Civil society advocating for transparency in the mineral sector has appealed to the government Ministry of Energy and Mineral Development to hasten the passing into law of the Drafted Mining and Mineral Bill 2019.
They argue that the law will protect Artisanal and Small Scale Miners from the ongoing controversies relating to their Licensing.
According to Mr Don Biyinda Bwesigye, the Executive Director of Africa Centre for Energy and Mineral Development Policy, the absence of a strong legal regime that regulates the mining sector has affected the operations of artisanal and small scale miners.
“This has exposed some to cruel treatment from security organisations such as the police and the army,” he said during a joint press conference with the Uganda Association of Artisanal and Small Scale Miners Limited in Kampala.
Mr Bwesigye observed that without the law, the Mineral Protection Unit of the Uganda Police Force has taken over many of the supervisory and regulatory roles that the current Mining Act 2003 vests in the Directorate of Geological Surveys and Mines.
“Because of this, many of the artisanal and small scale miners involved in mining gold, tin, tungsten and many other minerals in western, eastern and central Uganda have been harassed by this Mineral Protection Police.
“As a result, this has negatively affected artisanal and small scale miners both socially and economically,” Mr Bwesigye added.
Apart from the Mineral Protection Police, the centre also blames Operation Wealth Creation for performing duties that do not belong to their docket like carrying out dispute resolutions among the mining communities, investment promotion and formalisation of the artisanal miners which is outside the mining sector policy.
Ms Phyllis Nankoma, the women representative at the association told the press that the operations of the Mineral Protection Police have left hundreds of their members homeless while others have incurred financial losses amounting to millions of Uganda shillings especially in Mubende and Kasanda mining districts.
“The operations of the Mineral Protection Police have caused a lot of economic stress to members especially women. Some of us have lost over Shs34m because of the brutality the forces use while evicting artisans. Mining has been our source of income and therefore, as artisanal and small scale miners, we are calling upon government especially Parliament to investigate the operations of the Police Mineral Protection Unit,” said Ms Nankoma.
She requested the Uganda Human Rights Commission to document and address police and other security agencies’ human rights abuses against artisanal and small scale miners and the landlords in the various mining regions.
During the same briefing, Mr John Bosco Bukya, the Chairman of the Miners Association said the delays in the passing of the new Drafted Mining and Minerals Bill of 2019 has impacted on the business decision making by the artisanal and small scale miners since the current laws do not effectively support them.
In response, Mr Bwesigye promised them that in collaboration with Parliament, they will ensure that the 2019 Drafted Mining and Minerals Bill is passed into law.
“We are going to work together with the legislature to ensure that the Bill is given priority on the floor of Parliament. When it is passed, it will address some of the current bottlenecks the artisanal miners are facing,” said Mr Bwesigye.
During the same briefing Mr Francis Mwijukye, the Member of Parliament for Buhweju County promised to spearhead the debate on the floor of Parliament.
He said his office has been receiving negative reports about the Mineral Protection Police with claims that it has taken over the mandate of the Ministry of Energy and Mineral Development but also assumed the role of judges because they arrest and judge people in the mining blocks.
The content of the Drafted Bill seeks to formalise and regulate artisanal and small scale mining in the mineral sector including commercial exploitation of building and construction materials collectively referred to as the Development Minerals.
Information from geological studies, Uganda is endowed with volumes of tonnes of minerals. Limestone deposit is estimated to be at 300 million tonnes, more than six millon tonnes of copper are anticipated in Kilembe and 7.3 million ounces of gold deposits in West Nile among other minerals deposits.
But, without a clear law, artisanal and small scale miners may be left out to effectively participate in the mining business, thus, keeping only big multinational companies in the sector.