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Uganda To Commence ICGLR Mineral Certification

Don Binyina is the Executive Director Africa Centre for Mineral Policy and the new Chair of the Audit Committee of the International Conference of the Great Lakes Region Protocol (ICGLR) against the Illegal Exploitation of Natural Resources. Among other things, ICGLR puts in place a mechanism for the certification of natural resources that the Audit Committee implements. Oil in Uganda spoke to Binyina about his mandate and what his position mean for Uganda’s Mineral industry.

Don Binyina being sworn in after being elected Chair Audit Commitee of the International Convention of Great Lakes Region

Don Binyina being sworn in after being elected Chair Audit Commitee of the International Convention of Great Lakes Region

Often, we have heard of ICGLR. Could you tell us more about it?

The International Conference of the Great Lakes Region Protocol against the Illegal Exploitation of Natural Resources came into force in 2006. 12 member heads of State of the countries that form the ICGLR signed this protocol into place. So the Audit Committee is a flagship entity for the regional certification mechanism. It is a creature of that protocol.

When you look at Article 7 it deals with the international cooperation in the fight against illegal exploitation of the natural resources.

Article 7 of ?

This is the ICGLR protocol against the illegal exploitation of natural resources. Again when you look at Article 11 of the same protocol, it puts into place a mechanism for the certification of natural resources. This mechanism is ideally to institute accredited standards as regards to natural resource exploitation which would include certification of origin, including labeling, monitoring, supervision, verification and implementation mechanisms.

Chapter 3, Article 27 of the same protocol establishes a committee against the illegal exploitation of minerals and this is the committee that is called the ICGLR Audit Committee which is the overall committee. It has a chair, vice chair and a rapporteur who are charged with various responsibilities regarding the implementation of this protocol.

Which member States are parties to this Protocol?   

We have DRC which is an active member, Angola, Central African Republic, Rwanda, Burundi, Uganda, Kenya, South Sudan, Tanzania and Zambia which came on board recently despite the fact that the Protocol was signed in Lusaka in 2006.

Recently we had Sudan come on board and we are looking at Angola and Congo Brazzaville joining soon.

What are the responsibilities of the Chair?

First and foremost, he chairs the Audit Committee meetings which ideally are supposed to be a minimum of about two per year. The chair also oversees the responsibilities of the Audit Committee which includes reviewing and updating the regional certification mechanism; which also includes getting into place third party auditors who are charged with the actual auditing process. It involves the accreditation as well, reviewing the auditors’ reports and then finally reporting to the Secretariat about their findings.

How long is your term?

I was elected in December 2016 and my term is two years renewable for one term

Tell us about this audit process. What do you audit, where? What is it about?

For you to appreciate the audit process, you need to look at the regional certification mechanism. The mechanism puts in place several tools such as ICGLR mineral tracking and certification scheme which basically looks at designated minerals – Tin, Tungsten, Tantalum and then Gold. These are called the 3TGs. These are the same minerals designated as conflict minerals under the US Dodd-Frank Act as well as the current targeted minerals by the OECD Due Diligence Guidance framework.

The ICGLR certificate for these minerals is almost similar to the Kimberly process certificates which look at tracking the origin of diamond exports. In a similar fashion, the ICGLR certification mechanism deals with chain of custody auditing mechanism where you look at the source of the minerals right from the mine through the transit process up to the point of export.

Ideally, you are ensuring these minerals are coming from an ICGLR certified mine which is conflict-free. So you have to ensure there are certain standards the source of the minerals should have. You have to look at the mines where these minerals are mined: ensure there’s no child labour, ensure no blatant abuse of human rights by the mine owner; ensure that these minerals are maybe not in any way originating from  neighbouring mines which may be run by rebels or militias. So you are looking at all this in the tracking. There are three levels.

We have the green, yellow and red flags. When you have visited a mine and certified that it meets all the standards of the ICGLR framework, then you flag it green. That means it’s ready for mineral exploration and there are no conflict minerals from that mine. Then if you find there are some human rights abuses or challenges with this specific mine; for example, child labour, blatant abuse if human rights, no occupation and safety measures – those are things that can be addressed so you give that mine a period of six months to rectify the challenges. If they have not been rectified, you extend that period but if they have been rectified you can proceed to certify them at the green level.

However if you find there are serious questionable challenges with a given mine or source of a material then you flag it red. That means you cannot export minerals from the mine site and you require a lot of work to be done between government and the mine owners to ensure that whatever has been discovered is addressed. It’s a back and forth process between the government and independent auditors.

So how relevant then is this certification to a mine owner?

I think as of 2012, all mineral exports coming from the 12 States require you to have a certificate from the ICGLR. There is the ICGLR and other frameworks that have been put in place which are still valid. Some of them are run by importers of these materials but we are working with them and member states to ensure that the ICGLR is the overall certificate that each exporter of a mineral resource must possess.

But it sounds like this process applies mainly to formal and established mining operations. For the case of Uganda, some of the people involved in the 3TGs are semi artisanal. How would you carry out this process?

On the contrary; much it appears so, the protocol has actually also catered for them because when you look at most of the conflicts especially in the Great Lakes Region like DRC – which is the source of most of these raw materials, – you find that most of these miners are artisanal. So one of the tools developed by the protocol is to ensure there is transparency and accountability. Joining EITI is actually recommended under the protocol against the illegal exploitation of natural resources assigned by the member states.

The other is a tool on formalization of artisanal miners such that they can be captured under this framework. So on the contrary, this protocol actually puts a lot of emphasis on member states to formalize their artisanal mines. It has been discovered that these resources that end up in rebels and militias’ hands are actually run by artisanal small scale miners.

So what does it mean for Uganda?

I think it’s an opportunity for Uganda being on the threshold. We know that Uganda first and foremost is said to be a transit route for most of these conflict minerals from DRC and from South Sudan now. But also importantly, Uganda is one country that is driven by artisanal and small scale miners and the protocol calls for member states to formalize and register all these ASM. As an economy, we know that we are not optimizing revenues from the mining sector especially gold which is a big export in this economy yet the resources we are getting are insignificant.

We also have Tin, Tungsten and Tantalum in the western part of the country so it’s an opportunity for Uganda to embrace this protocol. I strongly believe that once we have a proper certification mechanism in place in Entebbe, we shall be able to know how much is coming out of these mine sites and the database that we create will be a good source of information for the tax authority and also central government to know how much we are getting and to be able to have proper statistics of how much our mining sector can contribute to our GDP.

Regarding the Committee, what kind of challenges have you been facing? What do you foresee in the execution of your mandate?

Of course the biggest challenge has been compliance by member states. When you look at the protocol that was signed in 2006 by member states, they all committed to financially support the work of the ICGLR committee. But I can tell you that to date there’s no government that has come forward and put resources to support the Audit committee.

Those countries that have put in place mechanisms that meet the ICGLR framework like Rwanda and DRC have at least put in resources to ensure that these systems are operational within the countries. But as to the contribution of resources that would enable the functioning of the ICGLR committee, no state has committed to that.

So our current support has been coming from the Australians through Partnership Africa-Canada (PAC); then we have resources that have come in from GIZ under the Germany umbrella. Recently we had support from USAID under TETRATECH which did us good because we were able to undertake 8 studies; 8 preliminary audits of 4 mines in Rwanda and 4 mineral sites in DRC. The executive summaries of these reports have been posted on the ICGLR portal/website and all those 8 mineral sites in DRC and Rwanda that were audited by the 3rd party auditors whom we accredited have all been certified by the ICGLR committee which is a success.

And I think right now we have funding from Africa Development Bank which has been funding some of our meetings for the last two years but that budget will run out in February 2017 which puts us in a dilemma as the Audit Committee. So member states really still have a challenge; I still call upon the member states to come and meet their obligations as states in the protocol and ensure that the functioning of the ICGLR committee becomes normalized.

So the private sector does not have a role to play?

The private sector plays a role. When you look at the funding of the 3rd party audits, it is supposed to fall on the mine site owner. Currently what we did was just to undertake some preliminary studies with funding from TETRATECH – USAID but it was just to demonstrate the process to the ICGLR committee. We used the funds to develop our capacity and also source for 3rd party auditors who undertook the audits that were done in Rwanda and DRC.

But going forward, member states and the respective mine site owners who are the source of these minerals (3TGs) are expected to meet the costs if they want to export them as a private investor. But our challenge again as the committee is to ensure there is a standard fee for these mineral resources to remain competitive for the exporters.

Are you saying that this now extends beyond the 3Ts because you have mentioned gold as well?

Yes it’s four mineral resources; the 3Ts are Tin, Tungsten and Tantalum. Gold is also added because when you look at the OECD Due Diligence Guidelines it’s a key mineral and funds conflict. If you also look at the Dodd-Frank Act, gold is also one of those target minerals.

Different studies have shown that the characteristics of these high value minerals have igh demand from international markets hence the pricing. Insurgents tend to like these minerals and have been found to be sources of conflict. That’s why gold is added there.

I can understand why a mine owner would seek for this certification because it helps them export their product. But why would government put money in this especially given the fact that the mining sector is not such a big contributor to the economy?

Of course what we call the chain of custody tracking mechanism within member states is a very critical tool that member states need to embrace. If you look at Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda, Burundi, DRC; these are areas that are rich in mineral resources but then when you look at the contribution of the mineral sector and their respective GDPs, they are at the bottom. And the reason is that most of these minerals end up being smuggled because the State does not know the source of the mineral. It is not on the ground hence it doesn’t know how much goes out through the borders.

If there is a chain of custody tracking  in member states, then there’s a whole element of data collection and storage of how much is coming from a given mine site and how much is being exported. So likewise, to me, it’s a big opportunity for member states to embrace this protocol because it enables you to know as a country how much mineral resources are coming from your respective mine sites and how much is going out. So it’s a win-win.

While for us, our focus is to ensure that we guard against the exploitation of these mineral resources and conflict that comes with it, for the member states it’s an opportunity to tap into these tools that we have developed for them to ensure they are able to get ahead of what comes in and out of their economies.

This looks like a majorly civil society – driven process; how are you going to use your position to work with government and interest them in this? Is there already a framework where you are working with government? What are your plans as the chairman?

 On the contrary actually it’s not a civil society- driven process because when you look at the protocol which was signed in 2006 by member states, we have two key players at the government level. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs which is the coordination office for the protocol and the respective ministries of mines that are responsible for enforcing and putting in place these tracking tools. I can confidently and proudly say Uganda is now on the threshold so I hope in the next years; we can also roll in and start the certification mechanism.  

From the information I have from the Ministry of Energy and Mineral Development, some of the tools have been put in place like the database and all that. So, it’s now a matter of undertaking the independent audits which member states are encouraged to do as well under the supervision and our participation as the audit committee. We also have an independent chain auditor who works for the 12 member states and closely with us as the ICGLR and looks at the reports that the independent auditors submit to us. He also gets a share of those reports and reviews them and identifies possible gaps and advises the respective countries.

The beauty of this Audit Committee is that it embraces the industry and those under different umbrellas like the Chamber of mines and petroleum are called upon to put in their different representatives. We have slots for the civil society on the audit committee; and then we have government. So this is both a tripartite process where you have government, industry players and civil society working together and in harmony to ensure that this process works.

What are those few milestones we can measure you by in the next two years?

I am happy that Uganda has a new Permanent Secretary Ministry of Energy and Mineral Development who is in the same age bracket like myself and definitely young and dynamic and passionate about this sector. I have also had an opportunity to work with him at Victoria University to start the department of oil and gas; so with that working relationship, I hope the audit committee can engage him to ensure that Uganda moves from the threshold and becomes one of the members that have a fully operational certification mechanism and I hope to work with him to ensure that this is achieved by end of 2017 because it’s very critical to Uganda.

Secondly, we have already started this process with MEMD where we have been advising them to ensure that there is registration and certification of artisanal and small scale miners. I hope to use my position as well to ensure that we get all the artisanal and small scale miners especially in the 3TG formalized and registered and that would be feeding into the country’s certification mechanism. So to me this is very critical; starting with Uganda would be a good way of judging my term.

Then we also hope to work with the secretariat and ensure that we have member states meeting their obligations of financial contributions in as far as the management of the audit committee is concerned. We have already demonstrated our potential from the previous chairs who I appreciate because they have been able to capture a lot of milestone with little contribution from member states. But the fact that we have this process working almost effective in DRC and Rwanda – where minerals have certification and can be tracked backwards from the source up to the point of export – we hope that other member states can borrow from that and join us and embrace this protocol as something that is not only looking at regulation but the full economic potential of the mining sector within the region.

The other thing we hope to achieve is to work with my bureau where I have my vice chair who is from Burundi and the rapporteur from Rwanda to ensure that we have other member states joining the protocol because we are 12 member states and like I said earlier, the pace has been quite slow. But now that we have demonstrated that there are some mines we have been able to audit and certify without much support from respective countries we hope that now we can get them to come in and embrace this process.

Profile

Don is a lawyer by profession. He has a MSc. in Mineral and Energy Economics. He is a 2016 Emerging Leaders in African Mining Fellow, a programme run by Australia. The programme identifies successful young leaders that impact on the mining sector in Africa.

He has worked with the World Bank as a senior mineral consultant supporting the Government of Uganda in reviewing the Mineral Policy and laws.