Members of Parliament from across the political divide have backed proposals to amend the mining act and make strong provisions that would help local people get maximum benefit out of minerals.
Government is already in the process of reviewing the Mining Act 2004 and the mining policy after arguing that they do not reflect the current realities in the sector.
The lawmakers expressed dissatisfaction that while Uganda was endowed with several minerals, these minerals had not helped lift people out of poverty. The MPs were speaking at the mineral policy, law and fiscal review conference organized by Ecological Christian Organization and Safer World both (CSOs) at Protea hotel recently.
Lolem Micah Akasile, Upe county member of Parliament (Amudat district), wondered why despite being endowed with a lot of minerals, Karamoja continued to wallow in poverty.
“Karamoja is a tenth of Uganda’s land mass and we have a lot of minerals, but the reality is people have been exploited; people have not benefited,” he said.
Gulu Woman Member of Parliament Betty Acan, concurred.
“Look at Karamoja. It is very rich in terms of minerals but who is benefiting from these minerals? Certainly not the local people. The people of Karamoja are being exploited,” she said.
The MPs’ reactions followed complains from miners on how they were not well-regulated and as a result cheated.
“We are being cheated. You [MPs] are here sleeping. We are under the mercy of the investors. Are you sure that we get what we are supposed to get?” one of the miners asked the lawmakers.
Although the MPs didn’t make direct proposals, they vowed to support proposals from civil society organizations. CSOs want government to revise the allocation of royalties to landowners, regulate the small scale and artisanal miners and put in place an environmental bond to protect the environment, among others, in the amended mining act.
Kabakumba Matsiko Bujenje Member of Parliament, said the mining act should be reviewed to ensure maximum benefit for the local people.
“I used to hear of gold mining in Buhweju but when I went to Buhweju, I was shocked. I found people very poor and backward. I tried to see where the gold was and its impact, but to my surprise it had not caused any transformation to our people. So, we should use these experiences such that we can make a law that makes it possible for our people to benefit from these natural resources,” she said.
John Bosco Bukya, one of the gold miners in Mubende, said the current legal and regulatory framework was not miner-friendly. Simon Peter Nangiro, the chairperson Karamoja small-scale and artisanal miners association, wants the powers of the commissioner for geological survey and mines to be trimmed.
For instance, the powers of the commissioner to license should be decentralised to enable artisanal miners acquire mining leases. John Ken Lukyamuzi (Lubaga South MP) said the only way locals could maximise their benefit from minerals was through federalism or regional tier form of government. Lukyamuzi’s proposal was backed by Reagan Okumu (Aswa MP).
“Politics is about the economy and sharing. Don’t think you will separate politics from minerals,” he said.
If Karamoja gets regional tier, they will manage their own affairs,” Okumu said.
Okumu called for balance between mining and rights over land, which is a fundamental. He said there was a struggle within society, where the rich exploited the poor.
“Mining in Uganda is still very exploitative; the people who should have benefited are being exploited. We need to strengthen the state and be able to coerse government to protect people,” he said. He called on government to address the rampant land conflicts between landowners and mining companies and said the amendment to the act should put in place a clear and elaborate mechanism of dispute resolution.
But Kabakumba called for reforms on land tenure system in the country.
“This, I will say, without any contradiction because I don’t speak for the gallery. Government should take a bold step to say land is public and we begin planning accordingly,” she said.