KAMPALA – The minerals state minister, Hon. Peter Lokeris, has faced criticism from MPs, who are accusing his ministry of letting C-Asian, a Chinese company ravage Buhweju Central Forest Reserve.
In the Committee on Natural Resources sitting on Tuesday 5 Minister D’Ujanga was a witness on oath, who was under pressure to convince MPs that C-Asian was only doing exploration and not mining.
Together with technocrats led by the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Energy and Mineral Development, Mr Robert Kasande, the officials termed as ‘allegations’, claims that the company was doing wanton mining behind the back of the Uganda Revenue Authority (URA).
MP Oliver Katwesigye (IND, Buhweju District) said the ministry does not inspire confidence. “I find vacuums in this statement [by the ministry]; it is like the ministry is giving a disclaimer on whether mining is going on…they are not in control and we are losing revenue,” she said.
MP Herbert Ariko (FDC, Soroti Municipality) said the ministry has let C-Asian use their exploration license as a cloak of fraud to do mining under the table.
“What do we define as the start, middle and end of exploration? I was in Buhweju and I cannot tell whether what we saw was exploration and not mining,” he said.
The Mineral Protection Police, allegedly deployed under the instruction of the Inspector General of Police, Martins Okoth Ochola, has had a frosty relationship with locals, who over a week ago told visiting MPs they were tortured out of their small scale mines by the Police.
The ministry’s statement, however, quoted the Mineral Protection Police as having denied any wrongdoing.
Instead, said the document, the locals fled the area when Police was simply approaching them for a sensitisation meeting, a move that angered MPs, who caused all officials present to follow Minister D’ujanga in taking oath.
Later, Mr Kasande distanced himself from the Mineral Police’s alleged statement.
“When they gave us this statement, we did not believe it and we had a meeting with them [Mineral Protection Police] that is why we are saying the Police ‘maintained’ that they had gone to do sensitisation when the locals fled,” he said.
The mineral politics has split the leadership in Buhweju District, pitting the politicians against the Resident District Commissioner and intelligence officials.
MPs are following disposing of a petition lodged by Buhweju Artisanal Miners, who in a tearful testimony alleged to have suffered brutality and torture at the hands of the Mineral Protection Police, allegations they deny.