THE Deputy Minister for Energy and Minerals, Stephen Masele, on Wednesday made an unexpected working tour of villages adjacent to the North Mara Gold Mine to verify whether the mine is implementing its promises to the local communities.
"No one was aware including the mine management that the minister was coming until he arrived in Mara Region," highly placed sources in the minister's entourage told the 'Daily News' on Thursday morning.
But, within a short period of his arrival, the deputy minister was accompanied by some Tarime government officials, local leaders and the Mine's General Manager, Mr Gary Chapman, among other officials.
He inspected several multi-million community projects being funded by African Barrick Gold (ABG) which operates the mine. The projects included construction of new public primary schools in Matare and Nyangoto which are being moved from areas close to the mine, in a bid to create a friendly learning environment for pupils.
After completion, every school will have 15 classrooms, administration blocks, libraries, eight teachers' houses, modern playing grounds, among other things. The schools are tipped to become the best public primary schools in Northern Tarime District upon completion.
He also inspected expansion of Ingwe Community Secondary School where he was impressed with renovations of two staff houses, construction of eight new teachers' houses, a dining hall, a library and laboratories for chemistry, physics, geography and biology.
At the same site he witnessed four new classrooms being built, two office blocks and a modern toilet for teachers and students. Kiribo Construction Ltd, a local company has been awarded a tender by the mine to expand the secondary school which is located in the outskirts of Nyamongo town.
"I have come after hearing speculations that ABG was not implementing what it has pledged to the villages, but now I have personally seen what is taking place and this is excellent work, this should be emulated by other gold mines like Buzwagi," the deputy minister said shortly after inspecting the projects that are executed by local contractors, a move that is aimed to promote local businesses as well as creating more job opportunities in the area.
The deputy minister also commended the mine for donating 20 beds, 60 mattresses, 120 bed sheets at Sungusungu health centre, which has also undergone major rehabilitation at the cost of about 350,000 US dollars coughed by the mining company.
The mine is also supporting the public health institution be connected to the national power grid. Late last year, the mine signed a deal with the seven neighbouring villages dubbed Villages Benefits Implementation Agreements (VBIA), whose implementation has witnessed the Canadian miner pouring millions of shillings to finance community projects in the villages in recent months.
Local leaders, ordinary people and Tarime district authorities have hailed the deal predicting that it will help make frequent conflicts between the mine and the local communities a thing of the past. ABG Vice-President for Corporate Affairs, Mr Deo Mwanyika told a press conference at the North Mara Mine site recently that the mining company will fully implement the VBIA within the next three years.