Firms blacklisted for illegal mineral tagging
Five Rwandan mining companies have been blacklisted for illegally tagging minerals. Four were suspended locally, by the Geology and Mines Department (GMD), while another, has been blacklisted on the international market by the International Tin Research Institute (ITRI).
ITRI is a London based institution which regulates mineral tagging and malpractices in the sector.
The identity of the four companies blacklisted locally have not been released, but African Primary Tungsten company (APT) is the firm that was blacklist by the international institute.
GMD also suspended eleven APT agents for the same reason.
GMD and ITRI currently co-operate to implement the mineral tagging scheme known as the ‘ITSCi Traceability and Due Diligence System’, which is designed to address concerns of illegal trading of ‘conflict minerals’, particularly from Eastern and Central Africa. The conflict minerals include coltan, cassiterite, gold and wolframite, all of which are mined in Rwanda.
The four blacklisted local companies are currently serving a six-month ban from all mining activities, officials said. They will later resume after aligning their operations with the set standards. Their ban begun in January this year.
The ban on APT, one of Rwanda’s largest taxpayers, follows a series of investigations, including photographic evidence, showing workers from the company as well as those from Semico Ltd, in the act of illegally tagging minerals at ATP’s compound in Gikondo, Kigali.
“Tagging minerals in a company’s compound is illegal; all tagging activities are supposed to be done at the mining site, as part of the traceability scheme to identify the origin of specific minerals and their chain of transportation all the way to the end user,” Joseph Mbaya, the iTSCi Project Manager said.
“We have agents who report to us all kinds of irregularities in the mining sector because we want this sector to improve and remain a top foreign exchange earner in the country.”
According to GMD officials, APT had over 70 tonnes of untagged wolfram in its warehouse and in order to export the quantity, the firm sought illegal assistance from Semico Ltd, who provided the tags.
“GMD provided tags to Semico which were meant for their minerals, but they instead sold them to APT and went on to help with the illegal tagging process,” the official said.
Mbaya said that although the minerals’ origin was unknown, he said in an interview that they could have been mined illegally from a mineral concession that did not belong to ATP.
“APT’s case is being followed by the Criminal Investigation Department,” Michael Biryabarema, the Director General of GMD, said.
“Following the suspension of APT on the international market, GMD decided to also suspend the issuance of tags to the company until CID investigations are concluded”.
In a meeting with over 80 representatives from the mining sector, Biryabarema strongly urged mining companies to be transparent and follow regulations, saying the behaviour by some companies was “inexcusable”.
Mining last year was one of the country’s biggest foreign exchange earners, fetching over $150 million.
“Therefore, whoever is caught in the act of using tags illegally, be it our staff or from companies, shall face the full force of the law. If we want to improve our sector and make it more vibrant, transparency is the way to go,” Biryabarema warned.
“I appreciate the work of those companies that employ proper mining procedures, who protect the land and the rivers. Such good practices have enabled the sector to improve its profitability. To keep it this way, we shall be ruthless in enforcing the law and good mining procedures”.
In his defence, Jean Paul Higiro, the owner of APT, said that both ITRI and GMD were not disseminating relevant information about the use of tags to the mining companies and that APT had not been fully informed about the repercussions.
APT was named in 2009 by Rwanda Development Board as the best company in the mining sector.
This year, police seized two tonnes of untagged minerals in Rusizi, 6 tonnes in Rubavu, as well as three tonnes in Karongi, all located in the Western province.
The mineral tagging scheme in Rwanda began in 2010, following an American legislation signed by Barack Obama on July 21, 2010, which required electronics companies to verify and disclose their sources of “conflict minerals”.
Although April 1, 2011 was set as the deadline for all countries to fully adopt the mineral tagging scheme, no country has met the deadline. Rwanda, however, led the pack with 85 percent of the scheme implemented by March 2011.
Contact email: ivan.mugisha[at]newtimes.co.rw