27 Nov Meet + Ricardo Irarrázabal, Under Secretary of Mining:
This lawyer, professor and father of 9 children, has been working for five months as Under Secretary of Mining, where he has among his challenges the design of the National Mining Policy. This is the second time that he is part of a ministry, the first was in the Ministry of Environment, in the first government of President Piñera, where he had to implement the Ministry of Energy and hold the first position of undersecretary of that portfolio. In his spare time he likes to go to the countryside, play tennis, read and enjoy walks with the best company, his family.
Since when and how did you discover your vocation for public service?
My interest in public service began from an early age. At school I started with student activities and at the university I joined the Guild Movement of the Catholic University of Chile. There, I learned what real public service is working on different sides of the Students Federation of the Catholic Universtity, and on winter and summer jobs. And in the third or fourth year of my career, I began to work firmly on pastoral issues: I got involved in the missions, where I had to be the first zone chief and then the head of the great Catholic University mission.
This vocation of public service is also family, because my grandfather was Minister of Finance, congressman and ambassador of Chile abroad. But definitely, my definition was when in 2008, working in a law firm, I had to give up my career as a partner when I went to work part-time as an academic at UC, getting involved in public service.
How did you get to work in the Government?
I began to bond with the first Government of President Sebastián Piñera basically because of my knowledge of environmental law and management. When María Ignacia Benítez (R.I.P.) was appointed as Minister of the Environment, she contacted me as legislative advisor and, from that, President Piñera called me to work in his Government. Like that, I became the first undersecretary of the portfolio, since the ministry had been created that same year (2010), touching on the implementation of the new institutionality. After a few years, and when the Government was finishing, I was asked to direct the Environmental Assessment Service (SEA).
What has been the most rewarding thing to work in this second period in the Government, now in the mining portfolio?
Today, countries, their economies and society in general, have the challenge of moving towards a more sustainable world. That is to say, to combine in an efficient way – independent of the industry – the environmental, social and economic factors, always putting the person as the central axis. We could already develop this in the Energy portfolio, and now it is in the Mining portfolio, an activity that today is just in a process of transition towards this evolution. Therefore, developing public policies in that line, beyond the exclusively sectoral, has been very rewarding. Likewise, doing it together with Minister Prokurica – with vast sectorial, professional and public experience – has allowed us to gather experiences and develop an interesting job for the country.
What challenges have been the most difficult to overcome during this period?
In the almost five months that I have been in the Undersecretary of Mining, there have been several challenging issues. Among them, the legislative agenda, mainly with projects related to lithium and glaciers. Likewise, we have developed a constant work together with actors from the public, private, academia and civil society sectors, for the design of the National Mining Policy, which has its origin in the President’s Government program and seeks to establish a long-term public policy for the mining sector. In addition, we have a challenge in incorporating women into the industry: today, only 8.5% of the workers in mining are women. For these and other issues, we have been strengthening the technical work teams of the Ministry of Mining and that has not allowed significant progress.
What do you do in your free time?
I spend my free time mostly with my wife and children. My favorite place to rest is the Chilean countryside. There I manage to disconnect and dedicate myself to work that I cannot do during the week and it is also a place where I am always with the best company, my family!
I also like to play tennis and go hiking with my children, because that way we can talk. I listen to a lot of music, especially classical music. Bach is my favorite by far and now I am very sorry for the closure of the great Radio Beethoven.
What book are you reading right now?
I really like novels, but I would say that what I read most is history. Today, given the contingency, I am reading a text about political ideas by the French author Charles Péguy. And recently I finished rereading Five Centuries of Chilean History by Gonzalo Vial.
What are your main strengths?
I believe that dialogue is one of my greatest strengths, because it allows us to hold conversations and seek agreements and consensus. The other feature that helps me a lot in everyday life is having the technical issues very clear . With a solid base, then it is easier to seek political negotiations. That balance between technicality and the more political side helps a lot in decision making.
What are your goals for this year?
We have several! First, continue with the development of the National Mining Policy, which today is at the national tables for next year to begin with technical and regional work. I believe that the country needs a policy that covers most of the issues that affect and matter to both citizens and the industry itself. Another major challenge is the discussion about the Glacier Protection and Preservation Law Project, which has been somewhat delayed due to contingency. And at the ministerial level, we will continue to consolidate ourselves as a team through a very technical work, which is the basis of the decision-making of this Government.
What is your biggest aspiration for Chile as a mining country considering that it is the number one producer in the world of copper?
I think that the key issue is to maintain the current position that Chile has worldwide in the mining industry, not only in terms of productivity, but also in terms of attractiveness for investments. And, at the same time, it is very important to understand the importance of small and medium-sized mining for the country and, therefore, the social role we have as a ministry in this area. This has to be channeled and evaluated very well from a perspective of good public policies, which allows true support to the miners through instruments so that they themselves make their decisions and develop their economic activities.
At this time when our country is experiencing a special contingency, how is its sector facing it and what medium-term plans are projected against this new scenario?
As a sector ministry, we accepted the call made by President Sebastián Piñera and it is precisely through dialogue that we have been working for the sector in the National Mining Policy. Therefore, this mechanism is quite internalized in our actions and we will continue to strengthen it to reach consensus that will allow the operation and evolution of the industry, which has a fundamental role in financing the current approaches that have been raised in the country. Last month and the highest expectations that the current development model has brought.