President’s envoy disappoints Mubende gold miners, fails to turn up for the long awaited reconciliatory meeting
Thousands of artisanal miners that had gathered at lujinji mining site in Mubende district to meet the presidential advisor on land matters left the venue disappointed over her failure to show up.
According to Mr Sempowo Robert chairman Mubende artisanal miners, they secured this appointment with Ms Kiconco flora, the legal presidential advisor of land so that they could be able to show her the area currently occupied by the artisanal miners, how miners operate in this area, equipments being used by miners, how many miners are operating in this area, to win her support towards an end to a possible eviction of the miners by the President.
Earlier in the same month July, the President of Uganda Yoweri Museveni allegedly issued a presidential directive to have over 500 artisan gold miners displaced from the mining area of mubende in favour of Gemstones International mining company. This company holds the location license for the area, but had allowed the artisan miners to operate alongside them in this same area, from which they derive a livelihood. This however has since changed. Worried that the miners may encroach on all the gold, they reportedly sought government’s protection to retain back all their land for which they hold a license. Government officials, majority from the Ministry of Energy advised the president accordingly, who in turn ordered for their vacating.
These miners that gathered up from 7:30am in the morning on Thursday 13th April, left three hours into waiting disappointed after an official communication that the presidential advisor was not to turn up, because she was caught up with state work therefore postponing the meeting to 20/July/2017.
Mr Lukwago Peter one of the miners expressed disappointment: “We have been forced to suspend our work because we are law abiding citizens that need to stream line the course of our work. We really need government to listen to our side of the story other than favouring one investor, a move that has left us jobless.”
Lukwago added that the news about the presidential directive of eviction left them in fear.
“Few people go into the pits in search for gold. Few people are buying new stuff for their shops. Business is no longer booming because we can’t invest much capital for fear of being chased away from the mines,” he said.
Mr Senkusu Edward, the community development officer Kitumbi sub county explained that;” we have received a communication from the presidential advisor that she won’t be able to appear for the meeting because she is caught up with other state matters therefore postponing the meeting to 20/July/2017.”
The presence of potential gold deposits in Kasanda Sub County in Mubende district was first discovered by the British colonial government in the 1920s. Then, in the late 1990s, regular visits by potential investors with big plans alerted locals to the existence of a valuable mineral in their midst, and soon Ugandans from other parts of the country were flocking the area to start small-scale operations as illegal miners. Many people who were previously unemployed or underemployed from the streets of Kampala and from as far Democratic Republic of Congo and Republic of Rwanda have continued to come into this area. This has led to an impromptu gold rush with miners, washers, middlemen, buyers and exporters.
The area houses men, children and women who utterly derive their livelihood from artisan gold mining. These insist that they applied for a location license two years ago, when they learnt of the expiry of Gemstone’s first license. They however did not receive it, but Gemstone did again.
Members of Parliament and human rights activists have asked government to enforce the laws in the mining sector to protect the right of women in the sector. The MPs and other stakeholders said women in the minerals sector face a lot of challenges, which need to be addressed.
The call was made during the National Dialogue on Land and Extractives, under the theme, “Harnessing citizen participation for good governance and sustainable livelihoods,” at Hotel Africana on Wednesday, April 26, 2017. The conference was attended by government officials, artisanal miners, district leaders, cultural leaders and civil society representatives among others.
Nivatiti Nandujja, Human Rights Coordinator at Action Aid Uganda (AAU), said the extractives sector is male dominated and women participation is wanting. She explained that the few women employed in mines are working under inhuman and poor working conditions with meager pay.
“Women working in mines do not enjoy the entitlement provided for by the law. They don’t get maternity leave or sick leave, but instead, when they get pregnant, they are simply laid off,” Nandujja said. She said despite the good policies and laws on gender based violence, the position of women has not improved and advocated for other interventions in addition to enforcement of policies and laws in order to ensure gender equity in extractives sector.
Catherine Nyakecho, a Geologist working with Ministry of Energy and Mineral Development disagreed with MsNandujja that the minerals sector is male dominated. She quoted a research by African Center for Energy and Mineral Policy (ACEMP) that revealed that of the sites visited, women are more into stone quarrying, salt mining, marble, limestone, and sand mining – the low value minerals, while the men are where the money is.
However, she said women in mines have been exposed to more poor working conditions than men. For instance in stone quarrying, she said women and children are engaged in crashing stones with their bare hands, which exposes them to accidents and a lot of dust, which affect their lives.
Despite spending a whole day crashing stones, women get meager pay. “Stone quarries lack toilets and therefore women during menstruation periods have to travel back home for health break – wasting a lot of their valuable time and when they fall sick, they get no payment,” she said.
Nyakacho explained that in salt mining, men wear condoms to prevent salty water from entering their bodies through their private parts, but in contrast, though women need protective gears too, they are normally not provided for, and thus enter salty water without protective gears, which has negative consequences on their health.
In gold mining, women are exposed to dangerous chemicals like mercury. Whereas the men get the ore or gold sand out of the ground, Nyakecho said women are exposed to mercury during panning for gold which affect their lives. Weighing in on mercury, one of the participants from Amudat district said there is a worrying trend that feet/legs of women working in goldmines are swelling, due to what she suspects could be prolonged exposure to mercury.
Deborah Ariong, the Natural Resources Officer, Amudat district, said she had witnessed breast-feeding mothers panning gold with mercury and then breast-feed babies thereafter. She called for strict enforcement of health and safety measures in mines like ensuring all workers wear protective gears.
Betty Atiang, programme Manager at Saferworld Uganda, told the extractives sector in Uganda is expanding, and as it expands, it is worsening existing tension and exposing new conflicts. The sector, she explained, is faced with land conflicts in form of land grabbing, contention over surface rights, conflicts that relate to allocation of royalties, environmental degradation and gender based violence among others. She observed that conflict is an impediment to good governance and implored participants to make a contribution towards promoting conflict free extractives sector, transparency, accountability, citizen’s participation in decision making.
Drawing from his experience as an artisanal miner in Mubende district, Emmanuel Kibirig said women of today can do mining, though by their nature they can’t go inside the pit. Therefore, in the pit, miners don’t employ women. He explained that in gold mining, the value chain is that men dig and go inside the pit in order to extract gold ores/sand on the ground for women to their work in the value chain.
Mukitale Mukitale, the MP Buliisa, said women artisanal miners need to form strong cooperatives or associations, through which they can demand for more protection and seek help. Weighing on the discussion, Adong Lilly, Woman MP Nwoya district, told in order to protect women rights, there is need to amend the laws and policies governing the minerals sector to cap a percentage of jobs and contracts to be given exclusively to women. This will ensure that women in the sector are empowered.
By Edward Ssekika
CSOs have organised a dialogue slated for Wednesday the 26th April 2017
Four of Uganda’s Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) are hosting an annual multi-stakeholder national dialogue under the theme; Land and Extractives – harnessing citizen participation for good governance and sustainable livelihoods.
The meeting that is expected to attract more than 100 participants is aimed at ensuring that stakeholders at the grassroots interact with the leaders at both local and central government to ensure transparency and good governance of the oil, gas and mineral sector.
The convention, organized by Action Aid Uganda (AAU), Civic Response on Environment and Development (CRED), Saferworld Uganda and Transparency International Uganda (TIU), will be held at Hotel Africana on Wednesday the 26th of April, and among the invitees are delegates from Parliament, the private sector, industry players, government agencies, local government leaders, community leaders, community representatives and relevant CSOs.
The meeting arose out of findings by civil society regarding the increasing unplanned and untimely displacements and land disputes in the oil rich and mining areas, which inhumane activities affect people, particularly the less privileged, including women and children.
Instead of remedying this pattern, the government has instead recently decided to worsen the problem by proposing an amendment to Article 26 of the Constitution with the effect of allowing government to acquire land before effecting compensation to the project-affected person.
Elaborating on the expected outcomes from the meeting, Mr. Ivan Mpagi, the Extractives Governance Project Manager at ActionAid Uganda, explains that the meeting is meant to create a platform for discussing the challenges in the extractive sector by engaging policy makers on what needs to be done in order to address these challenges.
“We want to bring the oil companies together to tell Ugandans how far they are in the actual extraction of oil,” Mr. Mpagi says. “The extraction will generate employment, and it will generate revenues as well, and we as civil society want to monitor this development and hold these actors accountable.”
He further expresses hope of more transparency concerning the government’s exploration agreements with the oil companies (Tullow, CNOCC and Total), as he finds the government to have been “very secretive” until now. “Through the dialogue we hope that Ugandans can be told about the agreements made with these companies.”
By Preben A. Martensen-Larsen
A group of Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) working in the areas of Oil Governance and Transparency have implored government to end to secrecy in the oil sub sector. Read More
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Parliament of Uganda has set up a select committee to investigate the Shs 6bn oil cash payouts to 42 senior government officials. This is the second time the legislative branch of government has probed the executive on oil revenues.
Speaker of Parliament, Hon. Rebecca Kadaga on Thursday last week directed the Commissions, Statutory Authorities and State Enterprises (COSASE) Committee, chaired by Bugweri MP, Hon. Abdul Katuntu to handle the investigation and report to the House in two months.
The motion to set up a select committee was moved by Mbarara Municipality MP, Michael Tusiime last week in a stormy plenary session that extended into the night.
Hon. Tusiime stated that Government had hired a foreign law firm; Curtis Mallet-Provost, Colt and Mosle LLP to represent the country in the law suits and was already costly to the country.
“The American law firm was hired to represent in the $ 404 million capital gains tax dispute adjudicated in London at a cost of $ 10 million dollars,” he argued, adding that it is prudent for investigate the oil cash payouts and especially the procedures that were followed to reward the officials.
According to Hon. Alex Ruhunda, Fort Portal Municipality MP, the move to setup a committee is not to witch-hunt the beneficiaries but a move to create transparency on the issue.
Winfred Niwagaba, Ndorwa East MP concurred with Hon. Ruhunda arguing that it is time for government to demonstrate its tenacity to fight corruption.
“We will be glad to see the perpetuators not only appear before the Anti- Corruption Court, but refund the Shs 6bn back to the Petroleum Fund,” he said.
However, William Byaruhanga defended the payouts, arguing that the case was the first of time in the history of the country, both in terms of complexity and the magnitude of the money involved. Kadaga said, when the team won the case, she wrote a letter thanking them for fighting for the interests of the country.
This is the second time in less than five years that parliament is instituting a probe committee to investigate issues of corruption and alleged misuse of oil revenues.
In 2011, Parliament set up an Adhoc Committee, chaired by Michael Werikhe, the then chairperson of Natural Resources Committee, to investigate alleged corruption in the sector.
A dossier had been tabled before the House by MP Gerald Karuhanga that implicated Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi, Ministers Sam Kutesa and former Energy Minister, Hilary Onek in corruption. The committee report exonerated the politicians of corruption. The country waits the speaker to name the select committee.
BUNYORO LEADERS UNHAPPY
Buliisa county Member of Parliament, Hon. Stephen Mukitale Biraahwa revealed that his constituency, despite housing over 26 oil wells has not benefited from the Capital Gains Tax recovered by government.
“The money would have been ploughed back in the oil sector to prepare for Uganda’s journey towards commercial oil production,” Hon. Biraahwa who sits on the parliamentary committee on National Economy told Oil in Uganda.
He added that the revenues earned so far should be in improving roads in the oil region, training the population, conducting systematic survey and demarcation of land, building capacities of local suppliers and environmental compliance among others.
“What is surprising communities hosting oil and gas activities is that the money is being shared in Kampala by government officials without considering the interests of the industry and the communities” he said.
Bugahya County Member of Parliament, Hon.Pius Wakabi demanded that the beneficiaries who received the oil cash should refund it immediately.
Hon. Wakabi whose constituency has over six oil wells, stated that it is shocking that the money was shared at a time when teachers demand salary increment and lecturers striking over remuneration.
Litmus test for Uganda?
The management of revenues from oil is a litmus test for Uganda. Many activists have questioned whether the petroleum resource will be a blessing or a curse to the country citing scenarios in oil-producing countries in Africa such as Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Angola, Sudan, Chad, and Nigeria among others.
Report by Edward Ssekika and our Hoima Correspondent.
Gold miners in Mubende district have commended the safety campaign championed by Action Aid international to promote health and safety standards in the mines.
During a recent visit by Oil in Uganda to the gold mines early this year, several miners in Kitumbi sub county, Mubende District expressed their gratitude to Action Aid International for providing them with safety gears and providing a platform for awareness.
Nakimuli Shamim, one of the beneficiaries explained that she was unaware of the importance of using safety gear while washing the gold dust.
“Now that I understand how important this safety gear is, I can now wash up to 8 basins of gold dust without worrying about getting sick from exposure to mercury,” she narrated to Oil in Uganda.
“Before, I used to develop itchy skin rashes but my hands are now covered with gloves and I also have gum boots to protect my legs,” she noted.
Nakimuli adds that using the safety gear will eventually see her walk home with a high income since she will be able to work for longer hours.
As for Nalukuuma Juliet who has been in the gold industry for three years, the use of safety gear had never crossed her mind.
She narrates that she would endure the tedious process of washing the gold dust despite the fact that her hands always developed small painful swellings.
“If you are looking for money, you have to endure and keep working even if you have those small swellings. If you do not work you cannot be paid,” she stated.
Nalukuuma further adds that often, it is uncomfortable working under the sun while wearing the safety gear but one has to persevere.
According to Zziwa Hussein, a grinding machine operator, he is now protected from the dust emitted during the crashing process that has made him suffer from constant chest pains.
I now hope that the chest pains from inhaling too much dust will reduce with this safety gear,” he says.
In August 2016, over 80 miners in Lubaali, Lujjinji B and Kampala mining sites in Mubende district received safety gears including gumboots, waterproof overalls, nose masks and helmets from Action Aid International in a bid to promote health and safety conditions in mines.
Report by Josephine Nabaale
Following the oil cash bonanza in which 42 top government officials were rewarded with colossal sums of ‘oil money’, activists want an audit of the entire oil sector.
This move follows a public uproar, over ‘the ‘scandal’ in which 42 top government officials, were paid Shs 6bn (about $1,656,000) as a reward for winning Tullow and Heritage cases over Capital Gains Tax.
Winfred Ngabiirwe, the Executive Director, Global Rights Alert, says the ‘oil cash bonanza’ speaks volumes of how oil money is and will be spent.
“This bonanza confirms our fears that oil revenues will not deliver the country from poverty,” she explains.
“The level of secrecy and the impunity of the key players in the sector only confirm that Uganda is creating her own model of oil curse. It appears, those in power have decided to eat what they can eat, uncertain when production will start and oil dollars start flowing,” she argues.
According to Ngabiirwe, all these are attributed to government’s delay or refusal to sign up to the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI), a global frame that promotes transparency and accountability in the extractives sector.
The EITI framework, she argues, would enable Ugandans to know how much the country is earning from oil and gas resources and how the money is spent.
“We need a forensic audit of the entire sector. First, we need to know whether the country is collecting the right amounts of money from oil companies, and are oil companies paying right taxes to our coffers and then Ugandans must follow the money. Short of that, we are dreaming that will benefit our country,” she demands.
Gerald Karuhanga, the Ntungamo Municipality Member of Parliament, concurs with Ngabiirwe echoing that the cash bonanza is a confirmation of how oil money will be put to waste.
He argues that the fact that government can extravagantly spent colossal sums of money on “a golden presidential handshake’, for simply winning a case, what will happen when the ‘real’ petro dollars begin to flow.
Defending the oil cash bonanza, Sarah Birungi Banage, Uganda Revenue Authority’s Assistant Commissioner for Public and Corporate Affairs, notes that the ‘presidential golden handshake’, was in appreciation of the exemplary performance by the team and a standard international best practice.
“….. government granted the team involved an honorarium or bonus or golden handshake totaling Shs 6bn. This represented less than 1% of the amount brought in or defended,” reads in part a statement from URA.
“The team brought in a combined total of $700m into government coffers after a series of court battles in Uganda’s Tax Appeals Tribunal, High Court, Court of Appeal and High Court of London, Court of Appeal of UK, and two international tribunals. This was from the Heritage transaction and the subsequent Tullow transaction. The two cases were an unprecedented win for the country, and the first of its kind in Africa in the sector of Oil and Gas Taxation,” the statement further notes.
The officials who benefited from the ‘presidential golden handshake include; former Permanent Secretary in Ministry of Energy Fred Kabagambe Kaliisa, URA’s Commissioner General Doris Akol, former URA’s head of legal affairs and ED KCCA Jennifer Musisi, Secretary to the Treasury Keith Muhakanizi, former Attorney General Peter Nyombi and his deputy, Fred Ruhindi, Lawrence Kiiza from Ministry of Finance, Ernest Rubondo, the executive director of PAU, Francis Atoke, the Solicitor General. Others include lawyers; Ali Ssekatawa (URA), Martin Mwambutsya (then State Attorney), Peter Muliisa among others.
In November, 2015, President Yoweri Museveni wrote to the Minister of Finance, Hon. Matia Kasaija authorizing cash payments to the 42 government officials.
“I met with a team of officials that handled the case and they requested to be considered for a reward in appreciation for the work done. Given the amount of money that was recovered for the government, I agreed that government pays them some money as a token of appreciation. I therefore direct that a team of 42 government officials be paid Shs 6bn only,” Museveni wrote in his authorization letter.
The oil cash bonanza comes after, the ‘first oil money’ was allegedly illegally released from Bank of Uganda, purportedly on the orders of the President to buy fighter jets in 2013.
Report by Edward Ssekika
Over sixty Ugandan and international NGOs issued a joint press statement in Kampala this week calling on the Uganda government to stop its plans of licensing out the Ngaji oil block at the DRC border in order to preserve the pristine environment of the Virunga National Park. Read More
Today, a group of nine civil society organisations working in Uganda released a joint statement expressing concern over the decision by the Government of Uganda to continue with the planned bidding round for six oil blocks despite the absence of critical regulatory institutions and mechanisms required by law. Read More