Some of the small artisanal miners extracting gold in a disputed piece of land in Mubende are not only doing it illegally but have also grown too big and sophisticated that it is high time government took them seriously, Gemstone, the large mining firm in the area, has said, writes CHRISTOPHER TUSIIME.
Moses Masagazi, the director of AUC Mining Company, which owns the subsidiary, Gemstone International, says the artisanal miners mining gold in Mubende, around the area where his company holds a license, are doing it illegally.
Small-scale miners have severally accused Masagazi of fueling their eviction, which recently received a presidential endorsement. He, however, says his actions are justified. In response to several questions from The Observer, Masagazi says the mining by small-scale miners is utterly illegal and should be stopped immediately.
“AUC are the holders of Exploration License EL 1093 and Mining Lease ML 4063 issued by ministry of Energy and Mineral Development under Uganda’s Mining Act 2003,” reads part of Masagazi’s statement sent to The Observer.
“Under these licenses, the company was granted exclusive exploration rights and working obligations in respect of the minerals in all areas of the license – sections 4 and 31 of the Act.”
Masagazi alleges that the work of AUC Mining Company has been hampered by these illegal miners yet it has injected more than $13 million in the development of the area.
Masagazi says the company has consequently incurred huge losses in terms of time and market opportunities because of the conflicts with artisanal miners.
“Apart from the investment in the area, to-date, the company, under the severely encumbered activities, continues to pay the licenses fees to URA. This year  alone the company has paid over Shs 100m in form of licence-related fees,” he says.
The illegal mining activities by the artisanal miners, he adds, have also led to invalidation of their exploration data that had been generated and recorded about the exploration site on top of the miners occupying their near-term target areas.
Masagazi wonders why the government has since failed to effect the relocation directives issued by the president in 2014, despite the matter being reported to several authorities.
“The company reached an agreement with government authorities in 2014 [after the artisanal miners were organised into associations] regarding Katugo and Lubaali areas, which are one of the most prospective grounds of the license,” Masagazi wrote.
He pointed out that despite this agreement, the small-scale miners did not relocate. “Instead, they just expanded all over - an erosion of investor’s confidence. This agreement needs to be enacted and properly controlled.”
Masagazi added: “Instead some politicians, senior government officials and senior security forces personnel continue to protect their illegal operations. This illicit gold mining is progressively fueling lawlessness, destruction and pollution of the environment through mercury and cyanide use and massive land destruction.”
NO LONGER ARTISANAL
Masagazi says the more than 60,000 people in the Kitumbi mines are no longer artisanal because “they have acquired bigger equipment” that is supposed to be used by miners with exploration licences.
“The type of mechanized illegal mining going on in Mubende district is not like the artisanal mining that is going on in any other part of Uganda. It is, therefore, only a matter of time before they start using explosives.”
The investor explains that for these miners to be called artisanal, they are supposed to be mining the alluvial deposits, and not the hard rock and the primary reef deposits.
“The illegal miners, who include even foreign nationals and have continued with their illegal activities unabated, are using a combination of mechanical tools including jack hammers and more sophisticated machines like compressors, generators, hammer drills and mechanical excavators and trucks. These are, therefore, illegal miners and cannot be described as artisanal miners,” he says.
Because the company is holding a lease and exploration licences, Masagazi says the government should now ensure its security and safe access to the exploration work sites to be able to restart their work programs and development efforts.
“[We want] security of tenure and our exploration licenses extended to allow us to repeat all the work that has been destroyed and regain time that has been lost, since 2013,” he says.
Masagazi adds that all unauthorized and the unregulated illegal miners in the area should be stopped and evacuated by the authorities.”
The company also seeks compensation for the cost of the five years’ standing time and the ‘irreparable damage’ done to their previous scientific exploration works, trenches and drill pads.
In 2012, AUC Mining Company produced a report from its exploration findings and submitted it to the government, as required by law.
“A couple of weeks later, following the geological interest areas highlighted in the report, there developed an influx of illegal miners in October 2012,” says Masagazi.
He adds that the matter was promptly reported to the relevant authorities but no action has been taken to-date.
He says the company suspects the reports submitted to government were used to invade the areas which had been identified as potentially viable “because they [artisanal miners] are only following the hard rock/gold reef target areas identified in those reports.”
Currently, the number of smallscale miners in Kitumbi sub-county is estimated to be 40,000. Many of them say they cannot vacate the place because they have nowhere to go, and are threatening to go to court to challenge any eviction notice.