Democratic Republic of Congo will soon decide the fate of its contracts with six of the biggest mining firms there, putting an end to a much delayed review process, a deputy prime minister said on Friday.
Questions concerning six of Congo’s most lucrative mining partnership deals remained unresolved after talks between government negotiators and company representatives broke down late last year.
“The cabinet will decide as quickly as possible, because these are important economic questions for our country,” said Emile Bongeli, a deputy prime minister who also headed an interministerial panel that reviewed the mining deals.
The contract review was launched in early 2007 in an effort to boost the government’s stake in 61 agreements, most of which were signed during the chaos of a 1998-2003 war and a corruption-plagued post-war transitional government.
They include deals with AngloGold Ashanti, Banro, First Quantum, Gold Fields, Freeport-MacMoRan and Mwana Africa.
On Thursday, Deputy Mines Minister Victor Kasongo said the contract revisions put forward by the mining firms had been rejected, adding that the companies would now have six months to improve their proposals or risk cancellation of their contracts.
However, in an apparent effort to calm investors rattled by Kasongo’s statement, Bongeli said Congo’s cabinet of ministers could meet as early as the first week in May to make a final decision on the six deals.
“Even if some little problems still exist, these are contracts that are made to last… We think that there have been positive advances,” said Bongeli, Congo’s deputy prime minister for reconstruction.
“This reflects a longstanding but perhaps growing rift within the administration between those who just want to complete the review … such as Bongeli, and those who still want to hold out for more,” said Philippe de Pontet, analyst at Eurasia Group.
Congo’s mining-driven economy has crumbled this year as demand for copper, cobalt and other minerals, its primary foreign currency earner, has dried up as a consequence of the global economic crisis.