KAMPALA–The Ministry of Energy has come under criticism for the forceful eviction of over 60 000 artisanal miners in Mubende district.
The reproach was made by the Kassanda North MP Patrick Nsamaba during a meeting between members of the Parliamentary Committee on Natural Resources and officials from the ministry led by the State minister Simon D’ujang this morning.
Nsamba recounted the inconsiderate and brutal manner in which he claims the miners were evicted from Rugingi in Mubende district by the UPDF a fortnight ago.
He alleges that the miners are being targeted for eviction by a powerful investor with the full backing of the State. Nsamba accuses the UPDF and the ministry of colluding to illegally deprive the miners of their only source of livelihood.
The said investor believed to be senior State House official Gertrude Njuba operates through a company known as Gemstone.
The ministry’s permanent secretary, Stephen Isabalija, however, denied the allegation, noting that the miners were cordially escorted out of the area.
The response infuriated Nsamba who accused the permanent secretary of lying to the committee. Nsamba said the miners were given only two hours to leave the area and lost their property in the process.
He said some of the miners resorted to bribing UPDF officers in order to reclaim their property.
But Isabalija further defended the eviction by asserting that the ministry was seeking to organize the miners into formal groups and weed out foreigners and illegal miners.
“You are not going to give licenses to people when you have 60,000 full of Tanzanians, Chinese, Indians – who is who?” Isabalija asked.
He also indicated that the miners were engaged in extensive environmental degradation of the mining area and were employing potentially dangerous methods of mining with the use of cyanide and mercury, something that Nsamba vehemently rejected.
Nsamba said weeding out foreigners was a simple exercise that required locals to present their national IDs and argued that the eviction was uncalled for and that it is the responsibility of government to educate the miners on safe mining practices and organize them into formal groups.
The committee has resolved to visit the mining areas in Mubende next week in order to ascertain the situation and come up with a resolution.
In June this year, the President ordered that the artisanal miners immediately vacate the area in which the investor had earmarked to begin gold exploration.
However, MPs from the area, including Bukuya county MP Dr Michael Bukenya and the Mubende district Woman MP Benny Namugwanya, petitioned the President to halt the eviction and give more time to the residents to leave the mining areas.
The ministry officials and executives from related agencies like the Uganda electricity transmission company and the Rural Electrification Agency were invited to respond to a number of outstanding issues relating to the execution of various projects under the ministry.
Among the issues under scrutiny is the progress of the formalisation of artisanal and small scale mining.
A statement for the minister indicates that the terms of reference for biometric registration of artisanal and small scale miners have been prepared, he also disclosed that the training of trainers for the miners on environment, community, health and safety has been finalized.
The minister told MPs that so far 2,249 artisanal and small scale miners have been registered in Mubende, 1,614 in Namayingo and Busia districts and 600 in Karamoja region.
The minister further revealed that out of this exercise, over 20 mining associations have been formed.