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Watchdog Criticizes DRC Mining Contract Review


A new report by the London-based watchdog group Global Witness says a Democratic Republic of Congo government review of mining contracts is inadequate and lacks transparency. From VOA's West and Central Africa bureau in Dakar, Selah Hennessy reports Congo government ministers say the process is being done correctly.

Global Witness analyst Carina Tertsakian describes the group's report.

"The briefing paper is a critique of the process of the review, highlighting a number of problems, in particular the lack of transparency about the whole process, the lack of public information, and the very very short time-frame in which the commission is carrying out the review of the contracts," Tertsakian said.

A Congo government commission was set up in April to review mining contracts signed between the state and private companies during the country's decade-long civil war. The review is scheduled to be completed this month.

Commission head, Congo Vice Minister for Mines Victor Kasongo says the review is being done properly.

"The review that we are doing, we are accepting the need to do the proper work and the need to look at the issues," Kasongo said.

He says the process has been transparent.

"All the contracts are on the net, anybody can see the existing contracts. And the new contracts have been publicized. So what else can we do?" Kasongo asked.

Congo has vast supplies of copper, tin, gold, diamonds, and one-third of the world's cobalt.

During the course of a chaotic, decade-long civil war, numerous contracts were signed between arbitrary leaders and foreign mining companies. Many of those contracts are now shrouded in obscurity, with few details available about how much companies paid for the contracts, and to whom.

The director of the Britain-based non-government organization Rights and Accountability in Development, Patricia Feeney, says the contracts are highly exploitative.

She says excessive profit goes to large, multi-national companies and a handful of Congolese politicians, while very little goes to the Congolese people.

"They are living on something like 30 cents a day, most of them have no access to health, the schools are not running properly in most places-there is a desperate need of so many things in that country, and yet huge fortunes are being made by some, but at the cost of misery in the Congo," Feeney said.

She says if the government in Kinshasa does not show a serious commitment to ending corruption in the mining industry, it risks a violent backlash.

"Some of the people who work in the mines are former soldiers in either the Congolese armed forces or rebel armies, and they still are armed and they could pose a serious threat to social order and social cohesion," Feeney said.

She says the review could be an important step for the DRC, but she fears the commission may use it to free up contracts, only to re-engage in new, equally corrupt deals.

"You are sweeping away one lot only to allow another who are willing to cut deals," Feeney said.

China signed an agreement last month to loan the DRC $5 billion to develop its transport facilities and mining industry.

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