Mbeya — Minerals minister Dotto Biteko on Monday ordered the executive secretary of the Minerals Commission, Prof Shukrani Manya, to suspend 13 mineral officers based in Chunya District over allegations of conspiring with owners of gold smelting plants to smuggle out the minerals.
Addressing small miners at Chunya Council Hall, Mr Biteko said even though the region was the second in gold production in the country, some of it was being smuggled out and that dealers did not pay their due royalties to the government.
He alleged that the district minerals officers have been conspiring with unscrupulous miners to smuggle out gold, alleging further that the experts have been falsifying the figures of gold production.
"Chunya District is leading in gold smuggling, and they do this with the help of our experts. Let me warn owners of gold smelters, your machinery will be confiscated and your capital nationalized, and all those officers who are part to these shoddy deals will have their employment terminated. We're ready to bring in new officers from the ministry to take over, and during that time the office will be placed under the regional office," said Mr Biteko.
"How come small miners evade tax? They only pay 7 per cent of tax coming from minerals, while large miners pay 93 per cent," he explained further.
Mr Biteko also ordered owners of gold smelting plants in Chunya District to file to the regional office reports of the past two years showing their clients, insisting that anyone who would not cooperate would have their licences revoked.
Earlier, the minister ordered Ntolah Gold Elusion smelting plant suspended because the owner failed to give a report on his clients before the minister.
"I'm informed that this plant produces 30 kilograms, and I'm informed that this was done on March 23, this year but worse enough my officers are not aware of any reports on gold smelting, I feel that I'm being cheated on here. So, experts give the correct figures, I direct the regional and district security committees to ensure that no gold is taken out of this plant," said Mr Biteko.
Apart from issuing the order, he also directed that the plant manager, known only by one name as Mussa, should be arrested for failing to explain the loss.
For his part, Mbeya Regional Commissioner Albert Chalamila suggested that it was high time a special task force was formed to tackle gold smuggling.
He said: "According to reports from the defence and security committee, it is important to involve neighbouring regions of Singida, Mbeya, Songwe and Tabora by forming a task force to help contain the problem. It's not possible that Chunya District only produced 114 kilogrammes per year and that at times a day may pass by without any gold being obtained. We won't accept this."
A small miner from Sangambi Ward, Mr John Mbwilo, said that the challenge they were facing was the fact that middle level miners were holding many mining lincences sitting idle while they had none while the former had no opportunity.
Mr Mbwilo suggested that the ministry should set a limit of numbers of mining licences that a miner can hold in each area, something the Mr Biteko admitted was a problem and that his office was planning to revoke 1,864 licences because owners have not developed the areas for which the permits were issued.
Mbeya regional chairman of miners, Mr Leonard Nyumanyesha, said following measures taken by the ministry against gold smelting plants; it was obvious that there were some shoddy dealing going on, including smuggling.