The government has suspended the Commissioner of Mines Moses Masibo and revoked all the mining licences issued since January.
Among the affected firms is the Cortec Kenya Ltd which recently announced a Sh44 billion investment plan after receiving a nod from the National Environmental Management Authority (Nema) to mine niobium and rare earth metals in Mrima Hill, Kwale County.
The mining firm announced two weeks ago that it had found deposits of rare earth worth $62.4 billion in the coastal county, making it one of the top five rare earth deposits in the world. Niobium deposits in the area are estimated to be worth $35 billion.
“Any licence issued between January 14 and May 15 is hereby revoked immediately as we review each case to determine their nature and benefit to the country,” Mining Cabinet Secretary Najib Balala said at a press briefing in Nairobi on Monday.
He accused Mr Masibo of flouting laid down procedure in awarding licences to well-connected companies.
Among the revoked licences, 31 of them were issued in the last half of the January – just after Parliament was dissolved ahead of the March 4 election. The Constitution requires the ministers’ approval and parliamentary vetting of mining licences.
On Monday, Mr Balala said the licensing frenzy went on up to May 15 when the newly appointed Cabinet secretaries took up offices.
“In the absence of Cabinet and Parliament, no decision could be made at the time,” Mr Balala said.
The ultimate fate of the investors who received licences since January will however be known in the next 60 days after a taskforce, headed by lawyer Mohamed Nyaoga, has reviewed each case.
The seven-man team appointed on Monday by Mr Balala will assess the validity of each licence, draft a recommendation and make a report that will inform the mining ministry’s decision, Mr Balala said.