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State commissions County Artisanal Mining Committees to fight illegal mining operations

The government has started commissioning County Artisanal Mining Committees (AMCs) as a long-term reform strategy to enhance inter-governmental collaborations in the mining sector and curb the prevalence of illegal mining operations in Kenya.

During the first phase, AMCs from Machakos, Kitui, Makueni and Garrissa counties were commissioned and members issued with letters of appointment.

According to the Mining Act, these committees play a pivotal role in advising and offering guidance to the representatives of the Director of Mines on granting, renewing and revoking artisanal miners permits.

This means that mining investors’ applications will be considered and reviewed by the committees. Additionally, the AMCs will give priority to applications from artisanal miners’ marketing cooperatives.

Speaking in Kitui on Tuesday during the unveiling of AMCs members from the four counties, Mining Principal Secretary (PS) Elijah Mwangi termed the AMCs as critical elements at the heart of bringing sanity, order and transparency in the mining sector.

He explained that the committee will conduct extensive research on the mineral rights applicants as part of due diligence before granting or renewing licenses. This will ensure that only the deserving, and compliant applicants were granted the mineral rights.

“You are the team that will ensure that we don’t give or renew licenses for dodgy characters. You have powers to advise on whether the applicants be issued with licenses or not. This is the most critical in ensuring only the compliant investors are licensed to start mining operations,” said the PS.

The meeting was attended by national government officials led by the County Commissioner Kipchumba Ruto. The Kitui County government was represented by the Chief Officer for Lands, Mining and Environment Mr. Henry Nyamai.

The inclusion of the AMCs in the mineral rights licensing process has been hailed as the most sustainable approach for ridding the lucrative sector of the menace of illegal mining that have seen both national and county governments lose millions of shillings in non-payment of royalties as required by the law.

Because the membership of the committee is drawn from a wide-range of key agencies that operate locally at the county level, this localized approach will be the first line of defense in vetting and screening investors who express interest in mineral exploration.

Members of AMCs are drawn from the county government, National Environment Management Authority (NEMA), mining department, artisanal miners and security agencies amongst others.

Government has identified illegal mining operations as a serious threat facing the mining sector not only because of the wanton plunder of the country’s natural resources but also because of the security risk posed by unregulated mining activities.

Other societal vices associated with illegal mining include child labor, prostitution, brewing and sale of illicit liquor, theft and even murder.   Due to their unregulated nature, illegal mining zones have become avenues of conflict sometimes with tragic outcomes including deaths or severe injuries.

However, the operationalization of AMCs is being viewed as the long-overdue solution to the challenges posed by unregulated mining. Apart from the AMCs conducting continuous monitoring and surveillance of mining operations within their regions, the committees will also be responsible for ensuring that no license is issued to mine in a zone already delineated and marked for another mining applicant.

“We have the mining online cadastre that shows whether an area is taken or not. This committee will not issue licenses on an area already taken. By avoiding double-allocation of mining zones, this helps eliminate conflicts,” explained the PS.

As part of a sustained campaign to reform the sector, the government has already shut down over 1,200 illegal mining operations.

A comprehensive audit of mining licenses has also been undertaken to enforce compliance with the conditions. This is after revelations that unscrupulous investors were engaged in active mining while they had only been issued with a prospecting license.

The PS pointed out such schemes will not be tolerated and asked the AMCs to ensure that the licenses requested for matched the operations.

“Prospecting is different from mining. Those who engage in mining should have the proper documents,” he said.

Kitui County Lands Chief Officer Mr. Henry Nyamai said involvement of county government and members of local mining communities in the licensing process will strengthen compliance in the sector.

He said that both the counties and the national government had stakes in the mining sector owing to the potential of increased revenue from mining.

“The AMCs will be the guardians at the county level. They will ensure that mining operations have complied with the law,” he said.

By Wagema Mwangi

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