About 25 kilometers outside Moroto Town, along the Moroto-Mukitale Road that leads to one of the Kenyan borders, is a limestone mining site located precisely in Katikitile Parish in Tapac Sub-County.
In the early 2000s, the site was abuzz with activity. "The entire sub-county of Tapac used to work here," says Mr. Lokiru Sisto Dodoth, the Gombolola Internal Security Organization Officer (GISO). Locals set-up camp at the site which was busy with life. Work at the cement mining site was the main source of livelihood for majority of the residents. Today, however, only a handful of locals work at the mines.
"Then, about 60 - 80 trucks used to collect limestone daily," Mr. Lokiru says. The limestone site which sits on over 49 square kilometers is one of two licensed mining areas Tororo Cement owns. The vast site is dotted with heaps of limestone boulders waiting to be collected. Some of the limestone heaps has been there for over a year without being bought, according to the Mr. Lokiru added. Despite this and the very hot sun, youthful men continue to toil; breaking huge boulders with sledge hammers and loosening others with crow bars. An elderly man, probably in his 70s, with the help of a cane, limps around a heap of boulders as he keeps a keen eye to ensure the young men nearby do not steal them. We are told the old man is waiting for his sons to come and start working on cement boulders.
At a distance, is a heavy duty grader owned by Tororo Cement that makes the work lighter. The grader digs-up the huge boulders loosening them for the miners to work on. You could be forgiven for likening the area as a labour camp. This work is "no-walk-in-the-park" assignment; yet the laborers often spend many months without pay.
"These days only about 9 or 10 trucks come for limestone," says the GISO. He adds that this is further worsened by the poor state of the access roads to the mines, which complicates the ease of reaching the limestone markets. Consequently, limestone business in the area is very low and no longer lucrative for workers.
"When a truck comes to collect limestone, the obvious priority is put on the boulders closest to the access road. This also determines the ease and pace at which the 15ton or more boulders are loaded," says Mr. Nathan Mushetsya, the Regional Inspector of Mines in the district.
There is a perception among the local residents of a conspiracy among truck drivers to marginalize the Tepeth tribe by preferring to load limestone collect by other tribes, thus depriving the Tepeth income. This perception is confirmed by the assertion of Mr. Lomel Peter, the Local Council 3 (LC3) Chairperson of Tapac Sub-County. "Our people are not given work; Truck drivers prefer to buy from other tribes, so locals do not get market and therefore income for their limestone,"
Mr. Thomas Lomel, a 35-year old worker says "he has worked at the site for seventeen years, but he has not benefited anything". A father of seven, he is worried that after many years of toiling, his energy is dwindling and he fears he might not be able to fend for his family soon. He says, the income generation option available, which is agriculture is unfortunately a distant consolation.
The Mr. Lokiru reported that the region has not had meaningful agricultural produce in the last five years, because of adverse weather conditions. A record five-year drought hit the region in 2009 and its effects have continued to be felt to this day.
During a meeting with a team from Oil in Uganda at Tapac Sub-County headquarters, the Local Council officials blamed Tororo Cement for their financial woes and predicament.
"Every time we call the Tororo Cement Officials to meet with us to discuss our problems related with limestone mining, the officials refuse to come to the meetings", Mr. Lomel said. He asked the Oil in Uganda team to help them meet with the Tororo Cement Officials, because "they as affected resident have failed to achieve this" he added.
Mr. Mushetsya, during an extractives stakeholders' workshop organized by Action Aid Uganda, reported that he had met some of the officials of Tororo Cement Factory who informed him that they had selected a Liaison person at the district to link the affected residents with the factory. However, Mr. Lomel said that "the liaison person had not been of any help to the residents'.
The officials said "Tapac's woes, unsurprisingly, include royalty related issues". Bona-fide landowners where limestone is being extracted have never received their share of royalties remitted by Tororo Cement factory to the Central Government as provided in the Mining Act 2003", the officials added. Landowners where mining activities are conducted are entitled to 3% of the total royalties paid by a mineral prospector as per the law. Instead, the royalty money was being sent to another sub-county through the Community Development Officer. The landlords reported that this issue has since been rectified and they are in final stages of registering an association through which they will be receiving their royalty money.
Mr. Paul Omonuk, the Production Officer of Tapac Sub-Country claimed that the sub-county does not receive the 7% of royalty as provided in the Law. He also asserted that the district restricts the sub-county's use of the 7% royalty money remitted to the district claiming that at one time they wanted to buy a vehicle to ease their movements, but the district refused them to do so. However, this claim was refuted by Mr. Mushetsya who informed the participants at the workshop that the Sub-County has authority and mandate to use the royalty money as per their development plans. He explained that the district leadership cannot dictate how the Sub-County uses the money, because they held accountable.
The Oil in Uganda team also learnt that Tororo Cement pays Ug.shs7,000 per truck that leaves the limestone mines. But, this money never reached the sub-county. It was later discovered that Mr. John Bosco Moru, the former Sub-County Chief, used to receive the money and use it for personal interests without the knowledge of the community. Mr. Moru was subsequently dismissed upon the discovery of his illicit conduct.
Based on the submissions of the workshop participants, they suggest that there is an information gap between Tapac Sub-county and Moroto Local Government that is responsible for the unease between the two parties. There is need for timely sharing of accurate information between the two parties.
Tororo Cement sets Record Straight
The Tororo field office is located in Kosiroi about 5 kilometers from the limestone mines. While there, the Oil in Uganda team spoke to the site manager, Mr. Kennedy Akenda together with a few other staffs who were disappointed with the accusations being leveled at Tororo Cement Factory by the Tapac Community members
Mr. Akenda explained that "the miners' predicament regarding low business volume as a result of reduced number of trucks ferrying limestone was attributed to a Uganda National Roads Authority (UNRA) directive to the reduce the number of truck plying the route and the tons ferried to avoid continued spoilage of the roads". He added that "the other factor responsible for the low business volumes was the profitability of ferrying fewer tons of limestone: truck owners found it not profitable to ferry only 11 tons of limestone over a distance of 300kms and consume more than 250 liters of fuel, so many truck owners opted out of the business and put their vehicles to other use" Kennedy said. "The distance from Moroto to the factory in Tororo is over 300km. It does not make business sense to ferry low tonnage of limestone and a high transport cost" Kennedy added. He informed the Oil in Uganda team that "the factory was expanding and setting-up another plant; "maybe then
Mr. Akenda further explained that they were instructed by Tapac officials to withhold payments on truck royalties until the mess created by the former Sub-County Chief is sorted. Once the Tapac officials give the factory clearance to remit the royalty money, they will do so accordingly, because they have clear records.
This explanation from the officials of the factory notwithstanding, the Tapac leaders are determined to pursue the matters until they get what belongs to them as benefits. They warned the factory from bringing their own labour force to mine the limestone, arguing that the community members are ready to mine and sale the limestone to the factory.
The Tapac leader reported that they are in negotiations with Tororo Cement over a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) that will guide their relationships.