A former director of Geological Surveys and Mines has faulted a contracted agent of Hima Cement Limited(HCL) for irregular land acquisitions in Tororo district.
Edwards Kato told the land probe commission that Optima Mines & Minerals Limited did not possess the requisite permit (mining lease) to acquire surface rights (land).
Optima was contracted by Hima to acquire surface rights but the contract has since been terminated after the cement manufacturer expressed misgivings over the irregular acquisition process.
Kato disclosed this before the land probe commission public hearing in Kampala.
Mwello Rock Land Rights Protection Association Limited had claimed Hima was conducting a stealth land acquisition.
However, Hima Cement's chief executive officer Nicholas George said the cement manufacturer was not to blame for the injustice to the locals. He said the company cannot conflict with locals because it does not make prudent business sense.
George explained that Optima did not handle the acquisition appropriately, which compelled Hima parent company, France-based LafargeHolcim to institute changes in management and terminate the agent's contract.
There was fear that 10,000 residents of Mwello parish would be evicted from the land near Mwello rock that is used for performing cultural rituals. The residents are part of the association and are from 1,500 households occupying 1.6 square miles.
Kato retired last year on March 18.
Documents show that on August 9, 2016, Hima obtained an exploration licence to mine gemstones.The prospecting licence was granted the previous year.
Tasked by lead counsel Ebert Byenkya with explaining whether it was prudent for Optima to commence land acquisition, the former mining boss stated that the two licences were specific.
“When you have an exploration licence, you are not supposed to acquire land. You can only acquire land when you get a mining lease. Whatever was done [by Optima] was done in error. You are not supposed to disturb people,” stated Kato.
He noted that a mining lease is granted when an exploration licence holder has conducted an environmental impact assessment, and also adequately compensated land owners.
Byenkya inquired whether it was accurate for Optima to create an impression that government had granted it the rock.
Kato responded that Optima misinterpreted government’s goodwill, explaining that during the exploration stage, the licencee is expected to ensure that community activities proceed uninterrupted.
The ex-boss explained that a prospecting licence runs for only a year, is non-transferable, non-renewable, and non-exclusive (licencee is not limited to any particular mineral).
Kato elaborated that an exploration licence is granted when a an entity adduces proof that the prospecting licence yielded fruit.
He said an exploration licence has a three-year duration and its goal is to ascertain whether there is an economically viable prospect.
Kato emphasised that this licence entails drilling and extracting samples which are subjected to laboratory analysis to establish scope and quantities to sustain mining.