Investigations: Shock as MP Holds a Mining License in Bwindi National Park, putting Gorillas’ lives at Stake

UWA Executive Director Andrew Sseguya

KAMPALA, Uganda: New findings released in a report by Global Witness demonstrates just how much of Uganda’s mining sector is characterized by corruption, mismanagement and undue political influence.

The Report titled “Uganda Under- Mined…How corruption, mismanagement and political influence is undermining investment in Uganda’s mining sector and threatening people and environment” displays the rot and high level corruption evident at the Directorate of Geological Survey and Mines (DGSM) located in Entebbe.

DGSM is the body responsible for monitoring and regulating the mining sector in Uganda. All mining deals must pass through this office at some stage.

Global Witness’ 18 months investigations with local under-cover investigative journalists revealed that companies with the blessing of the ruling party (NRM) are able to operate with relative impunity, regardless of their track record, or the negative impact of their activities. It is this impunity, coupled with a systemic lack of transparency that shapes Uganda’s mining sector and prevents reform.

Uganda is rich in mineral wealth; the gold, tin, iron and other metals hidden in its soils could – if managed well – help drive development, provide jobs, and contribute to a healthy economy where citizens have access to basic services such as health, clean water and education. Unfortunately, the mining sector in Uganda is, and has long been driven with corruption and dominated by vested interests.

Licenses issued for mining in Bwindi National Park

Upon receipt of the report from London, we called Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) publicist, Gesa Simplicious about the findings that mining was taking place in the parks. Gesa had this to say: “People, that is not true. Wolokoso just (gossip), no mining in the park.” Sadly though, the investigations unearthed that a license was issued to Hon, Elizabeth Karungi Beikirize, the Kanungu Woman MP (NRM) to carry out mining.

The MP’s story is emblematic of how well placed individuals claim to be able to use their political connections for personal gain. Karungi told Global Witness that she was able to carry out mining activities in Bwindi because the former Tourism Minister Maria Mutagamba was her “good friend.”

It is remarkable that the DGSM saw it fit to issue her with a license in this area despite the obvious threat to the wildlife there. In a letter to Global Witness dated January 2017, Mutagamba claimed that she did not know who Elizabeth Karungi was. However Karungi was on the Committee of Tourism, Trade and Industry which held meetings with the Minister during her period in office. Karungi according to sources boasted at one stage saying: “You want a mining license in the UNESCO heritage site, just talk to an MP who is a good friend to a minister”.

Almost half the world’s remaining mountain gorillas are at risk as mining threatens Bwindi and Rwenzori national parks, part of the famous Virunga ecosystem, and also risks the economically critical tourism industry which depends on the country’s natural beauty and wildlife.

Bwindi National Park, resting in the cloudy mountains on the border with the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), is a well-known bio-diversity hotspot.

The UNESCO World Heritage site is a tiny sanctuary for one of the richest concentrations of mammals in Africa, including almost half the world’s remaining mountain gorillas.

According to Uganda’s online Mining Cadastre, over twenty companies and individuals have held mining exploration licences which lie at least partially inside the Bwindi World Heritage site or immediately adjacent to it. When contacted, the Commissioner DGSM said that mining activities in national parks require the permission of the Uganda Wildlife Authority.

Mining in Mt. Rwenzori National Park

Further shocking revelations indicate how President Museveni in 2013 instructed government to partner with Tibet Hima to conduct mining in Kilembe Copper Mines on the border of Rwenzori National Park in 2013. Two DGSM staff made these revelations.

As part of the deal, Tibet Hima also received two mining exploration licences that run deep into the national park and right up to the DRC border. The DGSM Commissioner said that Tibet Hima had been awarded the concession through a competitive bidding process.

A letter from Tibet Hima addressed to the Chief Warden of Rwenzori National Park dated 30th January 2015, in which they ask the park authorities for cooperation with their exploration efforts, including allowing them to work inside the park proves the presidential instructions. The park authorities, we have established however refused the request but the letter implies that the future of mining at Kilembe is dependent on exploration in Tibet Hima’s exploration licences which surround the Kilembe mine site and extend into the park.

The Rwenzori Mountains National Park is a popular tourist destination and contains endemic species such as the African Forest Elephant and the endangered Red Duiker. The area is also an important source of water for the Nile River. However, Uganda’s online Mining Cadastre shows that over twenty companies or individuals have held licences which lie at least partially within the World Heritage site or immediately adjacent to it.

According to the Global Witness report released on Tuesday, damage has already been done and it is Uganda’s poorest people and its delicate environment that stand to lose the most from corruption and mismanagement in the mining sector. According to Uganda’s Mining Cadastre, the DGSM has granted mining exploration licences in all but three of Uganda’s protected parks.

The rot and corruption at DGSM

Uganda’s mining sector is officially run by the Directorate of Geological Survey and Mines (DGSM). However, rather than fulfilling its mandate to work for the benefit of the Ugandan people, the DGSM is controlled by a hidden alternative power structure and decision making processor ‘shadow system’ which benefits predatory investors and politically powerful Ugandans.

Poorly qualified companies can win licenses based on their connections, at the expense of well-qualified and conscientious companies. The absence of respect for the rule of law and the systemic circumvention of policies and procedures undermines investment and puts Ugandan’s and their environment at risk.

The underpayment or complete failure to pay taxes, mineral rents and royalties by many of those operating in the sector deprives the public coffers of millions of dollars a year. This affects the provision of basic services for ordinary Ugandans and further obstructs proper oversight and regulation of the industry.

Companies that obtain their licenses in an underhand manner have little incentive to uphold the law, knowing that the best and quickest way to get ahead is via political patronage. Likewise, officials, fixers, and political elites can personally profit from perpetuating the status quo rather than implementing regulations or pushing for reform. This costs Uganda much-needed jobs and revenue and damages its international reputation.

From low-level officials to senior political figures, many of those involved with mining in Uganda are ready to bend or break the rules. Global Witness details the parts played by lawyers, a Member of Parliament (MP), foreign-backed investors, and even a pop star in the exploitation of Uganda’s mineral wealth at the expense of ordinary people and the country’s long-term development.

In 2012, an internal government “2012 Report” documented chronic levels of fraud, mismanagement and corruption in the DGSM. The report focused on the licensing process at the Directorate, and did not name the companies and individuals behind the suspect deals.

Although it was shared with the former Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Energy and Mineral Development and allegedly discussed with President Yoweri Museveni, it was never published. Little seems to have changed in the DGSM since then.

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Patrick Jaramogi is a trained Crime, Financial and Fraud investigative journalist. He is a senior writer and Editor at the Investigator. He can be reached via email: [email protected] or watsup +256772426211​​​