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Government pledges to formalize artisanal mining

namayingo meetingGovernment is amending the Mining Act 2003, with a draft policy being reviewed to ready it for presentation before cabinet.

Key among the twenty objectives of the Draft Mining and Mineral Policy 2016 is addressing the issue of artisanal miners. Government recognizes the participation and contribution of small scale and artisanal miners and therefore the need to formalise their operations to allow legally supported operations in areas where large-scale mining is not warranted.

Artisanal miners’ operations are often nomadic in nature; in the case of gold that comprises the highest population of artisanal miners, operations are mainly triggered by gold rushes. For instance artisanal gold mining in Namayingo started after a family burying a relative stumbled upon gold deposits. Recently a find in Kalengyere village in Buhweju district led to an exodus of gold hunters to the area

Accordingly government plans to stem this nomadism and organize artisanal miners to operate in an orderly manner. The Director Department of Geological Survey and Mining Mr Edwards Katto said that artisanal miners would undergo biometric registration for purposes of identification as many of them come from neighbouring countries like Democratic Republic of Congo and Rwanda, and also to stem nomadic operations.

Mr. Katto noted that the role artisanal miners play in the mining sub sector is key and that in his 30-year experience, he has known them to be the pathfinders in mining.

“Big mines start with artisanal miners; when they accidentally hit gold, then big companies come in with their machinery; they’re pathfinders,” he said.

On licensing

Government however acknowledges the big challenge that lies before them of formalizing  artisanal miners operating in already licensed areas. This he says may hinder the miners operations immensely when the law comes into operation. For instance a group of miners under Singo artisanal and small scale miners association (SASSMA) in Mubende has waited for three years for Location Licences in Lujinji and Kamusenene in Kitumbi Sub County. However Mr. Katto says licenses cannot be issued over an existing one.

“They applied for a license over an existing one, but all those issues will be addressed under the amended Mining Act,” he explained.

There has been a disconnect between the miners, who have largely operated unregulated, and government. A miners’ meeting at Nakudi gold mines in Namayingo District in February this year, turned stormy over the matter of Location Licenses.

The Eastern Region Inspector of Mines Nathan Mushetsya attempted to explain to the curious miners that much as they may own land that is endowed with resources, the resources belong to government.

“The land might be yours but the resource belongs to the government,” he said, as puzzled miners covered in dust, exchanged quizzical glances. He further explained how they could secure their operations.

“You need to form associations under which you can process Location Licenses to secure your operations. A location license costs a total of Sh2.3m,” he said.

At this point all hell broke loose. Some miners walked away grumbling as Nathan and his colleagues looked to the local leaders to make a simple interpretation of it all for the hapless miners.

Mr Mushetsya said because of the nature of their work, artisanal miners are always looking for the next good rush. “It therefore becomes unsustainable to help these people in this nomadic lifestyle. The best way to help them is for them to form associations under which they can be duly formalized and registered,” he told Oil in Uganda.

However Mr Emmanuel Kibirige, a gold miner in Mubende and secretary of Singo Artisanal and Small Scale Miners Association (SASSMA), speaking at a validation meeting of an Artisanal Mining Mapping Study carried out by Africa Centre for Energy and Mineral Policy (ACEMP), opined that government could issue mining permits to artisanal miners in place of the tedious process of securing Location Licences.

Mr Mushetsya told Oil in Uganda that government is in fact looking into the matter, where artisanal miners could be allocated to operate in areas where large-scale mining is not warranted.

“Majority of Ugandans involved in mining are indeed artisanal miners. This issue of location licenses is becoming hectic for them. We are looking at how they can operate legally, say, allocate them a portion on the mineral sites because this is their livelihood,” Nathan said.

Mr. Katto also sounded optimistic when asked for comment. “All those issues will be addressed in the amended Act.

The President’s promise

While launching the Africa Gold Refinery in Entebbe in February President Museveni seemed to give reprieve to artisanal miners, pledging to waive taxes off the gold they mine so as to boost the sub sector.

“I am going to remove that royalty. The people of Mubende should bring our gold to the refinery. The royalty for those in transit has also been removed. There will be no excuse for anybody not to bring their gold to the refinery,” he said.

The president’s directive was informed by disturbing reports of gold smuggling, according to Mr. Katto.

“The other day the president asked me why Uganda was losing a lot of gold through Botogota and Busia borders. I told him the borders were porous. He wondered why then we should subject artisanal miners to taxes when the gold is being smuggled out,” Mr Katto indicated.

According to Bank of Uganda 2015/16 statistics gold exports fetched $700million, a figure that baffled even the Central Bank officials.

By Robert Mwesigye