Kampala. Authorities in Wakiso District have endorsed a Chinese firm to mine sand on the shores of Lake Victoria.
Last year, district leaders and officials from National Environment Management Authority (Nema) had blocked Mango Tree Group from excavating sand in Kawuku village, Nkumba Parish, and Katabi Town Council on grounds that the company’s activities had negative impact on the eco-system of the lake shores.
However, according to Mr Wasswa Masokoyi, the Wakiso deputy chief administrative officer, the district rescinded its decision following an environmental impact assessment report from Nema that okayed the mining activities. An environmental impact assessment gives expert opinion on anticipated environmental effects of a proposed project.
“If the sand mining company has been licensed by Nema, there is no way we can block their (Mango Tree) activities. In fact, we are working out modalities to see how the district can benefit,” he said on Wednesday.
A source at the district told Daily Monitor that the authorities were forced to rescind their earlier position after intervention from some government officials, who accused them of sabotaging investments and threatened to cut their annual resource envelope.
In the current financial year, the district was allocated Shs50.7b to finance its recurrent and development budget of which Shs13.8b went to projects development.
“By asking the Chinese investors to seek Nema clearance, we were viewed as investment saboteurs and some people in government started threatening to reduce the money we receive from the central government. So, we had no option, but to let the investors operate,” the source said.
According to Masokoyi, Mango Tree is expected to remit about Shs1b every month to the district.
“We will be able to earn Shs12b annually. This will go a long way to support our budget,” he added.
Recently, Mr David Kabale, the officer-in-charge of revenue collection, revealed the district was losing more than Shs12b in illegal sand mining.
In particular, the district leadership led by Mr Matia Lwanga Bwanika (district chairperson) protested the sand mining activities by Mango Tree, saying the company was bent on destroying the environment on the lake shores.
Nema executive director, Dr Tom Okurut, said the licence given to Mango Tree will enable the company dredge a ship channel on the lake bed to open a clear route connecting to Mwanza Port in Tanzania.
Mango Tree had initially been licensed by Uganda Investment Authority to build ships, a port and ship yard at Kawuku. It was also expected to use one of the built dredger to open the water ways. However, it is not clear how they ventured into sand dredging.
A dredger that they had built recently caught fire while being tested.
“Initially, there were fears that the activities of the firm will endanger our environment and destroy fish breeding grounds along the shores of the lake. But our technical team together with that of the district established that they will cause no harm to the environment,” Dr Okurut said recently while addressing some Wakiso workers and councillors.
He said they will closely monitor the firm’s activities to ensure that they stick to set guidelines.
Mr Masokoyi said, as a district, they are in the final stages of coming up with an inventory of gazetted places where sand mining can legally be done after carrying out environment impact assessment.
“Of course we will do that closely with Nema and stop this practice where people just open up sites and start excavating sand,” he said.
Wakiso, one of Uganda’s fastest growing districts, experiences excessive sand mining due to a growing construction sector.
Environmentalists have warned that the increasing sand mining activities in major swamps across the country might spark off a serious ecological disaster.
According to Ms Sylvia Awori, the Mango Tree Group country representative, the company has a plan to develop water transport in Uganda contrary to allegations that they are depleting the country’s resources.