Controversy engulfs tantalum mine in Oromia

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Officials of the Guji Zone in the Oromia Regional State has denied plans of transferring the Kenticha Tantalum Mine to youth associations saying that it was “merely an idea to entertain rather than an actionable plan” and that it had no intention of depriving the federal Mining, Petroleum and Biofuel Corporation off its mining concession and processing facility.

However, according to the head of the zonal administration, Tilahun Warda, the youth residing in the surrounding of the Tantalum Mine are posing series question as to their benefits from the natural resource and said that as long as the Corporation is willing to address this demand, there will be no problem.

“The demand from the youth is not the same as it was a year or two before,” Tilahun told The Reporter in phone interview, and the corporation will face no problems as long as it cooperates with the zonal administration and the youth to address these demands. “The plan to add value to the tantalum products instead of just selling the raw extract, for example, is a good move by the government as it will create more jobs to the youth,” Tilahun added.

However, Tilahun cautioned that the zonal administration will be forced to consider other ways to cater to the demands if the Corporation fails to address the demands of the youth.

Nevertheless, the zonal head did not deny the closure of the Kenticha Tantalum Mine. But, he attributed the cause to its impacts on the environment; and the fact that it was executed by the order of the region’s environmental protection authority.

Hassan Yousuf (PhD), head of the region’s Forest, Environmental Protection and Climatic Change Authority, on his part, told The Reporter that the Plant was not closed but was ordered to suspend operations because of the threat posed by the dam that the Corporation built to hold water for the use in the mining process. The dam is full of water and it is becoming a threat to the people around it, he said.

The dam was reported to have killed people and animals, previously.

“The Corporation has been saying that it has no financial capacity to avert the risk and that led to the decision to suspend the plant. However, it has nothing to do with the region’s plans to create jobs for the youth,” Hassan argued further.

Nevertheless, a couple of days ago, both officials went on record on the regional broadcaster, the Oromia Broadcasting Network (OBN), about the closure of the Mine and plans to partially transfer the concession to the youth.

The Corporation’s Communications Head, Bulti Wudajo, on his part, confirmed that the Mine has halted production beginning mid-November and the government had decided to provide a budget for the improvement of the said hazardous dam that created fear among the residents.

He also told The Reporter that the dam has not been full as indicated by the zonal authorities and the closure of the Mine is not related to the dam but to “a previous plan to transfer it to the youth”. Bulti also said that considering the issue of job creation, the Corporation has budgeted some three million birr annually, beginning from this year having secured the go-ahead from its board.

This job creation alternative offered by the Corporation was totally rejected by the zonal administration, according to the Communications Head.

Efforts by the Ministry of Mining, Petroleum and Natural Resources to bring reconciliation to situation have born no fruit thus far, Bulti told The Reporter. He also said, the request made by the Corporation to the regional government for further discussion is yet to be accepted.

On top of that, a recent decision passed by the Ministry of Public Enterprises (MoPE) to partially privatize the Kenticha Tantalum Mine and the bid it has floated to that effect was reported to have created confusion among officials of the Region and the Corporation.

Although the bidding process is scheduled to be complete by April, the Corporation still expresses its concern regarding the possible complications that might arise in face of the intended transfer.

However, Wondafrash Assefa, Communications Head of the Ministry of Public Enterprises, don’t believe that there will be any problem to the bidding process.

Transfer to regional authorities can take effect if and only if the federal government gives its go-ahead, according to Wondafrash.

“As the Corporation is licensed by the Ministry of Mining, Petroleum and Natural Resources and as it is a legally recognized body to extract and process the mineral in the area, it is impossible to revoke its holdings,” he added.


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