Tarime THE Minister for Energy and Minerals, Prof Sospeter Muhongo is scheduled on TODAY to visit local communities surrounding North Mara Gold Mine. "The minister will arrive here TODAY morning for an official working tour. He will visit the villages located near North Mara Gold Mine and later speak to various stakeholders on the same day," acting Tarime District Executive Director, Mr Bakarani Urio told a packed full council meeting that met to elect the new vice- chairman of the district council on Saturday. The minister's tour to the villages near the mine was also confirmed by Mara Regional Administrative Secretary (RAS), Mr Clementi Rujaji. This is the first working tour Prof Muhongo will make in North Mara mine communities since he was appointed by President Jakaya Kikwete to head the ministry a few months ago. The minister will talk to Tarime district authorities and councillors among other stakeholders, according to officials. "We will tell minister about challenges facing us openly and we trust that he will be helpful," said Nyamwaga ward councillor, Mr Joseph Nyagare who was elected the new vice- chairman for the council. North Mara Gold Mine has been experiencing frequent attacks from the local villagers, mainly intruders in the past years. The conflicts led to the signing of a 10 million US dollars (about 16bn/-) agreement in the form of Village Benefits Implementation Agreement (VBIA) with the aim of improving social services in the villages around the mine late last year. Signing of VBIA and other initiatives like supply of clean water to residents free of charge on a daily basis, among other things, has greatly helped to improve the relationship between the mine and local communities, according to local leaders. However, people intruding the mine to steal gold sand remains a major challenge facing the mine's operations in the area. The Canadian miner has been forced to construct a multimillion wall fence in a bid to protect its property. The area's artisanal miners are requesting support from the mining company to embark on meaningful production. North Mara is one of the largest gold mines operated by ABG, a giant Canadian gold mining company in Tanzania. ABG has 1,073 workers at North Mara mine site and 2,500 more workers employed by mine contractors, mainly hailing from the surrounding villages, according to latest figures.