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Kabale Authorities, NEMA Officials Clash Over Proposed Closure of Mining Company

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The officials had visited the mining site to investigate complaints from the community that the company was discharging contaminated water directly into a nearby stream, a tributary to river Kiruruma, which flows through Kabale town to Kyanamira and Maziba sub-county up to Rwanda.
Viola Mugisha,NEMA in charge of western region inspecting the plant on Tuesday (Photo Credit Samuel Amanya)

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There was a clash between Kabale district authorities and environmental officials on Tuesday over the decision to close Sino Minerals Investments, a Chinese firm mining Iron Ore in Buhara Sub-county.

The officials had visited the mining site to investigate complaints from the community that the company was discharging contaminated water directly into a nearby stream, a tributary to river Kiruruma, which flows through Kabale town to Kyanamira and Maziba sub-county up to Rwanda.

They also accused the Chinese firm of dumping residue into Kyaase wetland exposing their lives to danger. They claimed that the water has since charged colour, adding that livestock farmers can no longer water their animals since the water is very dirty.

On Tuesday, a team of officials led by Viola Mugisha, National EnvironmentManagement Authority (NEMA) in charge of the western region, AssistantSuperintendent of Police (ASP) NEMA police in charge of the western region, Hillary Arima, health and safety officer ministry of energy and mineral development and Robert Mufala, Mines Inspector for Western region among others.  

On reaching district headquarters they were joined by Godfrey Nyakahuma, ResidentDistrict Commissioner, Nelson Nshangabasheija, District LC 5 Chairman, EvasAsiimwe, Kabale District Environment Officer, Adius Kyomukama, District NaturalResources Officer, and Alex Niwagaba, District Crime Intelligence Officer (CI)among others visited the complaint in Kyaase Village in Buhara sub-county. 

While at the plant, Asiimwe also accused the company of noise pollution while blasting bigger iron ore stones without taking any precautions. Nyakahuma also questioned why the company was discharging contaminated water directly into a stream used by many residents. The officials resolved to close the plant until management removes the residue dumped in Kyaase wetland and complies with the terms in the environmental impact assessment report.

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However, during their meeting at the District headquarters following the inspection, Nyakahuma and Nshangabasheija made a u-turn and protested the decision to close the plant. Mugisha tried to explain in vain that closing the plant temporarily will compel the management to address all the mess quickly so that business can resume.

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Nyakahuma rejected Mugisha’s decision, arguing that they have a directive from the president to protect investors. He instead advised Mugisha to sit with her team and write a warning letter to the investor pointing out the mess and it should be addressed.

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Nyakahuma blasted Sam Kyomukama, the in charge of the Police Protection Unit in the Kigezi region, and other officials from the environment ministry for visiting the plant last week to assess the situation without authorization from the concerned environment officers in the district.

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Nshangabasheija also threw his weight behind Nyakahuma, saying that closing the plant will paint a bad image of the district. He also argued that closing the plant will increase the economic problems of workers.  

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He also argued that the district security committee needs to first discuss the matter and share its resolutions with technocrats and the National Security Council.

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While responding to accusations, Kyomukama, said that he visited the plant on the orders of his superiors led by an officer he only identified as Senior Superintendent of Police Grace. He also revealed that before inspecting the plant, he notified the office of the LC V chairperson since all officers in the environment department were attending a workshop in Mbarara.

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Following the disagreement, Mugisha resolved to write to the NEMA executive director who will determine the way forward.  Brian Munanura, the Operations Manager for Sino Minerals Investments who was in the meeting, says that the plant developed a leakage when a pipe burst.

He admitted that the company is dumping waste in a wetland, but hastened to add that it is not possible to remove the waste in less than a week. Later, a security source told our reporter on condition of the anonymity that district officials could have made a U-turn on the decision to close the plant after learning that it is the main supplier of iron ore to the Uganda Peoples Defense Forces (UPDF) ammunition plant in Nakasongola district.