A Chinese firm carrying out commercial sand extraction has defied orders to suspend its operations in the buffer zone around Lake Birinzi.
Last month, Bukakata Sub County leaders and the greater Masaka Regional Environment Police closed down one of the company’s sand mining sites located in Nakigga wetland, Makonzi parish, in Masaka district, on grounds that it was causing environmental destruction.
Aloysius Jjuuko, the Bukakata sub-county chairperson, led a team of local leaders and environment protection police personnel that raided the sand mining site, where they ordered the workers to stop their operations for allegedly operating illegally.
Despite the orders to close, QQ Company Limited has continued with its operations, and huge ditches have already been created by the machinery that is being deployed for the work.
Joseph Jjuuko, the Chairperson of the Area Land Committee for Bukakata Sub County, says that local leaders have twice been denied access to the mining sites, ever since they raised a red flag about the company’s operations that are destructive to the environment.
“They instead brought more machinery on site and have since created an alternative access route, which is now restricted to the local community, including leaders,” he says.
Jjuuko also accuses the company of purposefully failing to report to local leadership and of failing to comply with the request to present its environmental impact assessment report.
Aloysius Jjuuko indicates that he has recently made two unsuccessful attempts to return to mining sites after he was denied access by the security guards. According to him, the mining company was initially licensed to operate in Lwera on the side of Kalungu district, but they extended their operation into Masaka without the knowledge of the local authorities.
He accuses that company of encroaching on a vital water catchment area for Lake Birinzi, which also links directly to Lake Victoria. He alleges that the leaders are instead getting threats from some agents who caution them against frustrating the project.
Jjuuko indicates that they have now considered seeking the intervention of the Ministry of Water and Environment, arguing that should they fail to reign over the ongoing sand mining activities, the leaders may be prompted to incite the local communities to raise up against the company.
January Kusiima, the officer in charge of the Greater Masaka Regional Environmental Police, says he is going to deploy personnel at the mining site to ensure that the operations stop. He says that he visited the mining site and established that the company was not compliant with environmental conservation and had never been granted permission to operate in the area.
One of the personnel manning the sand mining site, who identified himself as Patrick Masereka, says that the place is out of bounds to any strangers, arguing that issues of their permission are high-level discussions.