MPs grill minister over “illegal” eviction of artisanal miners

By Moses Kyeyune

Lawmakers have grilled the state minister for energy Simon D’ujanga together with the Permanent Secretary Dr. Robert Isabalija over what they call illegal eviction of artisanal miners in Mubende District.

The two had appeared before Parliament’s committee on Natural Resources chaired by Isingiro South MP Alex Byarugaba to explain why they used armed security personnel to displace about 60,000 miners.

Kasanda North MP Patrick Nsamba put the officials on the spot for allegedly favoring a foreign investor who owns the Gemstone Mining Company at the expense of the locals.

In his defense, Dr. Isabalija says that the artisan miners were involving in unacceptable mining process using bulldozers and excavators which were degrading the environment.

Last month President Museveni ordered the artisanal miners to vacate areas which Government licensed to investors. In a June 28th 2017 letter addressed to Members of Parliament from Mubende district, President Museveni directed that those who invaded where the investor had made excavations leave immediately.

“The investor is there to help us to know whether there is gold and, if so, how much of it. Why should anybody interfere with this?” President Museveni wrote to law makers from the gold-rich district.

An estimated 25,000 people are directly involved in artisanal mining operations in Mubende.

There has been a long-running dispute between artisanal miners and two companies (Gemstone International and AUC Mining). The artisanal miners are accused of taking over land licensed to AUC and Gemstone International to carry out mining activities.

The mining companies, on the other hand, allege that the artisanal miners are operating illegally on the land. A previous attempt in 2013 to evict the miners did not take place.
The operations of artisanal miners have divided government officials in the energy ministry.

The Mining Act 2003 does not recognise artisanal mining in the country. Their activities have been classified as illegal by some. The law is currently being reviewed but so far, only the policy has been drafted.