Parliament’s Committee on Natural Resources has recommended that Buhweju district artisanal miners resume work, saying the uncertainties in legislation and licensing should not be used to disrupt their livelihood.
In a three-day oversight campaign that stretched from Mitooma, Buhweju to Rwampara districts, MPs led by Committee Chairperson Dr Keefa Kiwanuka (NRM, Kiboga East) wants the artisanal miners back to work.
The miners have been barred from accessing their make-shift gold mines by the Minerals Police, an action that has attracted widespread condemnation from the district’s political leadership.
Among several other undertakings, the miners sought the help of Parliament through a petition to Speaker Rebecca Kadaga, who directed the Committee to interrogate the issues.
Dr Kiwanuka now says while the probe lasts, the locals should return to work, as they are currently disadvantaged by the halt of their major means of livelihood.
“When we go back to Kampala, we have to ensure that you return to work as we harmonise the law [on mining] and the associated issues,” said Kiwanuka.
His position is shared by MP Francis Mwijukye, who said the Mining Act of 2013 does not talk about the artisanal miners, and that pending their inclusion into the legal regime, they should work without let.
The discovery of large deposits of gold, and the licensing of mining activities has become a major source of controversy pitting locals and politicians against mining companies and government agencies.
The deepening fault lines were exposed when district Chairperson John Asiimwe openly conflicted with Resident District Commissioner (RDC) Peter Bishoborwa, with Mr Asiimwe accusing the RDC of setting the Mineral Police against the elected leadership and the local miners.
Mr Asiimwe said so bad is the bickering that the RDC and security officials have since cut off a major forest reserve, which he claimed was forcefully cordoned off to provide fortress for illegal mining and lumbering by shadowy Chinese companies.
But an unbending Bishoborwa said the claims of sealing the forest reserve and mining areas are false.
“There are no areas in this district which are no go areas [sic]; he [District Chairman] has never reached my office complaining about the same,” he said.
He said that Mr Asiimwe could be making up the claims to conceal his fear of the deep forests, a comment which forced a section of MPs to storm out of the meeting.
Mr Edmund Ngabirano, the Chairperson of Buhweju Artisanal Miners asked MPs to prevail upon the officials so they can resume work, dismissing claims of tax evasion.
“Government works with revenue and we are not defiant of paying revenue but there should be clear modalities and tax assessments,” he said.
The Committee later took a long journey to the thick forests, where mining activities were going on by C-Asian Mining Company.
MPs met ASP Duncan Kansiime, the officer in charge of the Mining Police deployed there, who said the company is registered and that their activities are lawful.
“All those offices have our documents…they know that there is a Mineral Police; the district leaders just chose not to know,” said Kansiime.
There was evidence of massive tree cuts and extensive excavation, with an over 7 metre wide road opened by the company in the difficult mountainous terrain.