Officials from the Ministry of Energy and Mineral Development have set June 2018 as the deadline for putting in place a policy and regulations regarding sand mining in the country.
The officials led by the State Minister for Minerals Peter Lokeris on Thursday appeared before parliament's Public Accounts Committee (PAC) to answer audit queries raised by the Auditor General in his Value for Money Audit on Regulation and Monitoring of the Mining Sector for the financial year ending 2015.
The ministry officials were tasked by the committee chaired by Soroti Woman MP Angelline Osegge to explain why it has taken them several years to have regulations on minerals used as commercialised building materials.
In his report, Auditor General John Muwanga established that the ministry did not regulate the mining of sand, clay, murram and stone quarrying, contrary to the definition of industrial minerals as spelt out in the Mining Act and as a result, could not levy royalties on these activities.
The Mining Act defines industrial minerals to include sand, barite, rock, clay, dolomite, feldspar, granite, gravel, limestone, marble, sandstone, slate and others which is commercially mined by a person for use in Uganda or industrially processed into finished or semi-finished products.
“Failure to levy royalty on these commercialised building materials was due to the ministry's interpretation of the exclusion of building materials in the Mining Act without making an assessment as to whether they were mined by the individual for their respective domestic use or used for commercial purposes,” reads part of the audit report.
Muwanga further notes that extraction permits are issued without conducting due diligence on the level of technology to be used and corresponding royalties lost by government.
“Commercialised industrial building materials remained inappropriately regulated leading to loss of government revenue and siltation of the lake for sand mining. The ministry should consider regulating and levying mineral fees from commercialised building materials,” says Auditor General Muwanga.
The Vice Chairperson of PAC Gerald Karuhanga wondered how the ministry was overseeing and regulating a sector without having benchmarks in the country.
Peter Lokeris's explanation that his ministry was reviewing the Mining Act for it to capture sand and clay as they prepare regulations attracted more questions from other MPs asking what had taken the ministry so long.
Bukholi Central MP Solomon Silwany noted that the level of destruction that illegal sand mining has caused is beyond repair with the ministry dragging its feet on regulations.
“There is a lot of laxity on the ministry's side and we need workable solutions from the ministry, we are talking about Lake Victoria which many Ugandans depend on and its destructed,” said Silwany.
Kalungu West MP Joseph Sewungu told the minister that an acre of sand in Lwera currently costs 270 million Shillings, demanding that the ministry moves very fast to see that the sector is regulated and fetches income for the country.
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Kira Municipality MP Ibrahim Semujju Nganda together with Agago Woman MP, Franca Akello, also blamed the ministry for taking so long to regulate sand mining in the country saying that the issue of regulations had been first raised during the Eighth Parliament.
Akello demanded to know the number of years required by the ministry to have sand mining regulations in place.
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Lokeris conceded that his ministry has been trying to examine the existing law on mining and to come up with amendments as well as finalise a policy and regulations.
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Agnes Alaba, the Commissioner for Mines said that they currently have a draft Mining and Minerals Policy 2018 and that by June, the regulations together with the policy are to be in place.
PAC Chairperson Angelline Osegge directed the ministry to avail her committee with the draft policy.
Sand mining is a lucrative business, especially in peri-urban areas due to the swiftly growing construction sector. Environmentalists raised concern over the increasing sand mining in major swamps across the country, warning that excessive excavation of sand in wetlands will spark off serious ecological disasters.
Media reports last year quoted David Kabale, the Wakiso District officer- in- charge of revenue saying that the district had loses 12 billion Shillings annually in unauthorised illegal sand mining.