Paramount Chief Kyungu of Karonga has warned government he will mobilise his subjects to force complete shutdown of Kayerekera Uranium Mining as well as oil exploration on Lake Malawi, arguing Malawians have not benefitted from the exploitation of their resources.
The chief’s warning comes after Paladin Energy Limited, owners of Kayerekera Uranium Mining (KUM), announced suspension of production on February 7 this year, citing poor prices of uranium on the world market.
But trucks are reportedly still taking out uranium oxide from the Kayelekera Mine in Karonga.
Kyungu told a mining stakeholders meeting in Lilongwe last week that moving of the uranium oxide from Kayelekera and oil exploration by British firm, Surestream, on Lake Malawi must stop forthwith.
The Paramount Chief warned that should government fail to do that, the people of Karonga were going to do it, according to delegates that attended the meeting last week in Lilongwe.
A source who attended the meeting said the Paramount Chief was annoyed that the nation is being exploited by companies that do not have the interests of Malawians at heart.
The source said Kyungu was angry and he reportedly told a government official at the meeting to tell whoever makes decisions to stop the continued moving out of uranium at Kayelekera and exploration of oil on the Lake Malawi.
The source said: “The Paramount Chief was not amused by developments that Paladin announced the closure but at the same time tonnes and tonnes of uranium oxide are being taken out.
“The chief warned he would be forced to mobilise the people of Karonga to block the trucks taking out uranium if government fails to do the needful. He said they would also stop the oil exploration on the lake if government fails to do it.”
Kyungu in an interview admitted attending the meeting, but could not give details as he was attending a meeting and he assigned his personal assistant Alexander Mboma to grant the Weekend Nation the interview.
Mboma, who also attended the mining stakeholders meeting, said Paramount Kyungu raised concerns at the meeting and urged government to go to Kayelekera and observe what is happening.
Mboma said: “They closed the mine claiming that they are not making profits, but they have continued to take out uranium. Where are they taking it to if it’s not profitable? It was on this basis the Paramount Kyungu wants this to stop.
“On the exploration of oil on the lake, the Paramount Chief also raised a concern that this should not continue because there are issues that have not been resolved. But the Paramount Chief never threatened to mobilise the people of Karonga to use force or be violent to force closure.”
But Minister of Mining John Bande in an interview this week said he has heard the concerns coming from the Paramount Chief on Kayelekera, and not for the first time, and he assured his ministry was going to engage the chief(s).
Bande said: “But the chiefs must realise that what Paladin is taking out from Kayelekera is stuff that was already dug. The fact that production was stopped did not mean everything was going to stop immediately, closure of such a big mining site is gradual.
“Paladin is simply cleaning up…I urge the chiefs to be free to engage us, but as government, we will engage them to make them understand the development.”
Bande said government understood Paladin’s position to suspend production because it was a fact that uranium world prices have gone down and no company could afford to operate on losses.
The minister disputed suggestions that Paladin might have made its profits, hence the closure, adding government is hopeful that if the world prices pick up, Paladin may continue with production. People of Karonga, backed by some opposition politicians, civil society groups and religious groups have been fighting Paladin for the mining company’s failure to fulfill several commitments it made.
Activists at one point also urged government to renegotiate its contract with Paladin amid wide views that the deal was not beneficial to the country.
But Paladin, which signed the contract in 2007 with the late president Bingu wa Mutharika’s administration, made it clear that the company was not ready to renegotiate the contract since Malawi already committed itself to only review the contract after 10 years.
A United Nations (UN) special rapporteur on the Right to Food Olivier de Schutter, who visited Malawi in July 2012, said Malawi was losing out on Kayelekera through tax incentives.
Malawi, which owns a 15 percent shareholding in Kayelekera, offered Paladin tax waivers on plant and equipment among other taxes and Paladin was yet to start paying taxes after operating in the country for over five years.