Mota-Engil, Paladin Africa Limited’s mining contractors at Kayelekera uranium mine in Karonga, has differed with Paladin Energy Limited by declaring that a former employee who lost sight because of exposure to radiation, has been shunning medical examination.

Abraham Siliwonde started suffering eye problems in July 2012 having worked at spotting of Kayelekera Uranium mine where he guided dumpers carrying high-grade uranium ore where to drop it. He said he could feel heat from heaps of ore and the following day he would feel like he has malaria and pass yellowish urine.

After several visits to Kayelekera mine clinic, Siliwonde was referred to Karonga District Hospital where he was further referred to Mzuzu Central Hospital in November 2012. Mzuzu Central Hospital referred him to the Lion’s Sight First Eye hospital at Kamuzu Central Hospital.

In a report dated April 15 2013 and released after examining Siliwonde, Dr J Msosa, Chief Ophthalmologist at the eye hospital, said “the vitritis (posterior uveitis) may indeed be due to exposure to radiation. It is well known that all radioactive substances can cause radiation retinopathy which appears like posterior uveitis.”

However, after our sister paper The Sunday Times published the story on May 19, Paladin Energy Limited Managing Director John Borshoff said their review of the claims disproved the quoted medical reports.

“Paladin has reviewed these claims with internal safety and radiation specialists and by a recognised external radiation expert,” reads the statement released on May 30 in part.

“It has also analysed all routinely collected radiation monitoring data which was collected in accordance with its standing work procedures during the above period including substantial personal monitoring data from the individual involved.
“The results of this review show that the individual received a radiation dose well below the annual radiation dose limit for workers as stipulated by international radiation protection agencies. Our experts have concluded that the contractor’s loss of sight is unrelated to his low-level radiation exposure.”

But in a letter dated June 11, 2013 to Centre for Human Rights and Rehabilitation (CHRR), from whom Siliwonde sought assistance, Mota-Engil says their former employee refuses to undergo medical examinations.

“We have on numerous occasions made contact with Mr Siliwonde that he should undergo exit medical examinations but he has declined to come forth citing that you are his representatives and as such we should proceed with the request through your good office,” reads the letter signed by Project Manager Blake Mhatiwa.

“We have to mention that the requirement for both entry and exit medical examinations is in respect of all employees of Mota-Engil on the various sites and not unique to Mr Siliwonde only.

“As such we trust you will make arrangements to have Mr Siliwonde present himself for exit medical examinations otherwise we shall be minded to involve the Labour Commissioner’s Office to assist in the matter without prejudice to our seeking an order from the court of law to compel Mr Siliwonde to avail himself for the medical examination.”

Siliwonde said he learnt about his firing on returning from Mzuzu Central Hospital in November, adding that his former employers never followed up on his situation until the story was published.

CHRR Project Officer Luke Tembo wondered why Mota-Engil seems concerned about the issue now citing what Siliwonde told them.

“We will seek evidence that there was contact before the matter was published because all indications are that the contact was after publication. We want to know why that was the case,” said Tembo.

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ZIMENE MUMAKONDA

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