate, he said.

They have now become adults and are stronger. They use violence against men and women in the manholes and commit the all the worst brutal crimes. He says these people can be hired for money or alcohol to do all kinds of illegal activities for other people. He therefore argues the government should take measures to enable these people to enter normal life.Nyamdavaa believes that homeless people want to live above ground and enter normal life if they have a chance or if they can be given land.

Wednesday, December 1, 2004

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Mongolian producers resist tax increase on local alcohol

There are plans in the draft of the 2005 state budget to double the excise tax on Mongolian-made vodka and to impose a new tax of US$0.20 per liter on locally produced beer. It is anticipated that the measures would increase the income for the state budget by Tg10.3billion.

Domestic producers of vodka and beer have viewed the proposals as reducing support for local industry, in favor of supporting imported products. Domestic producers and organizations such as the Food Association, APU, SAPU, Spirt Bal Buram, Chinggis, Old Czech and the Mongolian National Chamber of Commerce and Industry organized a press conference last week.

Zuunii Medee newspaper reported that it was said in the conference that domestic beer supplied 10 percent of domestic consumption in 2000 and this has now increased to 35 percent in 2004. 65 percent of the market is therefore still supplied by imports. They argued that it would be acceptable to increase the excise tax at a later date, once domestic products supplied 80-90 percent of local demand.

They also said that if excise tax on imported beer, not local beer, was raised to 35 percent, then Tg10.3 billion could still be raised for the state budget.The Ministry of Finance calculated that the proposal would reduce consumption of vodka and beer by 35 percent. Producers and organizations argued in their press conference that alcohol usage will not be reduced, but instead production and consumption of poor-quality alcohol products will increase.

Vodka made by around 170 small producers covers 50 percent of the vodka market, medium-sized producers cover 10 percent and APU and Spirt Bal Buram together cover 40 percent at present, according to research by the National Statistics Office. Joint research done by APU and Spirt Bal Buram claims that 80 percent of excise tax paid by vodka producers to the state comes from their two companies. They claim that small and medium producers only pay 20 percent of the total excise revenue due to lack of regulation in the industry. Their research is said to indicate that if excise duty were to double as proposed, the big two producers’ market share would slip to 20-30 percent.

They said that if the tax is increased, the price of their products in the shops would be Tg4,500-5,000. However they claimed that the price of small and medium producers’ products would not increase due to the lack of control over taxation, and that the number of people drinking lower-quality vodka will increase.They said that tax revenue will drop due to the number companies evading taxes.

They went on to say that tax revenue to the state could in fact drop by several billion togrog, and not rise as the government hopes. They argued that if the Ministry of Finance and the General Taxation Board were to improve control over taxation payments from small and medium producers, more than Tg10 billion could be collected for the state budget without the need to raise excise tax. In fact they claimed that revenue could be increased by Tg31.5 billion in this way.

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Ц.Батчулуун Японы эзэн хааны шагнал хvртсэн

Монгол Улсын Морин хуурын чуулгын тэргvvн, ардын жvжигчин Ц.Батчулуун єчигдєр Японы эзэн хааны шагнал “Мандах нар” одонгоор энгэрээ мялаалаа. Монгол, Японы хооронд дипломат харилцаа тогтоосны 30 жилийн ойг тохиолдуулан Япон улсын Засгийн газар морин хуур хєгжмийг Япон улсад танилцуулах замаар хоёр орны соёлын харилцааг єргєжvvлэхэд оруулсан хувь нэмрийг нь vнэлж тvvнд энэхvv хvндтэй шагналыг олгожээ. Тэрбээр “Мандах нар” одонгийн “Сарнай цэцгэн хэлбэрт товч бvхий Нарны алтан туяа” зэрэглэлийн одонгийн эзэн болсон юм.
Ц.Батчулуун Японы эзэн хааны шагналыг хvртсэн тав дахь монгол хvн. Анх дипломатч Д.Алмааз 1989 онд “Мандах нар” одонгоор шагнуулж байсан бол, vvнээс хойш Японд Монгол Улсаас томилогдсон анхны Элчин сайд С.Дамбадаржаа, иргэн Цэвэгмаа, мєн тус улсад Элчин сайд байсан Д.Ёндон нар энэхvv нэр хvндтэй шагналыг хvртэж байжээ.Япон улсаас Монгол Улсад суугаа Элчин сайд ноён Тода Тацуо одонг гардуулсан бєгєєд ёслолын ажиллагаанд Монгол Улсын анхны Ерєнхийлєгч П.Очирбат тэргvvтэй улс тєр, нийгмийн зvтгэлтнvvд, урлаг соёлын тєлєєлєгчид ирж, ардын жvжигчин Ц.Батчулуунд баяр хvргэлээ.

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Illegal miners brave dangers to make a living

Two men died in a Nalaikh coal mine last week. They died in an underground mineshaft and medical experts concluded that their deaths had been caused by lack of ventilation due to poor attention to safety. The men were 26 and 28-years-old. This is not the first case of its kind so I wanted to learn more about the working conditions in Nalaikh coalmines. Photojournalist G.Erdenetuya and I went to Nalaikh district to find out.

The official Nalaikh coal mine was opened in 1952 and at that time estimates were that the deposits held over 60 million tons of coal. The mine was closed in 1992 because there was an explosion that killed 21 miners. Before it was closed, daily output was 800,000-1 million tons of coal per day. There are now groups of miners who continue working in the area informally and illegally.

We visited three mineshafts situated next to the remains of the old mining building. There were some miners there and we explained the purpose of our visit to them, saying that we wanted to extract coal and see how they work. The miners agreed to help us and suggested visiting the western shaft, however we instead chose one of the other holes, as they are not quite so steep. They told me that they do this illegal work in order to make a living, as they have no other way to sustain themselves.

One man named Zoljargal lead us and we entered the mineshaft. We were feeling our way down the shaft, which had no steps and was a slope of almost 75 degrees. The shaft was about two meters high by 1.4 meters. We felt our way along the shaft using a steel cable that was attached to a stake outside the mouth of the shaft. I couldn’t see anything and after much difficulty we arrived at a level shaft. We weren’t wearing safety helmets and had no light. Zoljargal called a man who then appeared from the darkness and showed us the way with a lamp on his helmet. At one place the shaft was only one meter high and we had to crouch for about ten meters to get through. The wall of the shaft was brilliant black coal and the roof of the shaft seemed to be made of dust. There were a lot of other shafts branching off from the one we followed.

At the place where we stopped, there were three men working. Erdenetuya and I tried to mine some coal – our aim being to fill a trough that is normally used to transport the coal along the shafts. The trough measured about 120 centimeters long, 70 centimeters wide and 50 centimeters deep. It took us about 30 minutes to fill the trough, with the aid of the other three men. They told us that it usually takes just 15 minutes to fill a trough and they can send out two troughs of coal in 30 minutes.

The men leave the mine only three times a day, to eat and smoke. They explained that it is dangerous to smoke inside the mine. Erdenetuya and I were unable to transport the trough up to the mouth of the shaft and instead followed behind the three men. Getting out of the shaft was more difficult than getting in. Although I consider myself a sportsman I felt suffocated inside the shaft and it took me a long time to catch my breath. We rested for several minutes and started to work again. The next job was to separate coal we had extracted. The small pieces of coal are as valuable as the larger pieces, as they are used in smaller stoves and boilers.

We the carried coal to back of the truck, a Russian maade ZIL-130. Five-tons of small-sized of coal can be sold for Tg 20,000 and fills the back of a truck. It takes eight troughs of coal from the mine to fill a truck. 150 sacks of larger-sized coal can also fill a truck and can be sold for Tg85,000. The miners pay landowners Tg10,000 per day to use the mineshafts. They also sometimes have to rent a tractor to pull the troughs through the shafts, costing Tg800 per trough. They also spend money to feed themselves have to pay some other illegal ‘taxes’. After paying for all the costs, each miner takes home about Tg5,000 per day.

The miners work in very dangerous conditions. The shaft where we tried mining is 31 meters deep and the miners work there without any protection. I saw that dust often falls from the roof of the shaft and felt that it could collapse at any time.

We also visited another mine 3 or 4 kilometers away. This was more developed, but we were not allowed to enter the mine or take photos. The miners told us that this mine is 150 meters deep. Miners said that safety is better is this mine and a log is kept of accidents.