Artisanal and Small-Scale Miners (ASMs) have received a reprieve after the government announced the opening of the Sh60 million Voi Gemstone Value Addition Centre in Taita Taveta county.
The multi-million facility has been lying idle since its construction in 2017. The project is among President Uhuru Kenyatta's campaign pledge to residents during the last General Election.
Speaking while touring the facility on Thursday, Petroleum and Mining Principal Secretary Andrew Kamau said the department will issue an order this week to operationalise the facility as the government continues to provide with more equipment to the centre.
He said the facility will immediately start sealing of gemstones for export to prevent dealers from travelling to Nairobi for the services. The minerals are jointly sealed by officers from both the State Department for Mining and the Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA) after the consignment has been tested, valued and royalties paid to the government.
"We will issue the instructions this week so that the services can start here. We do not have to wait to do everything at the same time. We will start with what is available as we continue bringing in more equipment," he said.
He said the government will provide more cutting and polishing machines, bead making machines, safe deposit boxes, laboratory equipment and more booths for traders.
"They have requested for six more trading booths which will be provided before the end of this financial year. The main purpose of this facility is to provide a conducive environment for artisanal and small-scale miners to sell their gemstones," he said .
He said the gemstone industry has a big potential in terms of generating revenue to the government and improving the lives of the miners and the community in the region.
The government has projected to earn Sh3 billion annually as revenue from export of gemstones from the county through the facility.
"The problem is that our stones are being smuggled out of the country making it difficult for government to get revenue. We are trying to find out what are the issues involved so that we can resolve them," he said.
The PS will also tour gemstone mines in Mkuki, Alia and Kamtonga areas.
In future, the management has planned to establish an open air market where small and low value gemstones will be displayed for sale.
In February, the National Development Implementation Technical Committee led by Tourism Principal Secretary Sabina Kwekwe recommended the operationalisation of the centre to enable the miners to use it as they await for the official opening by President Uhuru Kenyatta.
A committee to oversee the operation of the centre has already been gazzeted. The committee has proposed rates for a number of services to be offered at the facility.
"We have forwarded the proposed rates to the ministry for gazzetment," said the facility's manager Edward Omito.
Mr Omito said they needed jewellery making machines and more trading booths at the centre.
Currently, the centre has five booths which have been taken up by gemstone mining associations from Taita Taveta and Kwale counties.
The facility also has a banking hall and a restaurant.
"The restaurant has already been taken up. Stakeholders have proposed to have an agent to act on behalf of banks," he said.