Minister pledges to protect interests of locals in mining districts

The minister of energy has promised to compensate those it resettles from mineral rich areas

Minister State for Energy, Hon. Sidronius Okaasai,

Minister of State for Energy, Hon Sidronius Okaasa,i has assured the nation that government has laid out clear compensation or resettlement options for Ugandans living in mineral rich areas in the country.

The minister made the assurance while presenting a statement to Parliament on Thursday, July 7, 2022, concerning grievances from communities in Busoga region over a mining company that is running the Mukutu Rare Earth Project, where mining of rare earth minerals is expected to start soon.

The minister said the ministry granted an exploration license to Rwenzori Rare Metals, whose drilling activities have revealed over 532 million tonnes of ore containing rare minerals and added that no evictions will be carried out in a bid to carry out the exploration exercise.

“The Ministry of Energy will ensure that where properties, land or infrastructure of the project affected persons are affected, the persons will be duly compensated before the company can utilise the land,” Okaasai said.

He added that Rwenzori Rare Metals is developing a resettlement action plan that will inform the company on the number of project-affected persons, their socio-economic and livelihood aspects as well as strategies and actions to minimize the resettlement impact.

The compensation or resettlement options include cash compensations, temporary resettlement and permanent resettlement.

The project area covers the districts of Iganga, Mayuge, Bugweri and Bugiri where a company, Rwenzori Rare Metals, is carrying out exploration activities.

Such rare earth minerals include cerium, dysprosium, erbium, europium, gadolinium, holmium and lanthanum.

In May this year, Bukooli Central MP, Hon. Solomon Silwany, raised concerns about the manner in which the process of acquiring land for exploration by the company was being undertaken.

Silwany based his concerns on the ongoing mining project in Wawanga Parish, Buwunga sub-county in Bugiri district.

Bugweri district Woman MP, Hon. Rachel Magoola, raised similar concerns in May, noting that government was not visible in educating the residents in the districts about rare earth minerals and the presence of the company on ground.

She said there were also potential land conflicts brewing due to potential sale of land purported to host the rare minerals.

The minister noted that not all project-affected persons will be resettled at once, given that the project focuses on the rare earth but not the land.

He added that once mined, the land will be restored for productive use for farming, resettlement or recreational activities, where applicable.

“Basing on the provisions of the Mining Act 2003 and Mining Regulations 2019, Rwenzori Rare Metals is required by the Ministry [Energy] to apply and acquire a lease before it can compensate or resettle affected landowners,” said Okaasai.

The Minister told Parliament that a Memorandum of Understanding between Rwenzori Rare Metals and project-affected persons in the districts has been drawn up and will be disseminated to them in English and Lusoga, for consideration.

According to Okaasai, the MOU will not transfer the land owner's interest in the land surface rights, to the mining company.

“After the company has acquired the Mining Lease and project affected persons have been fully compensated, the company then have access to land for the development of the rare earth element depending on the resettlement action plan option applied,” he noted.

He also said that Members of Parliament from the affected areas have been participating in awareness creation about the mining project.

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