The government is set to generate in excess of Sh3 billion annually as revenue from value-addition to gemstones set for export from the country once Voi Gemology center is fully operationalized.
The National Development Implementation and Technical Committee (NDITC) said the facility which was handed over to the Ministry of Mining in 2017 by the contractor was ready for full-operationalization allowing the government to start earning revenue from the lucrative gemstone trade.
The NDITC was touring the Sh60 million facility on Saturday to assess the status and determine if the multi-million project center was ready for commissioning.
Ms. Safina Kwekwe, Principal Secretary (PS) for Tourism, said there was no reason the center should not start processing gemstones even as the concerned ministry finalized the modalities of official commissioning.
“The center has everything it requires to start cutting and processing gemstones for value addition. It needs to start doing what it was constructed to do because the government is missing out on its rightful share of revenue,” PS Kwekwe said.
The construction works for the Voi Gemstone Value Addition Center started in 2015 and ended in 2017. The government then equipped the facility in 2018 in readiness to start processing of raw gemstones.
However, there has been little progress in the processing of gemstones. One of the biggest obstacles was delay by the ministry of Mining to gazette the center’s management committee.
However, in early February, the committee was gazetted paving way for dealers and miners to be allocated mining booths.
Ms. Kwekwe stated that thousands of artisanal miners from all gemstone mining zones were eager to start selling their gemstones through the center as a way of making their labor meaningful.
“This center was built to assist the small-scale and artisanal miners get good prices for their gemstones and shield them from being exploited by brokers,” she pointed out.
Other PSs in the team included Harry Kimutai for Livestock, Nelson Marwa for Social Protection, Eng. Peter Tum for Labour and Ibrahim Mohammed for Defense.
PS Social Protection Nelson Marwa said the delays in making the center operational was hurting the artisanal miners who were still relying on exploitative brokers to sell their gemstones.
He called for fast-tracking of any pending issues within the department to allow miners access the facility.
“During the time the facility has not been working, miners are still digging and selling to brokers who buy cheaply. The center must start working to eliminate such exploitation,” he said.
According to the Ministry of Mining, Kenya loses millions of shillings during the exportation of raw gemstones. There is also a lot of smuggling of the precious stones from the mining areas which makes the government lose revenue.
Evans Masachi, the Director of Value Addition in the ministry of mining said the center is meant to legitimize the trade in gemstones and earn revenue for the government.
It would amongst others have a standardized procedure for export, documentation of minerals, gather data on production and export and conduct market surveys.
“This center will also be used as a model to train women, youth and other groups on the value-addition procedures that will make their mining activities lucrative,” he said.
He added that a survey on production and exportation data showed the center can generate an average of three billion shillings from trade of value-added gemstones.
Rev. David Zowe, the chairperson of Taita-Taveta County Artisanal Miners, termed the call to operationalize the center as long overdue saying his members were eager to use it.
He added that artisanal miners had borne the brunt of ruthless brokers who took advantage of lack of market to buy rare gemstones at throw-away prices.
“The center was constructed to allow the smallest of miners to get value for his product. We are happy this is happening now,” he said.
However, the NDITC expressed concerns over the surge in synthetic gemstones that were being manufactured in factories which threatened the market for genuine gemstones.
Mr. Edward Omito, the center manager, said there was an influx of factory-made gemstones in the country that risked destabilizing established markets for genuine stones.
“Some countries manufacture Tsavorite and other rare stones endemic to this region in their laboratories. This poses the risk of interfering with the market and there is a need for laws to regulate such products,” he said.
Ms. Kwekwe said the trade in fake gemstones in Kenya needed to be regulated by either amending existing laws on gemstone trade or by introducing new tariffs targeting the synthetic stones.
“That can be managed by looking at the existing laws and amending them to safeguard the Kenyan brand,” she said.
The center will serve other gemstone mining regions including Baringo, West Pokot, Kitui, Meru, Isiolo, Samburu and Turkana.
Currently, miners sell their raw gemstones in grams. With value addition, cut stones will be sold in carats which will generate more money for the miners.
However, the center requires more lapidary equipment estimated to cost over Sh20 million. They include a gemological microscope and spectrometer, XRF machine, UltraViolet Long Wave and Short-wave lamps and face lifting machines.
There will also be minimal structural upgrade which will cost Sh8.2 million. It will involve partitioning of booths, installation of safe boxes and strong rooms and installation of steel grills to secure windows and doors.
by Wagema Mwangi