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THE NEW SNAKE OIL? The violence, threats, and false promises driving rapid palm oil expansion in Liberia.


Global Witness

July 23, 2015

Urgent reforms needed to protect citizens and regulate plantation companies.

As Liberia emerges as a new frontier market for the cheapest, most popular vegetable oil globally, Liberians report being beaten, threatened, and arrested for taking a stand against one of the world’s biggest palm oil plantations in the southeast of the country.

State officials are said to be helping the palm oil company Golden Veroleum (GVL) harass communities into signing away their land and crush dissent. Global Witness reveals how GVL accelerated its operations at the peak of Liberia’s 2014 Ebola outbreak, holding meetings with hundreds of people and encouraging illiterate citizens to sign away their land rights when community support groups were staying home for risk of contagion. At this time GVL almost doubled the size of its plantation.

This behaviour hasn’t discouraged the world’s major banks from offering their services. Standard Chartered, HSBC, and Citibank alone hold shares in GVL’s parent company – Golden Agri-Resources (GAR) – worth nearly US$ 1.5 billion.

The case of GVL risks becoming the first chapter of a longer narrative of dispossession and abuse. Liberian President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf has made agriculture a central pillar of the country’s development strategy, making repeated – yet so far unfulfilled – public assurances that palm oil will lift poverty in rural areas. In response to early protests at GVL’s plantation she called those who spoke out against the company “unpatriotic” as they risked discouraging future investors.

Hear from communities about signing deals with GVL, called Memorandums of Understanding (MoUs).

GVL has bought the rights to convert 2,600 km2 of southeast Liberia into an oil palm estate – an area the size of London and Barcelona combined. Its contract is valid for up to 98 years, affecting some 41,000 people.

Public meetings where landowners were encouraged to hand over their land to GVL were watched over by powerful local officials, and in at least one case armed police. Global Witness also documents several accounts of violent assaults and arbitrary arrests of those who voiced their concerns.

The benefits offered by GVL to communities in return have been negligible. Those willing to work for the company are promised access to free medical support and schools. For non-employees, the most tangible negotiated benefits Global Witness could find evidence of were six toilets.

The violence and intimidation documented in Liberia parallels a disturbing global trend of increased attacks on human rights activists who protect the environment and defend their land. Activists are being killed in record numbers, threatened and criminalised for standing in the way of so-called ‘development’. 

Ten percent of Liberia is now earmarked for agricultural plantations – an area three times the size Beijing. This rapid expansion is taking place in a legal vacuum. There are no laws in Liberia to govern how agriculture companies should be awarded contracts, how they should operate, or how they will be held to account.

Global Witness is calling on Liberia’s government to investigate acts of violence, pass a law recognising that rural communities own their land, and regulate the country’s agriculture sector to bring an end to the impunity enjoyed by plantation companies.

Watch the rate of GVL expansion in Liberia from 2011 – 2015 here.  

GVL and GAR have denied wrongdoing. GVL stated that it has played no part in the intimidation of community members in its plantation area and that its operations between August and October 2014 – when the Ebola outbreak was at its peak – were part of its long-term plan. GAR has acknowledged that its operations have experienced “challenges” but that it is working to improve its procedures. Representatives of HSBC and Citibank stated that its shares in GAR are held “in custody” for other ultimate (beneficial) shareholders.

Read full responses from GVL here and here, from GAR here. Communication from one of GAR’s investors Kopernick Global Investors, can be found here.

Read The New Snake Oil report here

Download the press release here 

FIND OUT MORE

Alice Harrison, Communications Adviser

aharrison@globalwitness.org

+44(0)7841 338792

Conflict minerals reporting guidance published


SupplyManagement

October 1, 2013 | Helen Gilbert

The guidance, compiled by the Responsible Sourcing Network and Enough Project, has been produced ahead of the 31 May 2014 deadline that requires companies who source minerals from the Democratic Republic of Congo to submit their first conflict minerals disclosures to the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).

Policies should articulate a commitment to ensuring sourcing practices do not support conflict, human rights abuses including forced labour, mass atrocities and crimes against humanity, the Expectations for Companies’ Conflict Minerals Reporting guidance stated.

It detailed how firms should commit to exercising supply chain due diligence and consider the implementation of a supply chain transparency system that allows for the identification of the smelters and/or refiners in its minerals supply chain.

The metals tin, tantalum, tungsten and gold – also known as 3TG – should only be sourced from conflict-free covered countries, while companies should only use 3TG minerals from smelters that have been audited and verified as conflict free by a credible programme such as the Conflict-Free Sourcing Initiative, the document states.

Other recommendations include developing a conflict minerals programme that incorporates a description of the steps that will be taken to identify, assess, mitigate and respond to risks.

At a minimum steps should include supply chain surveys, supplier training, supplier and smelter encouragement, and an obligation to participate in the Conflict Free Smelter programme or equivalent, provided such industry schemes adhere to international standards, audits and unannounced spot checks, the report stipulated.

Darren Fenwick, senior government affairs manager at the Enough Project and report co-author said advocates for a clean minerals trade were keen to understand how companies, who are connected to the Congo through mineral sourcing, are addressing their connection to the conflict that has resulted in millions of deaths.

“Companies whose reports show compliance benefit from positive public sentiment and increased brand recognition,” he said.

Fellow co-author Patricia Jurewicz, Responsible Sourcing Network director added: “Investors would like to see their companies establish baselines the first year and specify the steps they are taking so we can then measure improvements in transparency and accountability reporting over time. Our paper provides a set of specific indicators that can be tracked to allow for comparability between annual reports.”

 

Guinea: Steinmetz $9 Billion Fortune at Risk in Soros-Backed Probe


Bloomberg.com

By Matthew Campbell, Jesse Riseborough & Franz Wild – May 9, 2013

Lansana Conte, the former dictator of Guinea, once held sway over an asset that mining companies craved: the world’s largest undeveloped iron ore deposit, valued today at as much as $50 billion.

BSG Resources Ltd., the diamond producer controlled by Israeli billionaire Beny Steinmetz, was among those firms that came calling starting in 2005. The perks allegedly offered: A gift of a $60,000 diamond-studded gold watch and the promise of a $2.5 million commission to Conte’s wife if BSGR got the mining license. In 2008, BSGR was awarded the license.

Today Conte is dead, three people are under arrest and Steinmetz’s $8.9 billion fortune is threatened. U.S. prosecutors are probing whether a man linked to BSGR paid Guinean officials as much as $12 million in bribes for obtaining mining rights to a portion of the site. Citing similar suspicions, the new Guinean government has said it might strip Steinmetz’s company of the license — putting at risk a $2 billion payment he’s due and the reputation of a key figure in the global trade in high-end diamonds.

“As a scion from a notable traditional diamond family, he grew up knowing that what makes a man is his reputation,” said Chaim Even-Zohar, the author of “The Steinmetz Diamond Story,” a book on the billionaire’s business. “My guess would be that he is deeply hurt.”

Payoff Report

The allegations of payoffs are detailed in a 28-page report, obtained by Bloomberg, prepared by U.S. law firm DLA Piper. The firm was hired by Guinea at the recommendation of hedge fund billionaire George Soros, 82, who’s advising the government through his foundations. Soros, who regularly backs young democratic governments in eastern Europe and Africa, funded the initial DLA Piper investigation, said a person familiar with the matter who asked not to be identified discussing a private issue. His aim was to provide legal counsel to the government that could match the resources of big mining companies, the person said.

Steinmetz and BSGR, based in Guernsey, deny wrongdoing in Guinea and describe themselves as victims of a conspiracy by current Guinea President Alpha Conde and Soros to revoke the firm’s mining license.

BSGR “became the victim of numerous extortion attempts by individuals who were seeking economic gains,” it said today in an e-mailed statement. “The modus operandi of these attempts involved at times the use of forged documentation, blackmail and harassment. BSGR is confident that its activities and position in Guinea will be fully vindicated.”

Better Terms

The 57-year-old Steinmetz’s troubles show the high stakes for resource firms as increasingly assertive African countries, backed by Western donors and governments, re-open mining contracts to hunt for past impropriety and win better terms for citizens. The probes have slowed development of the Guinea site, known as Simandou, whose mining rights are also held by companies including Rio Tinto Group (RIO) and Vale SA. The mountain-top site contains an estimated 26.5 billion metric tons of iron ore resources, said Paul Gait, a mining analyst at Sanford C. Bernstein Ltd. in London.

“This is the most prospective, highest-grade deposit of as yet undeveloped iron ore in the world,” Gait said.

Born in Israel, Steinmetz grew up in the family diamond business, Steinmetz Diamond Group, founded by his father in 1940. The closely held company specializes in the largest and most valuable stones, among them the 203-carat Millennium Star Diamond unveiled by De Beers SA to mark the year 2000. New York-based Tiffany & Co. (TIF) loaned BSGR $50 million in 2011 to expand a mine in Sierra Leone. Steinmetz also supplies diamonds to New York-based Sotheby’s Holdings Inc. for the auction house’s product line.

‘Hard-Nosed’

The diamond group is valued at about $3 billion, accounting for the biggest portion of Steinmetz’s wealth, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index. The family’s other interests include mining, oil, gas and real estate.

“In business he is very hard-nosed, maybe bordering on the ruthless — but always legitimate and fair,” said Even-Zohar of Steinmetz, whom he counts as a “good friend.”

The Simandou controversy traces back to 1997, when London-based Rio Tinto was granted a government license to explore the iron ore mine. In 2008, a few months before he died, Conte stripped Rio of half its license, claiming that it wasn’t developing the site quickly enough. The government then awarded it to BSGR for free, which is typical in the industry. The company began spending $160 million preparing the remote site for mining.

Vale Stake

After 18 months, in 2010, BSGR agreed to sell 51 percent of the stake to Brazil’s Vale for $2.5 billion. Vale paid $500 million upfront and the two firms set up a joint venture to develop the site. The remaining $2 billion has not been paid.

“It was an extraordinary deal given its scale,” said John Meyer, an analyst with London-based SP Angel Corporate Finance LLP.

Vale has said it’s not implicated in the investigations.

New York grand jury started its probe earlier this year into whether BSGR violated the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act by delivering bribes, according to prosecutors. The law bars companies with American links from engaging in bribery abroad. A portion of the alleged payments were sent to the U.S., prosecutors said.

On April 25 the grand jury indicted Frederic Cilins, a French citizen, on charges of witness tampering and obstructing the Guinea investigation. Cilins was described by Guinean Justice Minister Christian Sow as an “agent” of BSGR.

Widow Informant

In March he had met in Jacksonville, Florida, with a woman who was wearing a wire, and offered her more than $1 million in exchange for help burning documents related to the BSGR deal, according to the federal complaint.

The woman was Mamadie Toure, a widow of former president Conte who turned FBI informant in the hopes of reducing her own charges, according to a person familiar with the investigation.

The DLA Piper report described Cilins as an intermediary for payments from BSGR to Conte’s wives and for “gifts” to members of the president’s family and government officials. Cilins denies wrongdoing. BSGR today said it sought to work with Cilins and two other men, through a company called Pentler Holdings, from 2006 because BSGR lacked a “permanent presence in Guinea.”

Pentler took a 17.7 percent stake in BSGR’s Guinea unit in March 2006 before it was bought out by BSGR two years later, which is when the arrangement with Cilins ended.

In U.S. federal prosecutions, lower-ranking defendants are often offered lighter sentences in exchange for agreeing to testify against figures more central to alleged crimes.

License Review

The Guinean government began reviewing the Simandou license soon after Alpha Conde took office in 2010 as the country’s first freely elected president. Based on the DLA Piper report and its own investigation, the government last month arrested two BSGR employees in connection with the probe: Ibrahima Sory Toure, Mamadie Toure’s brother who was director of external relations, and Issaga Bangoura, a security official. Both men have denied wrongdoing.

BSGR has fought back vigorously. It’s taken aim at Soros, Conde and Rio Tinto, which it says established a “covert special project group dedicated to committing espionage” and harassed its workers by buzzing them with low-flying helicopters.

Public Relations

BSGR has also sued its former public relations adviser, FTI Consulting, accusing it of abetting a “smear campaign” directed by Soros. Soros is “determined to ensure” that the mining license “was withdrawn/canceled” by the government of Guinea, according to the lawsuit. It cited alleged comments by FTI executives that Soros had a “personal obsession” about BSGR.

Soros rejects the claim that he engaged in a smear campaign and that he conspired to strip Steinmetz’s license, a spokesman for Soros Fund Management LLC said in an e-mailed statement.

FTI and Mark Malloch-Brown, its chairman for Europe, the Middle East and Africa, deny working against BSGR and said they will contest the claim. Rio Tinto declined to comment.

Conde, who took office promising to root out corruption, has attracted significant foreign backers. Soros’s Revenue Watch Institute, an offshoot of his Open Society Foundations, advised Conde on a new mining code and anti-corruption measures, the person familiar with his activities said. Global Witness, an anti-corruption group whose advisory board includes Soros’s son Alexander and which he funds, chronicles alleged wrongdoing in Guinea.

‘Personal Relationship’

And former British Prime Minister Tony Blair established a relationship with Conde through his African Governance Initiative, which set up an office in Conakry, Guinea’s capital, to assist his presidency. Conde last year secured $2.1 billion in debt relief from the International Monetary Fund and World Bank, a recognition of his move to civilian rule.

“The personal relationship between Mr. Soros, Mr. Blair, and Mr. Conde is really important, and has an impact in terms of reassuring leaders that we are going in the right direction,” Guinean Finance Minister Kerfalla Yansane said by phone. “At this juncture we need big support to challenge these companies, who can hire lawyers and PR firms and have resources we don’t.”

Guinea isn’t the only African state where deals with middlemen have led to controversy for international mining groups. Eurasian Natural Resources Corp., a London-based, Kazakh-backed mining firm, is being probed by U.K. prosecutors into allegations it paid bribes to win business in Kazakhstan and Africa. The company said on April 25 that it is cooperating with authorities. And countries including Ghana and Zambia are driving a harder bargain with mining firms, reviewing taxation and state-ownership clauses.

High Stakes

The stakes for getting Simandou mined are high for Guinea, whose population is about 11 million. It ranks 178th out of 187 nations on the UN Human Development Index, which measures indicators of poverty and health.

“The economic growth profile of the country is expected to completely be changed” by the mine, Yansane said.

Rio Tinto CEO Sam Walsh has said the company, which says it has spent $2.3 billion at the site, is committed to developing its portion of Simandou. It predicted production would start in 2015.

BSGR has also said it’s committed to developing Simandou, and remaining in Guinea despite the corruption allegations.

The government realizes the Steinmetz controversy may spook the investors it needs to raiseliving standards, Yansane said. For that reason, “We want this problem resolved as quickly as possible,” he said. “We don’t want the name of the country to be on the front page of newspapers all the time.”

To contact the reporters on this story: Matthew Campbell in London atmcampbell39@bloomberg.net; Jesse Riseborough in London at jriseborough@bloomberg.net; Franz Wild in Johannesburg at fwild@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Jacqueline Simmons atjackiem@bloomberg.net; John Viljoen at jviljoen@bloomberg.net

Analysis: New law fails to ease oil concerns in Uganda


IRIN NEWS

KAMPALA/NAIROBI, 13 December 2012 (IRIN) – Uganda’s parliament recently passed a law to govern the exploration, development and production of the country’s estimated three billion barrels of oil, a resource whose extraction will directly affect the livelihoods of tens of thousands of people.

While the law streamlines the burgeoning industry, analysts have raised concerns over transparency and over who controls the sector.

“The new law helps set clear guidelines under which the oil sector is to be run and managed, and makes clear who is in charge of what roles,” said Tony Otoa, director of Great Lakes Public Affairs (GLPA), a Uganda-based think tank focusing on oil and governance. “However, there are some concerns about transparency and too much power within the oil industry in the hands of the president.”

The bill was passed on 7 December after weeks of wrangling over its controversial Clause 9, which gives the energy minister wide-ranging powers, including authority over the granting and revoking of oil licenses, negotiating and endorsing petroleum agreements, and promoting and sustaining transparency in the petroleum sector. Many members of parliament (MPs) felt these powers should be held by an independent national oil authority.

“Essentially, the standoff, which has ended, was about the withdrawal of trust from a government that is battered by corruption scandals. Also the way the cabinet operates is that, in the past, the feeling has been that some key ministries, like finance, are effectively run by the presidency after being stuffed by yes-men or -women. The pushback against Clause 9 also comes as the Central Bank opened its vaults to a large withdrawal in 2010 [US$740 million to buy six fighter jets] only for approvals to be sought retrospectively,” said Angelo Izama, a Ugandan journalist and oil sector analyst.

“Loss of trust”

“This loss of trust is behind the resistance to greater control by the executive,” he added. “The executive has not been a bad shepherd of the process so far. Uganda’s negotiating position has been tougher with the oil companies, ironically, without the oversight of parliament. However, public scandals elsewhere have negatively affected the ability of the president to convince lawmakers – especially of his party – that he means well.”

A number of donors – including the UK and Ireland – recently suspended aid to Uganda following allegations of deep-rooted corruption in the Office of the Prime Minister. The prime minister, the former energy minister and the foreign affairs minister were all accused of taking kick-backs from oil companies in 2011, charges that remain unproven but that nevertheless damage the reputation of the government.

“The country lacks trust in the state… Institutions and officials have lost legitimacy, and for such an important bill to vest too much power into a political appointee is a recipe for disaster,” said Stephen Oola, a transitional justice and governance analyst at Uganda’s Makerere University Refugee Law Project.

“Granting and revoking licenses and negotiations are technical in nature. We need an independent commission or authority made up of people of good competence, technical ability and experience, and good morals to guard our oil,” said Frank Gashumba, a local businessman and social activist.

Proponents of Clause 9 say licensing powers are safer in the hands of the cabinet than under an oil authority. “The authority is open, easy to bribe and manipulate. Cabinet is bigger than the authority – members of the executive are answerable to Ugandans because they are elected leaders,” said Kenneth Omona, a ruling party MP.

Those opposed to it say they will challenge the law, which was passed with 149 votes in favour and 39 against; some 198 MPs did not turn up to vote.

“The fight is not complete; the passing of the bill is liable to be challenged in courts of law,” said Theodore Ssekikubo, ruling party MP and chair of the parliamentary forum on oil and gas. “If we fail to go to court, we shall subject the matter to a referendum for all Ugandans to pronounce themselves on this strategic resource. We want to ensure transparency and accountability in the oil sector.”

Transparency

There are also concerns about the law’s confidentiality clause, which limits the amount of information accessible by the public.

“The law is lacking transparency – it imposes confidentiality on officials working within the sector, even after they leave office, so there is no opportunity for whistle-blowing or for the public to have access to information on, say, production-sharing agreements,” GLPA’s Otoa said.

He noted that Uganda still hasn’t joined the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI), an international scheme that attempts to set a global standard for transparency in oil, gas and mining, further compounding the sector’s lack of transparency. As a member of the EITI, Uganda and oil companies involved in the country would be required to publish all payments and revenues from the industry.

While Total and the China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC), two of Uganda’s major oil partners, are listed on Wall Street and are therefore subject to the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act – which requires disclosure of payments relating to the acquisition of licenses for exploration and production of oil, gas and minerals – the Irish firm Tullow Oil, another of Uganda’s main oil partners, is not under any similar obligations.

“I am worried we [legislators] and the public can’t access and scrutinize these agreements. You can imagine the recently negotiated and signed oil agreements have not been accessed by the public, not even by members of parliament,” Beatrice Anywar, former shadow energy minister, told IRIN.

The impact of the oil sector has so far been most acutely felt by communities around Lake Albert, thousands of whom have had to move – some willingly and some forcefully – to make room for an oil refinery, which is expected to take up 29sqkm and displace some 8,000 people.

Land issues

“The government is prosecuting the refinery resettlement by the book. However, managing public expectations and the process of multiple decision makers in Uganda’s complex land legal system [Uganda has multiple land systems, including customary, leasehold and freehold] has contributed some volatility to the process… What is adequate compensation? And who determines that? Is it the market or should this be done by the government?” said journalist Izama.

“As a partner to the oil companies, it’s questionable too if the government can make the best decisions for the affected people as it would look to keep project costs fairly low,” he continued. “It is still a dilemma which is jurisprudential as well as political.”

He noted that much of the oil is in game reserves and a sensitive basin with lakes, rivers and a rare biodiversity, and borders the Democratic Republic of Congo, which could also pose challenges for peaceful production; there has already been some tension between the two countries over their boundaries within Lake Albert.

“The process of consensus-building is still weak, and regardless of how it’s arrived at, displacements will create uncomfortable realities, including land and job pressure.”

According to Otoa, Uganda’s lack of a comprehensive land policy makes compensation issues more complex. “We need clear land policies to ensure people are properly compensated – there is a Resettlement Action Plan in place, but it has not been implemented, and a draft land policy has not been actualized, leaving these communities vulnerable,” he said.

He noted that the lack of education among the local population, both in the oil-rich areas and the rest of the country, had contributed to the continued problems in the sector.

“We have focused too much on educating MPs on the implications and importance of good oil governance. We need to move to people-centred approaches and encourage dialogue in the public sphere, which will lead to people demanding accountability from their MPs and the government,” he added.

Ultimately, Izama said, responsible actions by the government will be the difference between Uganda’s oil making a significant impact on the country’s economy or causing conflict and greater poverty.

“Pressure on public institutions prior to commercial oil production is an effective way of counteracting the resource curse. If this public engagement falters, if the transition [from President Museveni to his successor] is volatile, some of the scenarios of the so-called oil curse are possible,” he said. “Overall the tensions are high, but responsible actions by public and political institutions like the past debate show progress is possible.”

Mozambique: former water officials arrested for corruption


WASH News Africa

November 6, 2012

Mozambique’s anti-corruption agency GCCC has arrested the former director and financial administrator of the central regional office of the government’s Water Supply Investments and Assets Fund (FIPAG).

José Duarte and Henriques Leonardo were expelled from FIPAG in mid-2011, but it apparently took over a year to compile the case against them.

Duarte is accused of creating a private water supply company, Recta, which competed with FIPAG to supply water to ships in Beira port. FIPAG is reported to have suffered a loss This is

The activities of Duarte and Leonardo are said to have caused FIPAG losses of 37 million meticais [US$ 1.23 million].

The IRC International Water and Sanitation Centre is supporting Cowater Consultores Lda. to develop an appropriate anti-corruption strategy and plan with the Direcção Nacional de Águas (DNA) in Mozambique [1].

In April 2012, the government decreed that FIPAG would outsource water distribution to the private sector and restrict its activities financing and managing water assets [2].

[1] Developing a water anti-corruption strategy in Mozambique, IRC, 29 Nov 2011

[2] Mozambique: government relaunches water supply privatisation, Agencia de Informacao de Mocambique / allAfrica.com, 04 Apr 2012

South Africa Government : Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries hands over financial and procurement irregularities investigations to Police


4-Traders

August 7th, 2012
DAFF hands over the investigations in the fisheries branch to the SAPS

6 Sep 2012

The Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries has officially handed its investigation into suspected financial and procurement irregularities, maladministration, and corruption in the Fisheries Branch of the department to the South African Police Services (SAPS).

“The investigation is effectively out of the hands of the department and the Minister. Once complete, the SAPS will advise the department on appropriate actions to be taken,” the acting director general, Sipho Ntombela confirmed.

In March 2012, the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, initiated a forensic investigation into the award and multiple extensions of the vessel management function to a shipping management company. Essentially the investigation had to establish whether there were irregularities in the past tenders and management thereof awarded to the company and to its business associates. Smit Amandla Marine has been providing the vessel management function to Government for the past 10 to 12 years.

The investigation mentioned above has reached a critical stage and the department has thus decided to hand it over to the SAPS for finalisation.

“The initial investigation was carried out by a reputable forensic firm that uncovered that there are possible cases of corruption in the Fisheries branch. The investigation by the SAPS is a culmination of this process”, Ntombela concludes.

Below please find a timeline of the events leading up to the handing over of the case to the SAPS:

Timeline:

  • 2000 to 2005: The Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism awards Smit Amandla Marine a tender for five years
  • 2005 to 2010: The contact is extended for another five years, no tender process
  • 2010: Contract is extended for a year
  • 2011: Contract is extended for a year
  • March 2012: Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries initiates investigation into the matter
  • August 2012: Initial findings reveal possible irregularities in procurement, financial management and corruption

Nigeria: Zobe Dam Unutilized 29 Years After Commissioning


AllAfrica.com

By Shehu Bubakar

August 4th, 2012

Completed in 1983, Zobe dam is still not being used for water supply, for local irrigation or for power generation.

The construction of Zobe Dam near Dutsin-Ma in Katsina state began in 1972 and was commissioned in July 1983 by the defunct second republic administration then President Shehu Shagari. It has however been abandoned soon after it was commissioned. The Dam, Weekly Trust learnt, could not be able to pump a single cup of water for consumption to the host community and other neighbouring states.

The Dam constructed specifically to provide potable drinking water to Dutsin-Ma and adjoining towns and villages, provide water for irrigation farming and serve as an instrument for flood control, but checks by Weekly Trust revealed that when in 1983 the Dam construction was completed and commissioned, successive administrations that ought to construct water treatment plans for the treatment of potable water and the construction of channels for distribution of water for irrigation were abandoned.

Constructed at the sum of N52 million in the early 80s, Zobe Dam occupies an area of 5,200 hectares with a 2.75 kilometers long standard embankment designed to prevent the water from spilling out of control. Though solid and still very strong to hold the 177 million cubic meters of water it is designed to contain, the earth Dam being manually operated get it water from Karaduwa and Bunsuru rivers and discharges its excess water to as far as Wamakko in Sokoto state where it joins the Sokoto River.

42 year old resident of Dutsin-Ma, Malam Abubakar Sani said though he was too young to know when the Dam was constructed, he grew up to see it as an abandoned project, adding, “The story I had about the Dam was not a very good one. Some people said Shagari could not be able to award contract for the laying of the pipes to draw water to Katsina and Dutsin-Ma because shortly after commissioning the Dam, he was over thrown by General Muhammadu Buhari.

“Buhari’s government was said to have refused to complete the project believing that the credit will go to the Shagari’s regime he over threw. Other successive administrations also abandoned it. When Buhari’s led PTF (Petroleum Trust Fund) embarked on the construction of the water treatment plan that could have made it to start treating water and pumping water for both domestic and industrial use, General Sani Abacha died and his government and the PTF regime died before the completion of the project.

“Obasanjo’s administration refused to continue with the project because it may make Buhari more popular being the initiator. And you know Buhari has all this while been the major opposition leader in the country. Not even the Musa Yar’adua’s regime could go ahead with the project because though very dear to the state and the development of irrigation activities and human welfare, the fact remains that the water treatment plant was initiated by Buhari and is an opposition leader. This is the most reasonable and acceptable theory you can ever get on the reason why the project is abandoned for this long period of time.

“We are very much aware that the present administration in the state did its best to get the federal government to re-award the contract but all its efforts failed. That informed the decision of the state government to award contract for the construction of its own Dam at the same Dutsin-Ma just a forth night ago. That is to show you that the state government and the people of the state have lost confidence in the Dam ever becoming functional,” he said.

But the Managing Director and chief executive officer of Sokoto-Rima River Basin Development Authority (SRRBDA) who are the custodians of all federal government own Dams in Katsina, Zamfara, Sokoto and Kebbi states, Engineer Khalid Yusuf said though it is not within his purview to know why the project suffers setback, he suspect inadequate funds.

“Possibly because of cash flow but it is not contractual. The fact of the matter is that one is not within my purview. It is under the purview of the federal ministry of water resources. Even the irrigation facility construction is under the ministry. But when the facility is completed and handed over to us, we are going to be the custodians.

“I think it has to do with the problem of cash flow. I don’t know much about it. I know it is a very laudable project in which government will be very proud to finish and put to use because it will impact very positively on the transformation agenda of Mr President. Once that project is put to use, it will increase food production. It will also provide job opportunity and improve on the income generation. We are talking of 1,200 hectares. It is not a small project.

“The dam was completed and commissioned by the then President Shehu Shagari in 1983. That is almost 30 years now. So, if somebody said it is underutilized, yes it is underutilized. I must admit that the company that designed and constructed that dam did an excellent job because it is still solid. It is still storing the water but unfortunately some of the things that will put the water into use have not emanated.

“For instance, there should be a regional water supply. The contract has been going on for a very longtime now. The water treatment plant is on the ground. Some of the pipes are there. When you go along Kafin Soli towards Kankiya you see some pipes and tanks being erected. Likewise the irrigation project which started and stopped. The farmlands are there. Majority of the channels have been constructed. I believe in few months that contracts can be completed. But because of problem of cash flow, work has stopped there. Once the project is completed, is a matter of few months we shall start tapping its potentials. It is long overdue,” he said.

He said some people are thinking in terms of installing mini-hydro power plant at Zobe Dam which he said can be made possible. He however, warned that things must be done right so as not to temper with the reason why the dam was initially constructed which include flood control, regional water supply and for irrigated agriculture.

“Yes, hydro power is one of the other facilities we can provide there. It has not been installed but it can be redesigned to incorporate it at both Goronyo and Zobe dams. Already, Bakalori dam has the facility but unfortunately it stopped functioning about two years after installation. That was in the 80s. However, government is interested in reviving the facility.

“We are testing the ground to see if the facility can be revived. Owing to the duration the facility has been out of service, some of the components needed to revive the hydro power turbines may no longer be available. The company that fabricated the turbines and the generators over 30 years ago may not be functional now. They are Italian companies. So, these are the things we have to review and rethink about,” he said.

Weekly Trust investigation revealed that Reynolds Construction Company (RCC) Nigeria Limited handling the construction of the water treatment plant had abandoned the job and demobilized from the site after constructing most of the required structures and even installed the required tanks and machines. What is not however clear is whether or not the installed machines are still serviceable after several years of neglect.

The construction of the two main channels awarded to CGC from the Dam to the irrigation farms with a combined distance of 44 kilometers have been abandoned after recording some achievements. One of the channels measuring 23 kilometers has recorded 12 kilometers while the other one of 21 kilometers has reached 11 kilometers before the company stopped work.

Both companies were reported to have abandoned the projects and demobilized from sites due to none payment of their contract sum by government. Though there was no evidence of vandalism of any equipment at the time this reporter visited the area, there is fear that some of the installed machines may decay.

Efforts made to seek comments from the Minister for Water Resources were not successful as he is either said to be busy or out on official assignment. However, a source at the ministry that spoke on condition of anonymity said frequent changes in government policies were responsible for abandoning such projects for long.

“Today government will merge us with the ministry of agriculture and the next day they will say we are on our own. Until you get leaders at all levels that knows the value of mass agricultural production, such projects that are capable of turning around the economy of this country will continue to be neglected or even abandoned. It is true that both CGC Nigeria Limited that was constructing the channels and RCC that was constructing the water treatment are being owed some money and have not been paid so sometimes now and so they all demobilized and left the sites.

“No, you do not blame the ministry but you blame members of the National Assembly from that state. What is their work? Don’t they know how important the project is to the state? What have they done to ensure that it is completed? What other work do they have more than to pursue their constituency projects? Let us face the truth,” the source said.

Congo Copper Mine Deals Questioned


CorpWatch

By Patrap Chatterjee

August 2nd, 2012

Eurasian Natural Resources Corporation (ENRC), a global mining company that got its start in Kazakhstan, has won a new $101.5 million license to dig for copper at the Frontier mine in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The company has been criticized by Global Witness for its purchases of rights from offshore companies connected to Dan Gertler, a controversial Israeli diamond merchant.

“The Congolese state has foregone billions of dollars in revenues by secretly selling off its assets on the cheap to offshore companies,” Daniel Balint-Kurti, campaigner for the Democratic Republic of Congo at Global Witness said in a press release issued last month. “With so much at stake in one of the poorest countries on the planet, ENRC must do the right thing and shed full light on its dealings.”

Per-capita income in the Congo is under $300 a year and experts at the Carter Centre, which was founded by former US president Jimmy Carter, say there is a reason. “In a mining sector defined by irregularities and mismanagement, large industrial mining projects can earn huge profits for investors and government officials,” Sam Jones, associate director of the centre’s human rights program, told the Guardian. “(L)ittle revenue finds its way back into desperately impoverished Congolese communities for schools, healthcare, or other social services.”

The Frontier copper mine is located near the town of Sakania in the Congo, about a mile from the Zambian border. It is located in the copper belt that straddles the border of the two countries that has been exploited commercially from the days of Belgian colonization to this day. Indeed the profits from the Union Minière du Haut Katanga, the original mining company in the region, was a major source of wealth for Belgium at the beginning of the 20th century.

First Quantum, a Canadian company, acquired the rights to mine for copper at Frontier in 2001 but was forced to turn it over to Sodimco, a state owned company in 2010 by the Congolese government. The licences were then sold to Fortune Ahead, a Hong Kong shell company. Meanwhile First Quantum filed multiple legal claims demanding $4 billion in compensation for Frontier and other assets nationalized by the Congolese government.

In January this year First Quantum agreed to turn over all its prior mineral rights to ENRC for $1.25 billion. ENRC had already bought rights to the giant Kolwezi tailings project for $175 million and purchased CAMEC, yet another Congolese company that owned a half share in the SMKK copper and cobalt mine.

But exactly who paid whom how much for mining rights in the Congo is up for debate. “ENRC’s purchase of its stake in Kolwezi was structured through a deal between itself and at least seven companies registered in the British Virgin Islands, all connected to Dan Gertler,” states a Global Witness fact sheet. “When ENRC bought the remaining 50 per cent stake in SMKK, it purchased it from another British Virgin Islands company linked to Mr Gertler. Even ENRC’s acquisition of CAMEC involved sale purchase agreements with several offshore companies linked to Dan Gertler which held shares in CAMEC.”

Gertler, an Israeli diamond merchant, has been doing business in Congo for over a decade, working first with Laurent-Désiré Kabila, the former president of the Congo, and now with his son, Joseph Kabila, the current president.

“The nature of these deals raises serious questions about whether corrupt Congolese officials could be benefitting from Congo’s considerable mineral wealth at the expense of the Congolese people,” says Balint-Kurti. “Global Witness has been calling for ENRC to publish the full results of an external audit into its dealings in Congo, conducted by the law firm Dechert.”

It is certainly not the first time Gertler and the Kabila clan have been linked. A lawsuit filed in Israel by Yossi Kamisa, a former Israeli fighter who worked for Gertler, says that the diamond tycoon had offered the elder Kabila military aid to the Congolese army in 2000.

“At the time, the Second Congo War (1998-2003) was raging – one of the most brutal conflicts in the history of the African continent, involving eight countries, dozens of guerrilla organizations and a horrific human toll that included large-scale rape and even cannibalism,” write Gidi Weitz, Uri Blau and Yotam Feldman in Haaretz newspaper. “This did not deter Gertler from realizing his plan to penetrate the lucrative diamond market in the DRC.”

Kamisa’s lawsuit charges that he “witnessed Gertler’s method of operation, involving paying considerable sums of money as bribery to different individuals in the Congo government … all in order to pave the way to a meeting with the president of Congo and to improve the terms of the future agreement that was to be struck between him and the state.”

Gertler denied these allegations, calling them vengeful and baseless, says the newspaper.

Nigeria : The great $6.8bn oil scandal


The revelation of gargantuan levels of corruption in the government’s fuel subsidy programme is sparking a groundswell of activity among the opposition and civil society groups.
Opposition politicians, civic activists and trade unionists are joining forces this month to demand action against grand corruption at the heart of government. They promise it will be their biggest show of strength on Nigeria’s streets since protests in January that forced the government to back down on its plans to abolish the fuel subsidy scheme.
At the core of the opposition protests in June will be the findings of a parliamentary report released on 23 April that reveals the government presided over the loss of $6.8bn from its fuel subsidy programme from 2009-2011 through theft and mismanagement.
The government misread public feeling on the fuel subsidy,” says Tunji Lardner, executive director of Lagos-based information platform WANGONeT. “Hundreds of  thousands of small businesses and millions of jobs were set up the basis of the subsidy – protecting that and prosecuting corruptionis a popular cause,” he explains.
Adding to the opposition’s anger are allegations that more than N4.5bn ($28m) has been stolen from pension funds administered by the office of the head of the civil service. State investigators suspect the extent of pension fraud in the country is far larger.
This, together with the government’s announcement expected on 1 June that it will increase electricity tariffs by 50%, will ignite a new round of popular outrage, say activists. A government commissioned report on corruption in the oil export sector, coordinated by former anti-corruption czar Nuhu Ribadu, is also due out in the coming weeks. Insiders say it will make more explosive revelations. National secretary of the Conference of Nigerian Political Parties Osita Okechukwu says: “It’s a perfect storm for the government.Weare taking them to the High Court for breaching the constitution, but you will also see protests backed by opposition parties and the trade unions.” Read more.

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