The Special Parliamentary Committee formed by the House Speaker, Mr Job Ndugai, has initiated its mission of probing contracts, operations and export of tanzanite, which is a unique gemstone in the country.
The nine-man team, led by Chairman of the Parliamentary Committee for Energy and Minerals, Mr Doto Biteko started its tour of duty by meeting with local government leaders and artisanal miners at Mirerani small town hall, where it heard of their presentations, complaints as well as recommendations for the way forward.
Mr Biteko said they found it pertinent to listen to the smallscale miners as they (members of the committee) comprised people's representatives hence should take interest in getting what all stakeholders have to say on the matter.
The committee members, however, were compelled to move out of the meeting room to meet a mushrooming group of small-scale miners who gathered outside chanting and with posters that relayed different messages, centering on the need to amend the laws to favour the artisanal miners.
After listening to the miners, the committee visited Tanzanite One Mine offices and the mine site, where they held in camera meeting with representatives of the big company that conducts its activities along with State Mining Company (Stamico).
On forming the committee in June this year, Speaker Ndugai tasked it to investigate how much revenue tanzanite gives to the government's coffers, scrutinise its mining, contracts and exports. It is to gaze sketchily at the tanzanite business, including contracts signed between State enterprises and private firms.
Tanzanite is a blue gemstone that is only found and produced commercially in Tanzania, but it is said to earn little to the government. In their presentations, the artisanal miners complained of being oppressed by Tanzanite One while working underground, citing acts such as use of firearm and tear-gas canisters that have since affected many, killing several while others ended up with poor vision.
A lead miner from Gem & Rock Venture, Mr Charles Mnyalu told the delegation that he had been working at the area for a decade and it is common that violence ensues when it is felt that artisanal miners are about to fetch gemstones.
He told of the last two incidents that caused death and injuries, leading to their mine being closed by the Ministry of Energy and Minerals and the police. Mr Mnyalu called upon the lawmakers to amend the law so that mining is from now done in slanting position and not vertical - the way it is conducted now, saying it is not feasible.
He said small-scale miners were oppressed because they lack modern tools and are not armed, as opposed to the big company that he says employs even foreigners.
"We have been mining here for 10 years without any significant gain, but now we see light at the end of the tunnel - there is every prospect of getting the gemstone and overlapping starts and these big people use tear gas against small-scale miners who are underground.
We are so annoyed by them because they use their financial muscle to silence us with tear gas when we are about to beat our targets," claimed Mr Mnyalu.
Laisinyai Village Chairman, Mr Taiko Laizer said that conflicts between the two sides arise when minerals are about on sight, asking the committee to get a lasting solution before it is too late, adding that it would have serious adverse effects on people and property.
Another small-scale miner, Mr Musa Cornel said the situation in the mines was awful. Mr John Lyimo, who is evidence of the brutality as he was subjected to tear gas in the mine in April, this year, now has poor vision.
"We were invaded by guards while underground; they took away our torches and were ordered to lie down. After that we were bombed with tear gas. We were eleven and once we were up on the ground, we were held somewhere for three days. Such incidents are common when there are signs of getting gemstones," said Mr Lyimo.
Manyara Artisanal Miners Chairman, Mr Sadiki Mnene hailed the Parliamentary Committee for availing their time to listen to complaints and recommendations from stakeholders, but requested it to advise the Ministry of Energy and Minerals to send geologists and mineral experts, saying the gemstones are now deposited at extreme ends underground.
Chairman of the Special Parliamentary Committee, Mr Biteko expressed his concerns on what had befallen the miners but said his committee will not be giving recommendations or decisions on the spot, but rather present everything to the Speaker of Parliament.
He urged that the committee be given its time to work and everything will be sorted out in due course. Other members of the committee are Mr Mohammed Mchengerwa (Rufiji), Ezekiel Maige (Msalala), Adadi Rajabu (Muheza), Dr Mary Mwanjelwa (Special Seats), Subira Mgalu (Special Seats), Juma Hamad Omar (Ole), Ratifa Chande (Special Seats) and James ole Millya (Simanjiro).