Mon, Oct 25, 2010 - Page 6 News List

Guinean mining sector needs huge clean-up: critics

AFP, CONAKRY

Multinational firms have fought for years to control Guinea’s enormous mineral wealth, leaving the future president with a totally corrupt sector to clean up, according to critics in civil society.

“We are the world’s second--largest bauxite producer, we have iron ore reserves envied by everybody, we have gold, diamonds, oil, etc, but we vegetate in misery. We lack even water and electricity,” said Mamadou Taran Diallo, president of the Guinean coalition of Publish What You Pay, a global initiative.

The next president “should carry out a clean-up,” Diallo said.

The presidential run-off, however, was postponed.

The first challenge is to sort out the contracts “negotiated under the table and rushed through” in recent years, notably under the transitional regime in power since January led by General Sekouba Konate, Diallo said.

“The transitional government was not at all responsible for signing mining contracts, but for organizing the elections. The two candidates have committed themselves to canceling all these contracts,” said Aziz Diop, the executive secretary of the National Council of Organizations of Civil Society.

Recently, “a contract signed with an American company to prospect for gas and oil offshore shocked a lot of Guineans. A front company acquired the rights to sell them again fast, in pure speculation,” Diop said, adding that Guinea had a “totally corrupt mining environment.”

“Chinese companies also are there, with their arsenal of corruption, to get at the iron and the bauxite under a barter system — ‘You give us your minerals and we will give you infrastructure,’” he added.

When Captain Moussa Dadis Camara led the junta, the regime was strongly criticized for signing a contract with the China International Fund, a few weeks before the massacre of 157 opposition protestors at a rally in Conakry in September last year. The agreement provided for investments worth 4.5 billion euros (US6.3 billion) in infrastructure.

Elsewhere, immense iron ore reserves in the Simandou Mountains in the southeast are the object of a ferocious struggle between mining giants.

These firms have promised gigantic investments: US$2.9 -billion from the Anglo-Australian Rio Tinto group associated with the Chinese firm Chinalco and US$2.5 billion from the Brazilian company Vale linked to a subsidiary of the Israeli Beny Steinmetz Group.

“In fact, these firms are at the stage of study and exploration. Guineans suspect some of them simply want to hold on to the reserves, the better to speculate on the market” in expectation of a rise in prices, Diallo said.

For this journalist, what awaits the next president is “a whole basketful of problems” because “each company now has its godfathers in the national administrative system, who help them to get by without respecting the regulations.”

“If he [the incoming president] takes the risk of destabilizing these mining companies, they in turn can destabilize his power,” Diallo said.

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