Today, the Uganda Chamber of Mines and Petroleum kicks off its two-day mineral wealth conference at the Kampala Serena hotel. Earlier, ELLY KARUHANGA, the chairman of the chamber, spoke to the press, where Prisca Baike picked his remarks.
What is the significance of this conference to the country and the mining industry?
The members of the Uganda Chamber of Mines and Petroleum, once they were aware that Uganda has minerals, formed this chamber to propagate and sensitize the people of Uganda and the international community to take interest in Uganda’s minerals.
We also knew that many Ugandans had been engaged in artisanal mining but they were not organized and neither were they equipped with modern skills. They were also operating outside the law.
And there was so much smuggling of our minerals. And we decided, as a private sector wing, we should come together and support government in its efforts to streamline this sector.
We also saw and understood that minerals can change the entire economic spectrum. We saw that a country like South Africa is so strong; its infrastructure is so highly developed; its real estate is booming.
So far, we know that once we start exploiting our minerals, it will change the poverty lines of Ugandans. We can easily become a middle-income country by exploiting minerals because the value from the minerals will be more, if not double or triple, than what we can get from oil and gas.
We are bringing in international guests. The first conference in 2011 started with about 500 guests. Now, we are targeting 1,000.
We are looking to really strengthen this country and looking to get close to 50 different minerals that are underground. And the interesting thing about these minerals is that they are spread across the country. Right now most of our business, 80 per cent, is in Kampala but minerals are not in Kampala. They are spread all around our villages.
What minerals are investors most interested in?
Most investors have interest in particular minerals. Last night, I met a group of investors from the United States of America who are interested in wolfram only.
I met another group; they said they are interested in gold only. There is no company that has been interested in all the 50 minerals; so, companies in this area are specialized.
What are we losing by not exploring minerals?
Mining is a very complicated industry. Exploration is the most important stage because exploration is that time when you are not sure about what is underground. So, the underground risks are high. You might think there might be a mineral here because of certain signs and when you drill, you find nothing.
The amount of money spent on looking for the minerals is a lot. So, it is a high-risk venture. That is why you see companies like AON, who are here, all the banks that have sponsored this conference, are risk specialists.
Mining is a high-risk venture; that is why we have to look for international friends who have the money to manage the risk.
So, I call upon all Ugandans to come and listen because you might not be the person to do the mining but these people who are going to do the mining will need transport, food, accommodation and so many other things. This is why I love mining; it engages the local people.
But there have been instances when the country’s mineral potential has been proven, and yet the investment has not translated into real value.
That is why there is a big hullabaloo about Kilembe Mines because everybody knows we have a lot of copper and when they gave it to a company that didn’t produce copper now government is saying no; why are you not producing copper, let’s put up an inquiry.
The vermiculite in Namekara is already explored; the phosphate is already explored. Some of the gold mines are already working, tantalite, tin, wolfram, etc, these are known and are being explored.
There have been issues of children skipping school to engage in artisanal mining. What solutions is the chamber offering to this problem?
We want to make sure this stops. The reason why it will stop is because we are writing new laws. The government is presenting an act in parliament soon.
And we will bring a lot of awareness. If you look at what was going on in Mubende, all the kids were rushing there, leaving school.
Now, government has driven them out. Artisanal miners will be properly registered, and all kids that were being abused will be [taken care of].
In terms of the growth of the sector, what contributions have these mineral wealth conferences made?
We have made a lot of changes and development as far as I am concerned. When we opened the Chamber of Mines, about six years ago, and started this mineral wealth conference, taxation was so prohibitive and it deterred many people from investing in Uganda. We fought so hard and this has been sorted.
We had a laissez-faire operation. Artisanal miners were doing whatever it is they wanted; children were dropping out of school, women miners were not getting their fair share, among others. All these things have been addressed.
New laws are coming up. There is awareness; international guests are coming in, a number of areas which had not been streamlined are being streamlined, companies like Kilembe which had been concessioned out to some companies that have not been doing what they are supposed to do are being challenged; an inquiry has been opened.
We are there, we can see significant development. The department of Geological Survey and Mines was so inadequately addressed.
We met the president a number of times and discussed this. Now, when you go there, you find that we have the best registry in Africa.