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“Compulsory acquisition of land is the last option”

vicent katoKato Vincent is the Principal Exploration Geologist in charge of designing and implementing exploration programs in the Department of Geological Survey and Mines in the Ministry of Energy and Mineral Development. Oil in Uganda talked to him about the mining sector in Uganda.

What is the status of the mining sector in Uganda?

The Government is in the process of reviewing the Mining Act 2003, to mainly deter speculative practices, illegal trading, and mineral smuggling which have adversely affected the mining sector.

Government is proud to support and provide leadership to the mineral sector and is planning to put back part of the Non Tax Revenue to the implementing Department of Geological Survey and Mines to supervise, monitor and enforce mining standards. The government is up-grading and refurbishing its laboratories to analyze for minerals and rocks to attract investment in the sector.

Geo-scientific data acquisition is aggressively going on as a routine in Karamoja and other parts of Uganda. Data is being packaged and is easily available to potential investors. This follows earlier airborne geophysical surveys which identified several mineral exploration targets all over the country. Geoscience data dissemination is on-going online. The Government formulated, equipped and trained staff for the Mining Cadaster function to transparently handle mining concessions. Human capital development is on-going in different aspects of mineral exploration and development. Uganda is also working on the mineral certification process as obliged.

The infrastructure challenge is enormous for the mining industry but government has studied the infrastructure needs and plans to develop the necessary infrastructure to provide for the burgeoning mining industry and in tandem with mining sites development (roads, power lines, water, rail). Government recognizes the importance of infrastructure to support investment in the mining sector and will seek support from development partners.

Access to land for the purpose of mineral exploration and mining continues to be an issue for the mining industry in Uganda. Government is committed to ensuring a fair and equitable balance between the competing interests of surface rights and mineral rights owners.

What are government’s plans on value addition?

It is government policy to maximize local value addition on mine products as opposed to export of low value mineral concentrates. This will ensure government captures the benefits from its mineral resources.

When Uganda exports concentrates, we lose other minerals associated with that mineral. So by smelting or refining our mineral here, we recover several other minerals associated within the concentrate.  For example copper ores may contain copper, nickel, gold, zinc, lead and molybdenum. Secondly, we create jobs for Ugandans who are working in the smelter or refinery plant.

China may import our raw concentrate of gold but on reaching China they smelt it and recover other minerals like silver, and also generate jobs for their people. We can compete favorably because we have cheap labour, incentives on machinery, tax and fiscal incentives.

Are there any efforts to integrate mining in agriculture?

The Ministry has carried out analysis of rocks and minerals essential for agriculture. These are phosphates, limestone, vermiculite, pottasic rocks, gypsum, sulphur, magnesium; these have been studied and quantified. Phosphate at Tororo has been leased to a Chinese firm to manufacture phosphates for Ugandans and for export. Lime is being manufactured in Muhokya, Hima, Kaku, Bwera, Tororo for applying to acidic soils. Vermiculite at Namekhara is being researched on at Makerere University and also applied by farmers nearby the mine. Ultrapottasic rocks in Bunyaruguru, Fort Portal  and Katwe-Kikorongo are good for bananas and research is being undertaken with the Agro-Geology Association of Uganda.

There is progress on using locally available rocks and minerals to replenish nutrients in our soils. The Ministry is working with Agro-Geology Association of Uganda on this. This Association is an affiliate of Rocks for Crops, an international organization promoting use of locally available rocks for crop productivity.  This non-profit association has farmers as members and carries out trials on their farms to adapt new technology.

Is the government serious about compulsory acquisition of mineral rich lands?

Regulation, administration and technical procedures relating to mineral exploration and development are dealt with by the Department of Geological Survey and Mines pursuant to the Mining Act 2003.

The Mining Act 2003 which regulates the mining sector clearly spells out the need for adequate compensation of surface rights owners before mining starts. Also NEMA demands that you undertake Environmental and Social Impact Assessment where by you as developer have to show evidence of agreement or consent with the land owner before you are issued with NEMA certificate which is a pre-requisite to obtaining a Mining Lease to undertake mining.

The landowner is entitled to compensation for financial loss, hardship or inconvenience resulting from exploration on an exploration license. This may be negotiated directly between the owner and operator, or determined by a government valuer. It is only when the surface right owner fails to cooperate or if an agreement cannot be reached that government opts for compulsory acquisition in national interest. It is a last resort after failed negotiations and it is done in public interest because minerals are national resources needed to develop the economy and for everyone to benefit.

In most cases, developers know how to handle communities through international experience and best practices. Options are there to build them alternative homes and provide some money to start a living somewhere. Sometimes they can have a share in the mining project. Developers know that they need a “Social Permit” in addition to the Mining Lease to operate effectively.

Questions put by Flavia Nalubega