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  • CSOs rally MPs support for a pro-people law as mining legislation takes shape

     

    The Civil Society Organisations will be pushing for inclusivness as they present their agenda to Members of Parliament in the ongoing legislation review process of the Mining Act 2003 and Mining Policy 2001.

    Stakeholders of the Civil Society Organisation will be meeting Members of Parliament drawn from the Natural Resources Committee and Parliamentary Forum on Oil and Gas (PFOG) in a working dialogue tomorrow on Thursday 18, May 2017 praying to have their views taken into consideration in the ongoing legislative review process of the Mining Act 2003 and Mining Policy 2001.

    Ms. Flavia Nalubega, the project officer of the Extractives Governance Project at Actionaid Uganda, says it will be an opportunity for civil society to “voice their expectations on the law under review and also have an input in the matter.

    “Now is the time to rally support before the matter is presented on the floor of parliament,” Ms. Nalubega said.

    The workshop follows a consultative meeting with Members of Parliament on the Natural Resources Committee under the leadership of Hon. Mukitale Steven that was held in March this year regarding the review of the Mining Act.

    According to the Mining and Mineral Policy Draft 2016, government recognizes the input of artisanal miners to the socio-economic development of the country bearing in mind that artisanal mining is a source of livelihood for thousands of Ugandans.

    In this regard government plans to organize and formalize artisanal miners and gazette them to operate in areas that are not under commercial exploration.

    Ms Winfred Ngabirwe, Global Rights Alert Executive Director, says they hope to build consensus with the legislators to ensure a well regulated sector and a better Uganda.

    “We have the National Development Plan and Vision 2040 and we need MPs to know where we are coming from. Without good legislation we are leaving out a very big section of Ugandans where we’ll continue to see under development and exploitation, “ She said and added,

    “The challenge is not about the leadership, the State or who is in power; there’s no one against the other but rather we strive for inclusive development in the sector,” Ms Ngabiirwe said.

    Stakeholders can join the interaction on Twitter under the hastag #mininglegislation that will be relayed by @OilInUg.

    Report by Robert Mwesigye

    Oil.Uganda@actionaid.org

  • Nivatiti Nandujja, Human Rights Coordinator (AAU). Photo by Francis Emorut

    Address challenges faced by women in mining – MPs, activists ask government

    Ms Nivatiti Nandujja, Human Rights Coordinator (AAU) speaking at National Dialogue. Photo by Francis Emorut.

    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.

    Catherine Nyakecho,  Geologist, Ministry of Energy and Mineral Development speaking at National Dialogue. Photo by Francis Emorut.

    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.

    Plenary discussion at National Dialogue. Photo by Francis Emorut.

    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

    Oil.uganda@actionaid.org

  • L-R: Hon. Peter Lokeris, Hon. Michael Mawanda and the Anti Corruption Coalition's Abbas Kigozi

    National Dialogue to impact on governance of the Extractives Sector

    CSOs have organised a dialogue slated for Wednesday the 26th April 2017

    Archive photo from former event. 

    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   

    Oil.uganda@actionaid.org

  • Part of Agricultural Land filled with rocks. Photo from Healthy Land

    Family Sues Government for Unlawful Use of Rock

     

    Part of Agricultural Land filled with rocks. Photo from Healthy Land

    Is a rock found in your land a mineral and therefore vested in the State?

    A family in Oyam District has sued the Government of Uganda and Sino Hydro Corporation Ltd for unlawfully crushing ‘its’ rock into aggregate and using it to construct Karuma hydro-electric power  dam without compensation, Oil in Uganda exclusively reveals.

    In the suit Etot Paul and others Vs Attorney General and Sino Hydro Corporation Ltd, filed in 2015 in the Land Division of the High Court, the family of Mzee Etot wants court to compel Government and Sino Hydro Corporation Ltd – a Chinese company constructing the 600 megawatts Karuma dam, to pay for aggregate derived from the family rock.

    According to the family, it all started in 2012, when the Ministry of Energy and Mineral Development decided to compulsorily acquire land near and around Karuma to pave way for the construction of the dam.

    “Part of Mzee Etot’s land was among parcels that government acquired for construction of the dam. However, government only assessed the value of the land and development on it without taking into consideration the value of the rock on the land,” family spokesperson told Oil in Uganda.

    The family claims that since it owns the land, it also owns the rock on the land, and therefore deserves compensation for the value of the rock.

    “Consequently, government unlawfully took over the family’s parcels of land adjacent to river Nile, and handed it to Sino Hydro Corporation Ltd for the construction of the dam,” the plaint reads, further noting that part of the land which also contains a rock is also their property.

    Through their lawyer, George Omunyokol, the family claims Sino Hydro Corporation brought a rock crusher and crushed the rock into aggregate that it is using to construct Karuma hydro-electric power dam  free of charge.

    Omunyokol argues that stones and rocks are not minerals and therefore government should compensate the family for unlawful use of its rock.

    “The stone/rock in our clients land is not a mineral because the Constitution excludes it from minerals,” he states in the plaint.

    Omunyokol’s argument is premised on Article 244(1) of the Constitution of Uganda that vests the entire property in and control of all minerals and petroleum in government on behalf of the Citizens.

    Article 244 (5) of the Constitution excludes clay, murram, sand or any stone commonly used for building or similar purposes. “So, clearly, the Constitution is clear, it excludes stones from minerals,” Omunyokol told Oil in Uganda.

    Consequently, the family hired professional geologists to quantify the value of the rock and according to the technical evaluation report seen by Oil in Uganda, puts the value of the rock at $ 6.5million  (approximately Shs 22 billion).

    According to the geologists, the rock has capacity to produce about 650,000 tons of aggregates. Therefore, at a market value of $10 (about Shs 33,000/=) per ton, the rock is worth $ 6.5 million (about Shs 22bn). Therefore, in the suit, the family wants court to order government to pay $ 6.5 million in compensation.

    In addition, the Chief Government Valuer conducted valuation of the entire family property which includes; the value of crops, buildings and land to worth 813million Uganda shillings. These monies have not been paid to date.

    Oil in Uganda has established that government withheld payment of the compensation, due to the standoff over the rock.

    The family seeks a declaration that the actions of Sino Hydro  Corporation quarrying the family’s rock, crushing it into aggregates and using the aggregates for the construction without compensation is unlawful and unconstitutional and seek compensation for the value of the crushed rock at the market rate.

    However, the Attorney General, in a Written Statement of Defense to the suit, insists that a rock is a mineral and therefore vested in government  and the family is not entitled to any compensation so court should dismiss the suit with costs.

    “In respect of the claim for compensation for the rocks found on the suits, the plaintiffs [family] are not entitled to compensation in view of the provisions of the Constitution read together with various provisions of the Mining Act 2003,” the AG argues in the defense.

    According to Andrew Karamagi, the legal argument by George Omunyokol is sound since rock is part of land and is not a mineral, hence its value should be factored into the computation for the final value of the said piece of land.

    “There is a Latin maxim about land which argues to the effect that cujus est solum ejus usque ad coelum (translated to mean- he who owns the land owns everything above and below it). In mutatis mutandis with the Constitution of Uganda which precludes minerals, it is clear that this rock is on the land and is therefore part of the impugned land,” he told Oil in Uganda.

    Last year, Uganda National Roads Authority (UNRA), was embroiled in wrangle with businessman Pius Mugalaasi, over the value of a rock on the Entebbe- Express highway on his land. The Roads Authority was eventually forced to divert the road.

    The value of rocks found on land is becoming an issue given the demand of aggregate for various on-going projects. If for instance the court rules that a rock is not a mineral, and therefore a property of the land owner, even when exploited for commercial purposes, will set a precedent that could raise the value of rocky lands.

    Report by Edward Ssekika.

  • Some of the women engaging in planning; a gold mining process where mercury is mixed with water. Photo by Josephine Nabaale

    Local Governments Losing Revenue from ASM Gold Mining Sites

    Some of the women engaging in planning; a gold mining process where mercury is mixed with water. Photo by Josephine Nabaale

    In this part two of our artisanal miners’ series, we delve in the lack of a clear tax framework to generate revenues for local governments from artisan mining activities.   We analyze the potential amount of money local governments could generate, but are currently losing from Gold mining operations.

    The Mining Score Card recently launched by ActionAid Uganda in partnership with Africa Centre for Mining Policy (ACEMP) and National Planning Authority (NPA) revealed that there is a weak reporting practice in the mining sector.

    It also revealed that even though the mining sector has a great potential of contributing to economic growth and poverty alleviation in the country; less has been done to harness this.

    The office of the Auditor General last year revealed in his Value-for-Money Audit report 2016 that government had lost at least 4.4 billion shillings (approx.1.3 million dollars) in uncollected mineral royalties in the last five years.

    Currently, the government has embarked on undertaking review processes to update the relevant mining legislations. A Draft Green Paper on Mineral Policy is before the cabinet for review and the review of the Mining Act 2003 is yet to commence.

    One of the proposed amendments is the regularization of artisanal mining in Uganda to legally recognize them; integrate them in formal tax arrangements; enable them qualify for social goods, services and infrastructure and to  increase revenues to local governments for proper managements. The consequences of under-regulation of artisan miners have wide ramifications and are far-reaching. It includes artisan miners not having access to social goods, services and infrastructure put in place by government; not being taxed appropriately; being prone to machinations by unscrupulous individuals in authorities; local governments not being able to realize their revenue collection targets; and being exposed to crime and conflicts.

    The lack of clear sub-national taxation arrangements for artisan miners and utilization of revenue collected from artisan mining is denying local governments of much needed revenues. This is mainly not due to policy or legislative deficiencies, but more due to policy implementation and legislative enforcement.   Busoga region is rich in mineral resources particularly Aluminous clays, yttrium, and rare metals such as gallium and Scandium  estimated at $370 billion (about Shs942 trillion) by Kweri Investments, the company conducting Feasibility studies in the region. This wealth as mentioned in Part one; has attracted an influx of immigrants from all over the country and as far as Kenya who hope to tap into these resources.

    According to Methuselah Batambuze, Community Development officer Buddaya sub-county, the population at Nabwala mining site before the  influx was about 2000 and the indigenous people were into agriculture. He however noted that in 2015, with the discovery of gold in that area, the population increased to over 10,000 people.

    Batambuze adds that when the miners were convinced that gold was ‘finished’, some left in search for new mining sites.

    “What you are seeing now are trucks taking the tailings to other places where they are processed using cyanide for better results,” he told Oil in Uganda

    Majidu Musisi, who took part in the first exploration and exploitation for gold in the area in the early 1990s, says he has been at it for now 10 years and has made on average 4 million shillings a week on bad days and over 20 million shillings on good days.

    “I have invested in real estate and own more than 5 commercial buildings in Bugiri Municipality,” subdued Musisi reveals to Oil in Uganda.

    ‘I have also created employment for all these people you see in this mining site,’’ he added pointing to hundreds of youth digging for gold around the site.

    A simple analysis of the money made by Musisi in one week; at a conservative estimate of UGX 4 million a week, he makes UGX 16 million a month and UGX 192 million a year. He then shares this money with the people he has employed which to our surprise do not even add-up to 50% of the money Musisi earns.  A miner who works at the pit is paid a minimum wage of UGX. 25,000 a day. This money is not taxed because Musisi, like other artisanal miners, are still regarded as an illegal miner.

    According to the Mining Act 2003, royalties are to be shared with mineral producing districts based on a basic revenue sharing schemes. The Second Schedule to the Mining Act stipulates that the central government is to take 80% of royalties collected and then distribute the remaining 20% as follows; 17% to “local governments” and 3% to “landowners or bona-fide occupants of land subject to mineral rights.”

    This presupposes that central government would first collect the royalties before the local government can benefit from the contribution, implying that local governments do not have the right to tax/ collect the royalties. This is undermining revenue generation and social goods and services delivery at local government level. A failure on the part of central government to collect the royalties on time in the right amounts and distribute them accordingly to the beneficial local governments further worsens the revenue situation at local level. Consequently, local governments suffer financial deficiencies and stress.

    The above cited revenue sharing scheme is common in mineral rich jurisdictions and therefore is a widely acceptable practice. However, whether it is the best practice for central government to first collect the royalties and then distribute them to the respective beneficiary district is not clear. We do appreciate that it is good practice to recognize the rights of landowners and bona-fide occupants of land where minerals are discovered and exploited. It is our opinion that local governments are given right to collect royalties and deduct what is due to them and remit that due to central government.

    Our rough calculation indicates that if this money would, however, be taxed and royalties deducted, the district is to take 10 per cent of the revenues in royalties and it would generate about UGX. 19 million to its budget. This revenue contribution would be just from Musisi and assuming there are 100 other miners in Bugiri district making the same amount of money, it would be UGX. 1.9bn hence make significant contribution to the district budget.

    According to the Bugiri district Budget Framework paper 2016/2017, the rest of the district’s UGX 21 billion shillings budget comes from government and donor programmes.

    Interestingly, Musisi has never paid a single direct tax from the income derived from the sale of his gold to the ever available gold trading middlemen.

    Just like in other mining areas Oil in Uganda has visited, the roads to the mining area where Musisi operates are impassable during the rainy season.

    “If you are not round here and you want access my mining area, you cannot access it when you are not driving a four-wheeled car,” he warns.

    Sadly, even the basic amenities like a pharmacy or clinic are not available for the miners who work there.

    Some of these things would be solved through paying royalties as District revenues would increase.

    According to Shafic Butanda, the Acting Community development Officer Bugiri District, in the more than 10 years small scale miners have been in Bugiri district, there has never been any contribution to the district budget from them ‘’Even right now we are going for a budget meeting but the briefing papers have mentioned the potential revenues that could be collected from gold mining’’ He adds.

    Unfortunately, there has been no government plan to formalise Small scale mining in the country. And in Bugiri district there is no scheme to collect royalties since the law gives those powers to collect revenues to the government, which then shares with the district, the district officers say they were not even aware they could collect taxes from the small scale miners. Mr Shafic Butanda the Acting Community Development Officer says ‘’they will start looking into ways of raising money from the miners’

    However, even in this, there appears to be an attempt to raise royalties from small-scale gold miners in the Neighbouring district of Namayingo, where according to the Banda Subcounty Chairperson Oguttu Bonaventure, they collect some ‘’little’ money from the miners at Nakuddi gold mining site. “What we collect is based on the same rates as the trading license for the shops in the sub-county which is still little money,’’ he says.

    A Case study on revenue sharing schemes in the mining areas of Kabale and Moroto districts commissioned by Transparency International Uganda in 2015, found that while the districts complained of lack of information and erratic payment of their royalties share from government, even government itself doesn’t have enough information and depends on the disclosures of the miners to collect royalties, which in the case of small-scale miners is nonexistent.

    This is because small scale miners are usually individuals who rent portions of land for mining from an individual, with an agreement to share what is found on the ground, this is what happens in Nabwala Bugiri district and Nakudi in Namayingo district. Taxing individuals has always been hard and there is an effort by various civil society organisations including ActionAid Uganda to help small-scale miners in Uganda form associations, help them acquire mining licenses and formalise their relationship with government.

    This turn of events according to Mr Shafic Butanda, Community Development Officer of Bugiri district will prompt the district to look at creating a mining policy modelled on the National mining policy ‘’Maybe that way we can also help our people benefit from the minerals in the district,’’ he says.

    We recommend that local governments are given right to collect royalties and deduct what is due to them and remit the rest to central government. This way local government will not starve of revenues.

    Report by  Collins Hinamundi Oil, Gas and Land reporter

  • Some of the children in the make shift cap in Rwamutonga. (Photo: F. Mugerwa)

    2 Years Down, Rwamutonga Evictees Await Justice

    Some of the children in the make shift cap in Rwamutonga. (Photo: F. Mugerwa)

    High court Masindi has indefinitely postponed the hearing of the Rwamutonga case where more than 200 families were brutally evicted to pave way for the construction of oil waste treatment plant, Oil in Uganda has learnt.

    Justice Albert Rugadya Atwoki, High Court resident judge Masindi was expected to give a ruling on an application on January 19, 2017but informed the court that he would make a ruling on notice.

    According to Bashir Twesigye, Executive Director Civic Response on Environment and Development, the judge’s move to make his ruling on notice shows that the judge is not comfortable with the case hence the hesitation to make a decisive ruling.

    “Hon. Justice Rugadya should not have any excuse ruling on the case because he has had six months to study the case,” he argued.

    “The judge making a ruling on notice means that he will make a decision when he feels ready,” he explained to Oil in Uganda, adding that since the first ruling was done last year, this second ruling would give the evictees a mileage and has been pending for a year.

    The families were evicted in August 2014 from the two pieces of land; one titled in the names of Robert Bansigaraho and another in Joshua Tibagwa. The affected families have since been living in Kakoopo Internally Displaced Persons camp (IDP) with no stable  source of livelihood.

    Nelson Atich, Bugambe District Councilor  and representative of the evictees told  Oil in Uganda, that they are shocked by the judge’s decision to make the ruling on notice.

    “We are now thinking of petitioning the Principal Judge over this matter,” he stated.

    “When we went to court on 19th, January, 2017, we were surprised when the clerk to the judge told us that the judge will give us the ruling on notice. We are in a dilemma, but we think we are not getting justice from courts of law,” Atich said.

    He further added that the evicted families have been living in a camp for close to three years now under inhuman conditions yet the case has not been given priority,” Atich said.

    A section of the displaced residents at a recent meeting in the camp. (Photo: CourtesyGlobal Rights Alert)

    Oil in Uganda has learnt that the court ruling was actually meant to be given on December 8, 2016 but was postponed to January 19, 2017.

    Last year, Justice Simon Byabakama, the then resident judge Masindi ,ruled that 53 families out of the 200 families affected were illegally evicted on land owned by Robert Bansigaraho since the eviction court order was issued in error.

    Justice Byabakama  in his ruling also ordered Bansingaraho to compensate the evictees for the unlawful eviction.

    “The eviction was unlawful and should not have happened in the first place because at the time of the execution of the warrant of vacant possession, there was an ongoing suit to determine true ownership of the land,” ruled Justice Simon Byabakama last year.

    The court went ahead to award costs of the application to the residents, but declined to restore them on the land until the main suit was determined.

    In their case application, the evictees, through their lawyers Iam Musinguzi of Musinguzi and Co. Advocates and Jonathan Okiria, an advocate with Justice Centers Uganda in Hoima are seeking a declaration that the families  were unlawfully evicted by Tibagwa Joshua and should be awarded compensation.

    In November 2016, Betty Amongi, Minister of lands visited Rwamutonga camp and appointed a probe committee to investigate and establish the rightful owners of the disputed land.

    According to Isaac Kawooya, Hoima Resident District Commissioner,  the committee finalized its investigations and has submitted a report to the minister.

    Report by Edward Ssekika 

  • A miner in Mubende 'washing' crushed, fine iron ore with mercury. Photo by Beatrice Ongede

    Government move to ban use of mercury in gold mining

    Stephen Wafula is a happy gold miner in Nakudi village, Banda Sub County, Namayingo district. The 27-year-old, father of 2 children, says, he switched from agriculture to gold mining last year, after witnessing his colleagues ‘prosper’ from mining. “Unlike farming, there is some money in gold mining. I don’t wait for a season, I earn per day,” he narrates, though hesitant to reveal how much he has earned from gold mining.

    Byakatunda Katib who also mines in the same area, says they can earn as much as 20 Million shillings ($5,500) a week from Gold mining, if the season is good.

    Like other artisanal miners, the use of rudimentary tools like hoes and spades are used in this area to dig deep underground and extract ore with traces of gold. After extracting the ore (soil containing gold) from the ground, the miners normally have two options; to dry, crush, wash and extract the gold or sell the iron ore to other people who can wash it and extract gold for themselves. Either way, the ore is sun dried and then put into a grinder and grounded into fine soil that is then mixed with water and mercury to attract gold dust (particles).

    “Without mercury, it is difficult to extract gold particles because we do not have proper mechanization,” Wafula explains. He adds that after extracting gold, the remaining ‘soil’ containing mercury is disposed of in the open ground or sold for further processing using cyanide.

    A-woman-crushing-the-iron-ore-from-one-of-the-fold-mining-sites-in-namayingo-districts-photo-by-Josephine-Nabale

    The use of mercury and cyanide is common in all gold mining area like Busia, Mubende, Moroto and Buhweju among others. These hazardous chemicals are mainly used to attract gold particles from the iron ore.

    Mercury is a thick, waxy silver chemical that is used in the extraction of secondary gold. This chemical is used to purify gold from ore in a process called amalgamation. During this process, the vapour from the amalgamation (burning of gold particles mixed with mercury) is inhaled by the miner who often does not have protective clothing.

    Many miners like Wafula are not aware of the risks of using mercury. Furthermore, they do not have proper healthy and safety gears for protection.

    In the latest value for money audit report into the mineral’s sector, the Auditor General, recommends that government should slap a total ban on the use of mercury in gold mining due to health and environmental consequences. The report covers the period between 2011 to 2015.

    “The use of mercury and cyanide in gold recovery is a health hazard and should be discouraged else safety precautions should be taken. There is bound to be serious environmental impacts and health issues related to pollution of streams and rivers of Mubende. According to the report, the tailings containing mercury is disposed of in the open, and when it rains mercury finds itself in water streams where the local people fetch water for domestic purposes.

    It takes more than 5 years for mercury to completely dissolve into the soil, while it takes 10 years for Cyanide to dissolve into the soil. The Auditor General findings are similar to the Directorate of Geological Survey and Mines (DGSM) internal inspection report that also noted illegal mining and ‘harmful mining practices’.

    According to the DGSM internal inspection report for June and July this year, the inspection team visited several artisanal mining sites where people were using mercury to recover the gold and the remaining tailings are then washed with cyanide in a makeshift processing plant which is a threat to the environment.

    In Namayingo district, the inspection report notes that there is a company known as Lujiji Processing Company that has installed a gold procession plant and uses Cyanide to extract gold from tailings left behind by the artisanal miners who are also using mercury to recover the gold.

    “The gold processing operations of Lujiji Processing Company should be halted until an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) process is finalized and approved by NEMA,” the report recommends.

    According to Oguttu Bonventeur Stephen, LC3 Chairperson Banda sub-county, the mercury being used in the mining sites are imported from Kenya through Busia and even as far as from Tanzania. He blames the porous borders and lack of enforcement on the use of the harzadous chemical.

    “This mercury is being used a lot here. In a day, I am told they can use about 15-20 kgs of mercury and all that ends up in our water streams,” he told Oil in Uganda during a meeting.

    Oil in Uganda has also established that artisanal miners in the mines buys 1 gram of mercury at 600 Uganda shilling at whole sale price and 1000 shillings at retail price.

    Emmanuel Kibirige, general secretary, Singo Artisanal Gold Miners Association and a gold miner at Kitumbi, Mubende district, argues that the problem is improper disposal of tailings. He concurs with Auditor General Report, that when it rains, mercury is washed away and end up in streams and water sources.

    “The problem is not mercury itself, but its improper disposal. It is disposed of anyhow. I think, we need to find a place, where we can dispose the mud containing mercury, and then treat,” he explains. However, he explains that many miners continue to use mercury without wearing any protective gear. “People here don’t use gloves, they use their bare hands and feet, yet there is mercury,” he said.

    During an impromptu visit to some of the mining sites in Bugiri and Namayingo districts respectively, Oil in Uganda also found out that there was limited knowledge on the dangers of mercury and cyanide use.

    At Byewunyisa Gold Mining Company in Budhaya Sub-county, the miners had removed their gumboots and were handling the tailings with bare hands, despite the fact that they had just used cyanide to get the gold particles.

    The story is not any different from situation at Nsango B mining site where children are engaged in washing crushed iron ore with mercury. Recently, Dr. Tom Okurut, the executive director, National Environment Management Authority (Nema) revealed the use of mercury by miners exposes them to contract diseases like lung and kidney problems.

    MINING POLICE The inspection report observes that miners have been sensitized against the use of mercury and environmentally friendly mining, there is very little change and recommends stringent enforcement mechanism. “Government should increase security in all gold rush areas including the establishment of Mining Police to enforce compliance,” the internal report recommends.

    Of recently, the government has established units in police to hand specific tasks. For instance, there is the oil and gas protection unit and environment protection unit among others, and therefore the ministry wants a specific unit for mining to enforce compliance with good mining practices.

    Report by Edward Ssekika and Collins Hinamundi. Additional information by Beatrice Ongode.

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