Kitui County residents are anxiously waiting for coal mining to kick off after a negotiated contract between the Government and a Chinese company was signed on Monday.
The much awaited signing was witnessed by hundreds of people at Musila Gardens in Mwingi town where Energy and Petroleum Cabinet Secretary Davis Chirchir led his colleagues Najib Balala (Mining) and Henry Rotich (National Treasury) to the ceremony.
The contract is between the Government and Fenxi Mining Industry Group that won the tender to mine coal in blocks C and D of the Mui coal belt.
Other leaders who attended the ceremony include, former Vice-President Kalonzo Musyoka, governors Julius Malombe (Kitui), Alfred Mutua (Machakos) and parliamentary committee on energy led by Moyale MP Roba Duba.
The signing of the contract was however described by some as ‘hurried’. There is confusion from the locals after their representatives made a raft of recommendations they wanted incorporated in the Benefits Sharing Agreement (BSA) to safeguard their interests in the mining deal.
Curiously, those proposals are yet to be adopted as part of the contract agreement although the Government and the Chinese firm have given their commitment to adopt them before the mining starts.
Kitui Senator David Musila who chaired the technical committee that drafted the proposed amendments to the BSA told The Standard on Sunday that the community had nothing to worry about since the Government and the investor were committed to see their concerns addressed in the document.
“We have a written commitment from the Government and Fenxi that our proposals will be incorporated in the mining contract. We feel that that commitment is binding and my stand and that of the Governor (Mr Malombe) is that we cannot lead people into something that we have doubt in,” said Musila.
The committee that drafted the proposals and chaired by Musila included the Law Society of Kenya Chairman Eric Mutua who heads the community’s Liaison Committee, Mwingi Central MP Joe Mutambu in whose constituency the two coal blocks lie and a section of the Liaison Committee members. The Energy ministry was represented in the committee by Superintending Geologist, Joseph Ndolo.
The team was tasked to examine the contract and make recommendations that safeguard the interests of Mui basin and Kitui County residents. Some of the key issues the residents wanted clearly spelt out in the BSA revolves around displacement and resettlement from the project area as well as compensation when the actual mining starts.
But even as Musila gave assurance of a fair deal, Law Society of Kenya-Mwingi branch has poured scorn on the rushed signing of the contract, saying that the residents were likely to get a raw deal. In their statement, the lawyers decried the failure by Parliament to set up a legal framework to regulate the coal sector.
The lawyers noted that the Mui community had raised various concerns over the project whose fears had been brushed aside for unnecessarily dragging the project behind. They vowed to take legal action to address the grey areas in the deal. However, in a letter written to the Energy Cabinet Secretary, Mr Chirchir, Fenxi Company Vice-Chairman Yang Wusheng, said they were committed to discuss and adopt the proposed amendments and concerns before the mining.
“Fenxi will continue to work closely with the national and Kitui County governments and the political leadership of Mui basin community in addressing the issues raised. We will consult our legal and financial experts as we formulate responses to these issues whose response will also require the approval of the Attorney General,” Wusheng said, in his letter dated December 20.
He further noted that Fenxi would work with the Government and the local community to develop a Resettlement Action Plan that addresses the compensation and resettlement of the Mui residents who will be affected by the mining and related activities of the project.
Mr Wusheng said the adopted proposals would be added as an appendix to the already negotiated concession agreement between the Government and Fenxi. Governor Malombe, Kalonzo and Mutambu said they will put the investor under check to ensure the residents benefit from the coal project.