The maiden Conference of Parties to the Minamata Convention on Mercury took place in Geneva on September 24-29. The Convention is an international legal instrument or Treaty designed to protect human health and the environment from anthropogenic emissions and releases of mercury and mercury compounds. The Convention currently has been signed by 128 countries and ratified by 83 so far.
The Minamata Convention requires the phase out of many products containing mercury, implements restrictions on trade and supply of mercury and establishes a framework to reduce or eliminate emissions and releases of mercury from industrial processes and mining.
Mercury is widely used by artisanal and small scale gold miners, Uganda inclusive. According to the UN, the practice of mercury amalgamation in Artisanal and Small Scale Gold Mining (ASGM) is of particular concern due to the “decentralised distribution of elemental mercury utilized and its widespread handling, thermal conversion and disposal within social settings such as shops, villages, and food production areas.”
The sad bit in Uganda is that because of the state of ASGM, unregulated and illegal, miners have no idea of the dangers of mercury. At high levels, mercury can harm the brain, heart, kidneys, lungs, and immune system of people of all ages. According to studies, high levels of methyl mercury in the bloodstream of unborn babies and young children may harm the developing nervous system, making the child less able to think and learn and potentially reducing their IQ.
During a working visit in Namayingo a miner brazenly said he had handled mercury for over ten years but “nothing was wrong with him and he had never developed any problems.”
Asked how they accessed mercury, a miner in Nsango B village, Budde Sub County in Bugiri district once told a team from Oil in Uganda that they ‘had suppliers’ but was not willing to elucidate. Mercury however is largely smuggled from Tanzania and easily accessible by the miners at just between Sh800 and Sh1000 a gram meaning it is easily accessible.
Mr Erienyu Johnson, the Busia District natural resources officer, displaying a bottle of dirty brown-coloured water, noted how he had fetched a sample from R. Okame in Busitema where miners used mercy nearby. He said locals had complained that the water had been contaminated by the miners.
He said a nongovernmental organisation, Environmental Women in Action for Development (EWAD), ventured into the district to ‘build artisanal miners’ capacity and promote safe mining without using mercury..
Mr Erienyu said though the district leadership is in the process of working out something to manage the use of mercury by artisanal gold miners there are currently no measures in place.
“We currently have a draft ordinance that is to be presented at the next council seating,” he told Oil in Uganda.
National Task Force
At the national level, Uganda, through National Environmental Management Authority, has a task force – Strategic Approach to International Chemicals Management (SAICHEM) – which is the national focal point for the management of use of mercury.
Mr Paul Twebaze, an environmentalist working with Pro-Biodiversity Conservation Uganda (PROBICOU), says the civil society organisation is the national focal point NGO for SAICHEM in Uganda.
Twebaze says PROBICOU is also a member of the National Steering Committee of the Stockholm Convention against Persistent Organic Pollutants (global treaty ratified by the international community lead by UNEP – calls for the elimination and/or phasing out of 12 POPs) in Uganda, activities all coordinated by NEMA.
“We have been a lead NGO doing work on mercury and of course working towards ratification of the Minamata Convention working with the Government of Uganda to speed up the processes of the ratification of the Minamata Convention.
“We got involved in the negotiation processes and are currently working with government on enabling activities,” Twebaze says.
“We are working with the health sector to discourage the use of dental amalgam which contains mercury. Additionally we are also trying to promote the use of mercury-free electronic appliances,” Twebaze says of their manadate.
He says they are also working with all stakeholders in the mining industry to minimize and eventually phase out the use of mercury especially by the artisanal and small scale miners.
Paul says Uganda is being supported by the Secretariat of the Minamata Convention to speed up the process of ratification.
“After Uganda has fully understood and appreciated the situation I am confident it will ratify the Convention,” he says.
He describes artisanal miners as “a menace” to the mining sector
In a new twist that arguably contradicts government rhetoric on Artisanal and Small Scale Miners (ASMs) in the country, the Director, Directorate of Geological Survey and Mines (DGSM) in the Ministry of Energy and Mineral Development, Edwards Kato, has ordered all illegal artisanal miners to vacate the respective mines.
“Those people [artisanal miners], still joking should style up. Now, I’m not only a director [in the ministry] but also a commander of the Minerals Protection Unit of the Uganda Police Force. So, those illegal artisanal miners still behaving like those in Mubende [who were evicted], they should pack and vacate the mines, otherwise, my police force will them help to pack,” Mr Kato said.
With the Mineral Police, he emphasized the “madness” of artisanal miners will stop. Kato praised the “Chunga Mazingira Operation”, sanctioned by President Yoweri Museveni in which more than 60,000 artisanal gold miners in Bukuya and Kitumbi sub counties in Mubende district were evicted to pave way for an investor to develop the mines.
The eviction left many artisanal gold miners counting loses without any source of livelihood. The artisanal miners have since sued Attorney General [Government] seeking compensation for their property destroyed during the brutal eviction jointly carried out by the army and police.
On August 7th, this year, the Inspector General of Police (IGP), created a unit known as Mineral’s Protection Police, within the police force. Headed by Ms. Keigomba Jesca, the Unit is charged with implementing policies, plans and strategies for effective security of minerals in the country. The unit was formed days after the army and police evicted artisanal miners in Mubende district. Minerals have a direct impact on revenue, immigration, law and order as well as environmental management.
“Artisanal miners have been a big thorn in the mineral’s sector. They are a total menace,” Mr Kato said.
Kato was on Wednesday 4th, October this year speaking at the 6thAnnual Mineral Wealth Conference at Kampala Serena Hotel. Running under the theme “Minerals: Knocking on the door to cause economic transformation in Uganda,” the conference is organized by the Uganda Chamber of Mines and Petroleum in collaboration with the Ministry of Energy and Minerals Development.
According to a report titled, “Understanding Artisanal and Small Scale Mining (ASM) Operations in Uganda,” by African Center for Energy Policy (ACEMP), 2016, there are more than 250,000 Artisanal and Small Scale Miners in Uganda. Eviction of these miners will exacerbate unemployment and impoverishment, especially among the youth and women who work in the mines.
Though most artisanal miners do their work without any license, which is illegal, evicting them from the mines is not a solution. They instead need to be helped to formalize their operations and licensed. Under section 4(1) of the Mining Act, to prospect, explore, mine, retain or dispose of any mineral without a license, any person mining without a license, upon conviction is liable to a pay fine of Shs 500,000= shillings or imprisonment not exceeding one year. In case of a company, the fine is not exceeding Shs 1 million.
However, in a tongue-in-cheek presentation, Mr Kato pledged to organize artisanal miners. “We need to regulate and formalize Artisanal and Small Scale Mines (ASMs), they have become a menace all over. Government shall organize and license artisanal miners and transform their activities into formidable and viable business entities,” he said contradicting himself.
Artisanal Miners have formed associations in a bid to formalize their mining activities. However, government has been reluctant to recognize these associations. For instance, artisanal gold miners in Mubende formed and registered Ssingo Artisanal and Small Scale Miners Association. The association applied for exploration licenses. The Directorate of Geological Survey and Mines (DGSM) didn’t decline to grant artisanal miners a license, but did not even give them feedback. Failure to give feedback contravenes Mining Act, 2003.
“We shall ensure that artisanal mining is a preserve for Uganda citizens and encourage joint ventures for small scale mining operations,” he said.
In a clear contrast and manifestation of lack of coordination, Mr. Alain Goetz, the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of African Gold Refinery (AGR), seemed to praise artisanal miners for their constant supply of gold to the refinery. He said his company will work closely with artisanal mining communities in Mubende to ensure that artisanal miners maximize their returns, perhaps not aware that they were evicted from the mines.
A CASE FOR KARAMOJA EXPLORATION
Dr Elly Karuhanga, the chairman Uganda Chamber of Mines and Petroleum (UCMP) asked government to earmark $ 20 million dollars for the geophysical Aerial survey of Karamoja. The area was left out due to insecurity then. “Why can’t we as a country mobilize $ 20 million dollars (approximately Shs 70 billion) and explore Karamoja, a basket for our mineral” Hon. Karuhanga said. Geophysical Aerial survey help to determine the minerals available in an area.
On her part, Speaker of Parliament, Rebecca Kadaga pledged to “harass” the Ministry of Finance, Planning and Economic Development to find the money to finance geophysical Aerial survey for Karamoja. “We can’t find $ 20 million dollars? Really, I think this is lack of focus and commitment towards the mining sector,” Kadaga said.
By Edward Ssekika
Got Apwoyo sub county is headquartered somewhere inside a tiny structure in Nwoya district, tucked behind the Gulu – Pakwach highway. Turning off at a trading centre is a small road that leads to the quiet two-roomed establishment.
The trading centre, a product of one of the several Internally Displaced Camps during the wanted warlord, Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army insurgency in northern Uganda, is littered with grass thatched structures.
The area is fairly cool, it’s the rainy season. Endless tracts of green vegetation are visible are along the highway. Expansive gardens of cereal are visible too. In the background of the sub county office is expansive maize garden. It looks healthy.
The region, having not been cultivated for a long time during the insurgency, has very fertile soils. In fact there are agro-based companies cultivating on very large scale. But beneath the agricultural potential here, lie simmering emotions and a sense of hopelessness.
Mr Openy Ben Latim, the LC3 chairperson Got Apwoyo sub county, is a very bitter man. Nwoya district lies in the Albertine region which harbours Uganda’s oil fields. Across the highway is the Murchison Falls National Park where Total E&P won production licences for oil and gas in the Exploration Area (EA1).
Despite the proximity, Mr Openy is not optimistic at all and says the people are not happy. During the initial oil exploration in the park while prospecting for hydro carbons, locals and leaders did not know what was going on.
“I don’t think we are going to benefit anything. Youth would come from Kampala to work here when we have our own. They used to bring everything from Kampala. Trucks used to bring vegetables for those people yet here we can grow vegetables,” Openy says in a bitter tone.
The explanation that Nwoya district is part of government’s master plan for the oil sector – the standard gauge railway poised to run through the district, a network of roads in the park, feeder pipelines linking to the Central Processing Facility in Buliisa – does not offer any comfort.
In fact, the mention of Buliisa irks him the more. “You see, everything happens in Nwoya but ends up in Buliisa,” he says.
A story is told of how a group of locals once intercepted a truck that was leaving the park because they believed it was carrying crude oil. The truck was one of several that delivered suppliers then to the camps in the park during the exploration.
At Anaka Sub County not far from Nwoya district headquarters, the sentiments are not any different. Mr Opobo Geoffrey, the LC3 chairperson, said it was absurd that oil companies could not give their people simple jobs like security guards or drivers.
“We do have those certified drivers here but they cannot get jobs there,” he said when asked if some of the locals were certified drivers.
“We do not know anything that is going on there in the park. The only thing we know about Total is the scholarships some of our youth get. I so far have four students benefiting, but that is it,” he said.
The now Pakwach was curved off Nebbi district. Mr Okumu Benson is the LC3 chairperson Pakwach Town Council. He too adds his voice saying they do not have information about the oil activities in the district.
In the compound of the town council offices stands a Total – that now has a production licence for EA1 in Murchison Falls – branded notice board. Also a Total branded ‘suggestion box’ is pinned on the main administration block. Mr Okumu says the oil company occasionally pins up general information about developments in the sector but locals interpret it otherwise.
“They usually find their way to the camps and claim they advertised jobs. We wonder where they get that information but it’s because people are desperate. Sometimes they accuse us of hiding oil jobs from them,” Okumu says.
Mr Aguta Jimmy Frank, the Pakwach town clerk, says because of lack of information has misled people. During the exploration stage there was a wide spread problem of land speculation in the Albertine region because of oil.
“People here sold their land at giveaway prices to speculators. Our people were taken advantage of and now they blame the government,” Mr Aguta says. Expectations remain high now that production phase is upon the country. Chairman Okum says they were told at a workshop in Kampala that 13,000 jobs would be created for Ugandans. But there is a catch.
Not all about oil
“This is the time to seize opportunities in the oil sector,” Paul Tumwebaze of Civil Society Coalition on Oil and Gas once told a youth workshop in Masindi. This is a statement that has countless times resonated at numerous oil and gas workshops, the media and conferences under the flagship of ‘local content’.
Whereas several Ugandans have pinned hopes on oil since prospecting started industry stakeholders advise about the immense opportunities available to feed off the value chain of the sector.
While meeting local government leaders, all of whom have been mentioned above, Didas Muhumuza, the ActionAid Extractives Governance project manager, who has immense knowledge of the sector as well, passed on the same message.
Specifically rallying for the inclusion of youth in accountable governance of the oil and gas sector, he reiterated that the industry will not absorb every Ugandan looking to join the sector.
“The decisions government is taking now as we enter the production phase were informed from what has been gathered since exploration started. There is nothing we can change now, but can work within the existing infrastructure,” Muhumuza told the meeting at Got Apwoyo Sub County.
Chairman Openy had endlessly lamented that Nwoya was being sidelined, wondering why the oil pipeline network that will be draining in the Central Processing Facility should be located in Buliisa. Mr Muhumuza was at pains to explain that because Murchison Falls is a protected area much of the activity could not take place there.
While many of the leaders lamented their youth were not equipped to position themselves for opportunities through skilling and training, there are organisations like the GIZ-funded Skilling Uganda that are offering these opportunities. The programme is targeting to skill 8,000 youth in welding, driving, carpentry, electrical which will be on high demand during the production phase.
ActionAid Uganda under the Extractives Governance is rolling out a two-year Ford Foundation supported intervention to sensitise youth and build their capacity to gain an understanding of the extractives sector and use their knowledge to engage state and corporate actors in the accountable management of the sector. The project focuses on four Albertine districts of Hoima, Buliisa, Nwoya, Nebbi; and Mubende district.
Fortunately some of the leaders are not hopelessly waiting for the magic bullet. Mr Shaban Kinobe. LC3 chairman Panyimur Sub County said everyone is looking at oil whereas opportunities are abound in the value chain. Many of the leaders however expressed optimism about the new project, “People in Power; Influencing People in Power.
He denies knowledge of eviction plan by his army!
Mr Museveni expressed this last week ( Friday 8/09/2017) while meeting the leaders of Mubende at the State Logde in Nakayima, Mubende. The meeting comprised of the area Members of Parliament, Residential District Commissioners, District Internal Security Officer, Regional Police Commander, District Police Commander LC111s and LCVs.
When asked his whereabouts at the time of evictions by his army men, President Museveni defended self, saying his intervention was overtaken by events.
“I had wanted to come and talk to these artisanal miners but there was a misunderstanding when Members of Parliament requested me to first talk to the miners and at the same time the army officers that had been put on standby went ahead with the operation, evicted the artisanal miners and they were also denied the chance of taking their property which was not right and un necessary,” Mr Museveni said.
Here he promised to ensure that miners are compensated, although he admitted that it may be difficult and may take time but allowed miners to return to work.
This same message, the President re-echoed during the radio talk show on Point FM in Mubende on Friday.
Mr. Museveni added that; “Earlier on during the Presidential campaigns, I informed the artisanal miners that they can continue with mining activities if they do not stand in the way of large scale investors that are helping us find the real gold deposits but later on, I was informed by the members of parliament that the artisanal miners operating in this area have invaded the land offered to the investor and are antoginising his work, contrary to the contract,” he said.
He further explained that he has no problem with artisanal miners that were operating in this area; “we only needed to re-organise the mining sector by having the local artisans doing proper mining activities.”
Mr. Museveni added that; “Uganda is endowed with very many minerals that we need to handle with care, we cannot allow the illegal mining activities to be carried out which might lead to extinction of these treasures yet with few people benefiting. We all need to benefit from the minerals as a country.”
Meeting with ASMs
The President told Hon. Semeo Nsubuga, MP Kasanda South to organize the miners for a meeting with the President to streamline how the miners will work.
Speaking to Oil in Uganda; The secretary Singo Artisan Miners’ Association Mr Emmanuel Kibirige confirmed that they were contacted by Hon. Nsubuga to prepare to meet the President.
“We are ready to meet the President; we want him to understand how organized we are and how ready we are to work with investors so that all of us benefit from the Mining sector,” Mr Kibirige said.
Kibirige indicated that they have always been organized in associations and have always shown the willingness to work with the investor-AUC mining which currently holds the exploration license for this area-207.8Sqkm and a mining lease of 66sq.km which has been running for the last 23years.
The President has shown willingness to support the ASMs, with a planned visit to the mines slated for 21st October to mend fences. There is thus assurance that the miners may return to work but in a more formal way, more organized manner.
Last month there was a Presidential directive to evict over 50,000 miners from Mubende gold mining area on grounds that the people in the mines are not registered, government doesn’t know the amount of gold getting out from this area, the people operating in this area are not Ugandans and increased environmental degradation which is a threat to the nearby communities.
Many of who were evicted had no relocation plans hence were left helpless and homeless. During the evictions, property worth billions of shillings were destroyed.
However the former Permanent Secretary under Ministry of Energy and Mineral Development Dr.Stephen. Isabalija in the letter dated 02/9/2017 entitled ‘statement on illegal mining activities in Uganda’ explained that government was putting in place intervention for all the local artisans to be registered in all mining areas of Kitumbi and Bukuya sub counties so that they can be organized into groups that shall ultimately be regulated. This process he said would take three months.
ActionAid Uganda is equally working out a plan to support the miners to sue the Government for losses that ensued during the evictions an d the impromptu evictions without respecting the grace period that had been granted to the miners.
Josephine Nabaale and Flavia Nalubega
Globally, oil and gas activities are known for its degrading and destructive effect on the environment. In Uganda, there are already fears that oil and gas activities in the Albertine graben could destroy the fragile ecosystem. This calls for increased close monitoring and early mitigation measures to be put in place.
District leaders from the oil rich Albertine graben want government to establish a special fund dedicated to helping district environment officers to routinely monitor the impact of oil and gas activities on the environment and undertake early mitigation measures.
Bulisa district chairman Mr Agaba Simon Kinene said, “As a district, we are implementing oil and gas industry at zero budget, yet we are decentralized,” he said.
The oil production phase, is expected to generate a lot of hazardous or non- hazardous waste. Therefore, district environment officers are expected to take a center in ensuring that all the oil waste generated and pollution are properly managed.
As Uganda prepares to started oil production, a lot o is preparing for District Environment Officers (DEOs), have often complained of lack of facilitation to monitor oil and gas activities.
Mr Philip Ngongaha, the District Environment Officer, Bulisa was bolder and called for the establishment of a fund to help them monitor oil and gas activities. He said currently, district environment officers lack facilitation to do their work. “We need a special fund to facilitate oil and gas monitoring,” Ngongaha argues.
He argued that the fund would help the environment officers acquire modern equipment for monitoring. “You cannot expect an environment officer to monitor noise pollution using naked eyes. We require modern equipment,” he said.
The leaders were speaking at an oil and gas conference organized by Advocates Coalition for Development and Environment (ACODE) at Imperial Royale Hotel in Kampala last month.
He argues that given the environmental concerns that are expected to come with the petroleum sector, it is important to allocate enough resources to monitor any changes in the environment and make early mitigation measures. “Local environment committees provided for under in the law but are not in existence,” he said.
“I wish to concur, we need a special fund for environmental officers, to monitor these activities otherwise, we shall keep taking when the environment is being depleted” Paul Mulindwa, the Program Coordinator, Kibaale District Civil Society Organizations Network said.
Presenting a paper on the impact of oil and gas on local government, Nwoya District Chairman Mr Patrick Okello Oryema wondered how district environment officers monitor oil and gas activities without being facilitated to do their work.
However Ms Aijuka Sarah, the Environmental Monitoring Officer in charge of Oil and Gas at the National Environment Management Authority (NEMA) explained that the authority is already drafting the National Oil Spill Management Regulations and contingent plan.
“We already have oil waste, but we are still lacking regulations on how to handle the oil waste,” Ms Aijuka explained. Aijuka said the environmental watchdog operates on an assumption the district environment officers have money for environmental activities, an assumption that she said won’t be held anymore but rather consider the lack of finances and see how best to have the people facilitated.
The muddled procurement of the lead developer for the oil refinery could have played a role
President Yoweri Museveni on Wednesday, in a surprise twist of events, fired the Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Energy and Mineral Development, Dr Stephen Isabalija. Though the President did not give reasons for the surprise sucking, analysts within the Ministry of Energy and Mineral Development argue that the messy handling of the procurement process for the oil refinery lead developer could have played a hand in Isabalija’s sacking.
Mr Isabalija was only 10 months old into the job, after replacing the long serving Fred Kabagambe Kaliisa during a reshuffle of Permanent Secretaries in November last year. Kabagambe Kaliisa is now a Senior Presidential Advisor on Oil and Gas.
The President appointed Robert Kasande, the acting director, Petroleum Directorate in the Ministry of Energy and Mineral Development, as the acting Permanent Secretary. Mr Kasende, a geologist by profession, was also the project manager for the oil refinery project.
Isabalija’s sacking that started as a rumor on Wednesday, was later on Thursday confirmed by the Executive Director, Uganda Media Center and government spokesman Ofwono Opondo who twitted, “Dr Stephen Isabalija’s contract has been terminated and he is to be paid one month in lieu of notice,” Opondo said.
He said the President did not give any reason for the terminating Isabalija’s contract. During his short stint at the Ministry, Isabalija’s oversaw the eviction of over 60,000 artisanal gold miners in Kitumbi Sub county, Mubende district. Government claims that the artisanal gold miners were illegally mining gold and want an “investor” to take over.
MESSY OIL REFINERY PROCUREMENT
Dr Isabalija an academic and former Vice Chancellor, Victoria University, could have burnt his fingers in the procurement process of the lead developer for the oil refinery.
Early this month, Dr Isabalija announced Albertine Graben Refinery Consortium (AGRC), a consortium of American and Italian companies, as the winner for the oil refinery deal. This edged out a Chinese Consortium led by Guangzhou Dong Song Energy Group Limited, that accused the selection panel of corruption.
Guangzhou Dong Song Energy Group Limited, was granted a mining lease to develop the Tororo Phosphates.
The Chinese consortium includes; Guangzhou Dong Song Energy Group Limited, Guangdong Silk Road Fund, China Africa Fund for International Corporation, China Petroleum Engineering and Construction Corporation (CPNC) and the East Design Institute.
After being edged out in the $ 4bn dollars refinery deal, the Chinese penned a letter dated 8, August, 2017, to the Minister of Energy and Mineral Development, Irene Muloni copied to the Prime Minister in which the consortium expressed shock at the announcement.
“We are taken aback by press reports indicating that the government of Uganda has reportedly selected a group known as Albertine Graben Refinery Consortium to develop the refinery project. Incidentally, the same press reports indicate that the Dong Song – CPECC consortium had been appraised as the best bidder with 83.38 percent,” reads the letter signed by LV Weidong, on behalf of Dong Song led consortium.
It added, “The purpose of this letter is to inform you that the Dong Song – CPECC consortium has never disintegrated. It remains strong and committed to invest in the development of Uganda Refinery project provided the concerns raised in the consortium’s earlier letters are addressed. The letter reads.
The consortium even threatened to challenge the procurement process that led to the selection of any other consortium in courts of law. They also complained that the only reason, they were denied a deal is because, the consortium members are close to President Yoweri Museveni.
“Dong Song is suffering because it is close to the President. There is no way it can give money to people involved in the selection process,” an official is reported to have said. This year, two officials from the Ministry of Finance tried to solicit for money from Guangzhou Dong Song Energy Group Limited, the president laid them a trap and they were arrested.
The Chinese also alleged corruption in the way the deal was awarded. “So, we were edged out, because they know we can’t give them money,” an official of the consortium is reported in the local press to have complained.
One of the Consortium members, CPECC, a subsidiary of CNPC has demonstrated capacity having built refineries in South Sudan, Algeria, Chad and Niger. However, selection committee is reported to have edged out Dong Song consortium because they didn’t provide their intended financiers.
The Chinese are also known of using powerfully connected individuals some of them members of the first family to broker their deals. Guangzhou Dong Song Energy Group Limited, used the President to get the Tororo Phosphates Deal. It is this politics of balancing interests, that could have landed Isabalija in trouble and could have had played a role in sacking.
Kawunde Patrick has been in the gold mining business for three years now. Previously he was a timber dealer and before that he traded in South Sudan until unrest broke out. On the fateful morning of the Mubende mines eviction, he watched in horror as his livelihood was swept right from under his feet.
The 35-year old father of five had a pit in the mines. On that fateful morning his boys were already in the pit working when he was ordered by angry soldiers to get them out and ensure no one stayed down. The miners had been given two hours – though most swear it was hardly an hour – to vacate the mines. Pandemonium reigned as over 50,000 people gathered whatever they could to flee.
Preoccupied with getting his boys out of the pit Kawunde had no time to pick anything from his house. By the time he got there the padlock was broken, his house ransacked.
“Soldiers stopped me from taking anything. I lost three generators; three blowers that supply oxygen down the pit and four drilling machines,” Kawunde painfully narrated his ordeal.
He valued the generators at Shs3million each; two blowers at Shs2.2million each and a smaller one at Shs700,000. The drillers together cost Shs4.4million.
“I watched as Sh16million of my capital was snatched out of my hands,” he said resignedly with tears welling up in his eyes. A week later he found out his Sh9million ball mill had been taken too.
“In my lifetime I have never seen anything like this,” he said in a distant voice.”
Mr Kawunde is just one of many artisanal miners that lost property and money during the eviction.
“People left money in their houses as they fled,” said another miner who identified himself as just Alex. Alex was one of so many business people who fled off the gold value chain. He owned a lodge and bar. He had just spent Shs6million on iron sheets to construct more makeshift rooms. Like many others he left his iron sheets in the mines.
“If I had not bought those sheets I would at least have something to start with. I left everything of mine in the mines. I have not changed clothes since we were evicted,” he said.
Another miner of Rwandese origin had his Toyota Premio confiscated by police when he was asked to produce his national ID which he had misplaced in the fracas.
Led by Ntare Sipriano, the LCI chairman Lujinji B, an angry group of miners still camped in the trading center just outside the mines said the military men told them they had orders to take over the place and confiscate everything.
“A few lucky ones had managed to get out some property before the place was put on lockdown,” said one of them.
To the ordinary eye artisanal gold miners spend day in and out torturously excavating stone and go through strenuous means to extract gold from the ore. Yet in fact the clueless miners are counting losses since their eviction early this month. Clueless because every government stakeholder they believed had given them assurance of their continued operations right from the fountain of honour has betrayed them.
Mr Bukenya Michael, the Bukuya constituency MP, said they had ‘done everything possible’ to stop the evictions, lobbying in higher offices but were powerless to stop anything.
In his State of the Nation address of 2015 President Museveni assured the miners in Mubende their plight would be addressed. For five years now the miners have waited for a location license in vein. This year, with the eviction looming, negotiations were ongoing as politicians shuffled between State House and Mubende.
Mr Emmanuel Kibirige, the secretary Singo Artisanal and Small Scale Miners Association said Benny Namugwanya, the Woman MP Mubende, was supposed to have given them feedback from a consultation meeting she had attended in Kampala over their plight. Other than what had transpired they were expressly evicted albeit earlier directives to vacate that they mostly took casually.
“We have lost our lives and livelihood. Our government has done it again to further marginalize the poor. Thanks NRM. Our property worth millions is in the hands of soldiers. Only two hours to shit items after working for ten years,” Kibirige says bitterly.
Kibirige wondered what would become of people’s property as there wasn’t any sort of documentation taking place.
“I have an acre of land I bought in that place and have a land sale agreement for it. What has it got to do with the mines? We would not have refused to leave the mines but should have let us take our property,” Kibirige, who sustained a broken leg in the fracas, says.
After years of toiling several of the miners own pits. Inclusive of paying rental fees to landlords, hiring generators and drilling tools, and labour, operating a pit cost up to Sh500,000 daily, according to Ivan Kawuma, another miner. Kawuma owned a pit more than 300 feet deep after working for more than five years.
What has however left several people baffled is their machinery that they were using in their operations. People were not allowed to take their machinery. Miners have also reported seeing a military police truck driving out of the miners with generators, blowers, and other equipment like drillers.
When asked about people losing property Mr Byaruhanga Patrick, the district police commander Mubende, said those were exhibits to adduce as evidence of illegal mining otherwise people had managed to carry out all their other belongings.
For now the miners are waiting and hoping that they will be allowed back to operate or at least seize opportunities if an investor starts operations.
By Robert Mwesigye and photos by Josephine Nabaale
Over 50,000 artisanal miners operating in Mubende district were ordered to vacate the gold miners within a period of two hours on Friday 04/08/2017.
This operation to evict all the artisanal gold miners in Mubende district is was led by Col Balikuddembe Lutaaya commander 1st division in Uganda People’s Defence forces.
The miners were told to leave the mining sites in Kitumbi and Bukuya sub counties but were not given ample time to rescue their mining equipment.
A troop of Uganda peoples defence forces and Uganda police forces totaling 750 people, 4 tear gas vehicles and tanks were stationed in the gold mining sites in Kitumbi and Bukuya sub counties forcing the gold miners and other people operating business with this location to pack their belongings to leave the mines.
Mr Sempowo Robert the chairman Mubende artisanal miners explained that they has been woken up by the sound of lorries moving into the mines that were packed with Uganda peoples defence forces soldiers and Uganda police forces officers who ordered them to vacate the premises within two hours and by midday no single person was to be found in the mines.
Sempowo added, “Currently most of the miners in this area are packing up their belonging to leave the premises ,others have abandoned their property for lack of money especially the heavy machinery while other are selling the property at a giveaway price so that they can live this place before it’s too late.”
“Government is not fair, because there was no official communication to neither the leaders or to the gold miner to vacte the gold mines , we have been relying on rumours and hear say, its a shock to us all our efforts have been shattered one investor. ”Sempowo expressed.
Ivan Male Kawuma, the Project Coordinator Singo Artisanal Small Scale Miners Association said that “we are being treated like non Ugandans, how can we become like refugees in our own country. There is no communication, no compensation for the money invested in our business running in the gold mines. This has been our main source of livelihood and we don’t know what we are going to do next.”
His Excellency Yoweri Kaguta Museveni the president of Uganda in his letter addressed to the hon. members of parliament Mubende district dated 28/June/2017 made it clear that;” those artisanal miners who invaded where the investor had excavations must straight away get out.
The evictions folowed the presidential directive to evict all the artisanal miners in Mubende district on grounds that the people in the mines are not registered, government doesn’t know the amount of gold they are getting out from this area, the people operating in this area are not Ugandans and increased environmental degradation which is a threat to the nearby communities.
However the permanent secretary under ministry of energy and mineral development Dr.Stephen. R. Sabalija in the letter dated 02/08/2017 entitled Statement on illegal mining activities in Uganda explains that government is putting in place intervention measures whereby all the local artisans will be registered in all mining areas of Kitumbi and Bukuya sub counties so that they can be organized into groups that shall ultimately be regulated.
This intervention is anticipated to take 3 months and will subsequently help the ministry of Energy and Mineral development to re-organise mining activities supported by Uganda police force, Uganda people’s defence forces, Directorate of citizenship and immigration control under the Ministry of Internal Affairs and will be led by Ministry of Energy and Mineral Development.
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.
The Petroleum Fund currently has $ 72 million dollars and Shs 10bn on its Shillings account instead of the $709 that was collected
At least Shs 2 trillion oil revenues has already been spent on infrastructure and other energy projects, a report of the Committee on Commissions, Statutory Authorities and State Enterprises (COSASE) reveals. However, the report adopted by parliament last week, does not give details of how and where the money was spent, but the Secretary to the Treasury in a letter, states the money was spent on the construction of Karuma hydro power plant.
One of the terms of reference for the Committee was to establish all revenues received in the Petroleum Fund. Accordingly, during the investigations, the Committee requested the Office of the Auditor General (AOG) to conduct a special audit to establish all revenues received by government in respect of the Petroleum Fund. After the audit, the report notes, it was discovered that so far, government received $709 million dollars in petroleum revenues between 2011 – March, 2017.
“The Committee established that a sum of $709 million dollars which has been ring fenced for infrastructure and energy development, accrued to the sector since petroleum activities started,” the report reads in part. However, as at 14th March, 2017, the Petroleum Fund had only $ 72.5 million dollars on its dollar account and a paltry Shs 10bn on its Shillings account.
“Out of this, $633.7 million dollars (approximately Shs 2.2 trillion) was transferred to the Consolidated Fund [and spent on Karuma hydro power project] while the sum of $72.3 million dollars is being held in dollar account and Shs 10bn Shillings account in the Petroleum Fund.
The Committee report reveals that by the time the Public Finance Management Act came into force in February, 2015, the oil revenue account in Bank of Uganda had a total of Shs 1.36 trillion, which was transferred to the consolidated fund.
In the report, MPs question, why Shs 1.36 trillion was transferred from the Oil Revenues Account in Bank of Uganda to the Consolidated Fund, instead of transferring it to the Petroleum Fund as required by the Public Finance and Accountability Act, 2015, as the fund’s opening balance.
However, in a letter dated June, 24th, 2015, jointly signed by Mr Keith Muhakanizi the Secretary to the Treasury and Mr Lawrence Ssemakula the Accountant General, and seen by our writer, the duo directed the director in charge of Banking at Bank of Uganda to transfer the money, close the account and open a new account in the name of the Uganda Petroleum Fund.
“Prior to the enactment of the PFMA [Public Finance Management Act, 2015], the oil funds on account were earmarked to support the financial year 2014/2015 budget for Karuma hydro power plant, and were released from the consolidated fund and thus need to be refunded to the Uganda Consolidated Fund (UCF),” the duo wrote and further explained, “In order to operationalize the Petroleum Fund, there is need to open bank accounts for the Fund, where all oil revenues received by government from 6th March, 2015 shall be deposited. I authorize you to open a Uganda Shillings (UGX) and dollar (USD) accounts in the name of Uganda Petroleum Fund.”
According to the letter, the principal signatories to the Petroleum Fund are; Mr Keith Muhakanizi, Mr Patrick Ocailap (deputy Secretary to the Treasury), and Mr Lawrence Ssemakula, the Accountant General.
“The Committee recommends close monitoring and supervision of the activities of the petroleum authority and the Uganda National Oil company Limited. The relevant committees of parliament should receive quarterly reports from the Authority and National Oil Company,” the report recommends.
In January, 2017, the Committee chaired by Hon. Abdul Katuntu (Bugweri MP) was tasked to investigate the controversial Shs 6bn reward to 42 government officials for winning a tax dispute between government of Uganda and Heritage Oil and Gas Limited an arbitration tribunal in Landon in 2015.
The gist of the investigation was to establish the legality of the Shs 6bn rewarded to 42 government officials for their effort in winning a tax arbitration case between government of Uganda and Heritage Oil and Gas Limited in Landon.
In 2010, Heritage Oil and Gas Company Limited sold its participating stake in the Albertine Graben to Tullow Uganda Limited at $ 1.45 billion – a transaction that attracted Capital Gains Tax. However, Heritage objected to tax assessments in the Tax Appeal Tribunal and also initiated arbitration proceedings in Landon against government of Uganda under the United Nations Commission for International Trade Law Arbitration Rules, 1976. The company sought a refund of all monies collected as Capital Gains Tax.
In February 2015, the tribunal dismissed Heritage’s application and awarded government of Uganda $ 4 million dollars in costs incurred in defending the application. The committee established that government hired Curtis Mallet – Provost, Colt &Mosle LLP, a British law firm to represent government of Uganda in the arbitration proceedings at a cost of $8.6 million dollars.
Following the victory, the President acting on a request from senior government officials rewarded the 42 officials with Shs 6bn for their contribution.
The committee observes that the selection of the beneficiaries was not all inclusive. ‘For example, Bernard Sanya, the initiator of the tax two assessments was neither on the first list nor the second list of the beneficiaries. According to the report, there was a lot of informality and arbitrariness in the selection of beneficiaries.
“The committee concluded that the Shs 6n reward was contrary to standard practices of rewarding public officers, as provided for in the law. The President’s approval of the Shs 6bn was bonafide. However, it was an error of judgement,” the report reads.
The Committee recommended that all funds paid out of URA account to beneficiaries of the “handshake” should be refunded and all officers who flouted the law should be held accountable.
Responding to the report, Ali Sekatawa, Assistant Commissioner for Litigation, one of the beneficiaries of the handshake threatened to petition court over the report, arguing that the Committee selectively evaluated evidence before it, and thus came to wrong conclusions. He said parliament has no powers to order him to refund the money, since it was not given parliament. It came from URA’s account that had been appropriated by parliament. Parliament unanimously adopted the report.
“The Committee further established that whereas the costs awarded to URA by the Tax Appeals Tribunal and the High Court of Uganda has not been taxed and recovered, up to approximately $ 15 million has not been recovered. The bill of costs is yet to be filed. The International Arbitration Tribunal in Landon did award Government of Uganda costs amounting to $4 million which also remains unrecovered,” the report reads in part.
The report asks the Attorney General to recover the $ 4million dollars as costs awarded by the arbitration tribunal within 90 days from the date of tabling the report. However, Ali Sekatawa says it will be difficult for government to recover the costs from Heritage Oil and Gas Limited, since the company was delisted from the Landon Stock Exchange.
Following the revelations by former Energy Minister, Syda Bbumba, that she signed the Production Sharing Agreements (PSAs) without reading through the agreements, the report recommends that politicians should be barred from signing such agreements.
“Parliament should revisit section 8 of the Petroleum (Exploration, Development and Production) Act, 2013 with a view of amending it and provide for technical people to be signatories to PSAs. All recoverable costs incurred by oil companies should be submitted to parliament quarterly,” he report reads.
Weighing in on the report, Odonga Otto (Aruu MP), said “The good thing we have a report adopted by parliament, so even if it takes 10 years, the beneficiaries of the handshake will refund that money” he said.
By Edward Ssekika