Govt moves to regulate artisanal, small scale mining

An artisanal gold miner in Agata village, Buteba Sub-county, Busia District uses a pump to siphon water from a flooded mine in 2023. PHOTO/ DAVID AWORI

What you need to know:

  • Some of the changes, she says, have seen the introduction of artisan mining licenses and small scale mining licenses, whose process of acquiring she described as “seamless”.

The government has moved to regulate the operations of over one million Ugandans who directly or indirectly benefit from Artisanal and Small Scale Mining (ASM).

The Minister of State for Mineral Development, Ms Phiona Nyamutoro, says an artisanal miner cannot afford high-end technologies to mine, while a small-scale miner has access to a reasonable amount of capital from, say, Shs50m and above.
According to Ms Nyamutoro, the regulations aim at addressing exploitation and health challenges.

“Most of the artisanal miners neglect the fact that they have access to mining without having the proper technologies and these have health effects soon,” Ms Nyamutoro said during a consultative meeting on the regulations of the ASM sector in Uganda in Busia District on Tuesday.

She added: “While the exploitation by the bigger investors and other big players in the mining sector should also be addressed in ensuring that they have good pay for the little that they can mine and are legally allowed to trade.”

Ms Nyamutoro said the government is going to reach all the central places that have a significant number of artisanal miners so that this is inclusive enough to ensure that all their issues are captured to help them have a regulation in place that is appreciative of the people.

“In the past, there was little appreciation of the contribution ASM had to the mining sector and there was a very big misunderstanding of whether they legally should be recognised as miners, or they were just disruptive to the mining sector.

“But overtime, we got to appreciate that they are Ugandans and are also stakeholders in the mining sector because the resources belong to the country and it is very important that even to the smallest level, they should be supported by the government,” Ms Nyamutoro further explained.

Some of the changes, she says, have seen the introduction of artisan mining licenses and small-scale mining licenses, whose process of acquiring she described as “seamless”.

“For the artisanal miners, once they organise themselves in a group, all they have to do is to apply, pay the required registration fees of Shs1m and are supported by the ministry.
“So far we have so many applications from different groups and I think they are very appreciative of this particular licence because it has made work very easy for them and they are also formally recognised in their capacities,” said Ms Nyamutoro.

The Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Energy and Mineral Development, Ms Irene Bateebe, said Uganda’s mining industry is dominated by over one million Ugandans who directly or indirectly benefit from ASM operations.

She said the minerals mined by ASMs and widely distributed throughout the country include; gold, tin, wolfram (tungsten), tantalite columbite-tantalite, iron ore, gemstones, limestone, Marble, Kaolin, diatomite pozzolana, and salt.

She said the ministry has made tremendous progress in improving the existing ASM management by granting mineral licenses to ASMs, granting over 100 location licenses - up from five in 2003, undertaking biometric registration of ASMs, which has seen 7,455 miners biometrically registered of which 2,070 are from the eastern region.

Others are; establishing inter-linkages with other entities that are involved in ASM initiatives, and developing a mechanism to control use of hazardous chemicals by ASM in mining activities, among others.

Mr Jonny Sasirwe, a miner who has reportedly been in the sector for more than 35 years, however, said the new regulation isn’t in good faith.
“For instance, the old regulation gave us a location licence of 16 hectares, on which we were to invest Shs10m, but now, the same licence being given to artisanal miners has a limitation in capacity,” Mr Sasirwe said.
He added: “We use our meagre funds from selling land, from rentals, moneylenders and so on; it is very difficult to acquire money from Ugandan banks because they don’t recognise mining.”
According to Mr Sasirwe, a person who had a licence of 16 hectares and had a chance to partner with an investor, is now being given a maximum of 10 square meters and barred from bringing in a foreign co-investor.

Mr Sasirwe, who says he has another mine in Mubende, added that getting a mandatory Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) has reportedly taken him over three years and cost him over Shs100m.
Mr Charles Buyinza, another gold miner for the past 15 years and chief executive director of Kakoba Productions Ltd, says transforming from working without a licence to working with one may not be easy.

“What is most challenging, is you are supposed to have the capacity of around 15,000 to 25,000 units and they are converting a unit at Shs20,000. That is close to Shs400m.
“So, if artisanal miners have been described as people who have been using rudimentary mechanisms, then we find it a little bit challenging to identify a real, practical artisanal miner or group that can afford to raise those units and raise close to Shs400m,” Mr Buyinza said.

Buyinza said whereas the ministry is trying to organise and regulate them, they first want the licenses issued and other requirements like the EIA follow later.
He says: “Private environmental specialists ask for between Shsw20m and Shs30m for them to process or to advise you. Mining is a very expensive venture and has no static budget, but we lack access to money. You may have Shs100m but use it in a few days or weeks yet you need equipment.”

The government is working with implementing agencies, including Planet Gold, whose Environment Officer, Mr Dean Ocama, said the project is to reduce mercury usage among ASM.
“Mercury is one of the toxic chemicals globally recognised by the World Health Organisation (WHO), and in Uganda, they are adopting a four-pillar intervention model in 11 mining sites across seven districts, including Busia, Namayingo Moroto, Amudat, Kasanda, Kisoro and Buhweju,” Mr Ocama said.