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Liberia’s Johnson-Sirleaf sacks AG


News24

DakarPresident Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf dismissed Liberia‘s auditor-general and the head of the public procurement agency (GSA) on Monday in a crackdown on public sector corruption.

Johnson-Sirleaf, a Nobel peace laureate, has pledged to fight graft as the West African country strives to recover from a sporadic 14-year civil conflict that ended in 2003 and left its once-prosperous economy in tatters.

A presidency statement said Auditor-General Robert Kilby, who took office last year, was being dismissed for a clear conflict of interest due to his private business dealings.

Pearine Davis-Parkinson, director-general of the General Services Agency (GSA), was dismissed for approving contracts involving Kilby in violation of Liberian law.

Davis-Parkinson told a parliamentary committee last week the GSA had employed an accounting firm owned by Kilby to set up an asset tracking system for the government.

“Join me in our continued fight against corruption,” Johnson-Sirleaf said in a statement announcing the dismissals.

Johnson-Sirleaf, who took office as Africa‘s first elected female head of state in 2006, has come under pressure for failing to root out corruption.

A recent audit of resource contracts by the accounting firm Moore Stephens showed that almost all the $8bn worth of resource contracts signed since 2009 violated Liberia’s laws and showed irregularities.

Johnson-Sirleaf told Reuters that the audit had been designed to highlight problems so that they could be addressed, and her government was taking action to do so.

She has forecast that economic growth, which has averaged 6.5% over the past four years, will hit double digits within two years as foreign investment starts to have an impact.

S.Africa okays $5.4 bln in clean energy projects


Reuters Africa

October 29, 2012

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) – South Africa has given the green light to an initial $5.4 billion worth of clean energy projects that will allow it to procure 1,400 MW of electricity and help reduce reliance on coal-fired plants, the energy minister said on Monday.

The government has selected 28 wind and solar projects in the first stage of the programme, with the contracts expected to be signed on November 5, Energy Minister Dipuo Peters said.

“These bidders will be investing about 47 billion rand in power generation and will create a number of jobs during construction and operation of these power plants,” Peters said in a statement. The plants are due to be operational between 2014 and 2016.

Africa‘s largest economy depends on coal for 85 percent of its electricity supply of around 41,000 MW. Last year it launched a process to procure cleaner energy to reduce carbon emissions and bolster electricity supply.

A key producer of platinum, gold, iron ore and coal, South Africa has been struggling to meet fast-rising demand for power.

The process of adding more renewable power to the grid has dragged on for years and raised doubts about the government’s ability to deliver on its plans.

It has also chosen another 19 renewable energy projects worth 1,043.9 MW in the second stage of the programme, which it hopes to finalise by late March next year. A third bidding round will close on May 7.

South Africa wants to use the green energy drive to boost job creation through manufacturing and requiring energy companies to source materials locally.

While the original procurement plan was to eventually add up to 3,725 MW of green energy to the national grid by 2016, the programme has recently been expanded to source an additional 3,200 MW of renewable power by 2020.

Apart from green energy, South Africa plans to procure more than 9,000 MW of new electricity produced from coal, gas, regional hydro and co-generation at industrial plants by 2025. Other plans include a tender for 9,600 MW worth of nuclear power.

© Thomson Reuters 2012 All rights reserved

Liberia’s Forestry Dept. Giving Large Amounts Of Land To Logging Firms


 

Huffington Post

By Richard Valdmanis

DAKAR, Sept 4 (Reuters) – Liberia‘s forestry department has given a quarter of the nation’s land to logging firms over the past two years in a flurry of shady deals now under investigation by the government, advocacy group Global Witness said on Tuesday.

President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, fending off accusations of graft and nepotism within her government, has suspended the head of the West African state’s Forestry Development Authority and launched a probe into the recent timber deals amid concerns of widespread fraud and mismanagement.

Global Witness said its research revealed that the scale of the deals marked a serious threat to the war-torn and impoverished country’s vast rainforests, as well as to the hundreds of thousands of people who depend on them.

“A quarter of Liberia’s total landmass has been granted to logging companies in just two years, following an explosion in the use of secretive and often illegal logging permits,” the group said in a statement.

“Unless this crisis is tackled immediately, the country’s forests could suffer widespread devastation, leaving the people who depend upon them stranded and undoing the country’s fragile progress since the resource-fuelled conflicts of 1989 to 2003.”

Global Witness conducted the investigation with two other advocacy groups, the Save My Future Foundation and Sustainable Development Institute

Corruption is seen as a big obstacle to development in Liberia, which remains one of the world’s least developed countries nearly a decade after the end of a 14-year civil war.

The government has been struggling to clarify land ownership issues across its vast forested zones, traditionally divided along ethnic lines.

Global Witness said about 26,000 square kilometers of land had been granted to timber companies through at least 66 so-called Private Use Permits – lightly regulated deals between timber companies and private land owners.

It said many of the deals made with individuals said to own the land were backed by land deeds held in the collective name of people of a district or clan who had little knowledge of the accords and would reap little benefit from the timber exported…Read more.

 

Iranian bidder sparks halt to $2 bln Uganda dam project


Reuters Africa

September 7, 2012

By Elias Biryabarema

KAMPALA, Sept 7 (Reuters) – Uganda has halted plans to develop a $2.2 billion hydropower dam after objections were raised over the short-listing of an Iranian company in potential contravention of international sanctions, a procurement official said on Friday.

Billed as one of East Africa‘s largest infrastructure projects, construction of the 700 MW Karuma dam on the Nile river was expected to begin by the end of this year aimed at overhauling the east African nation’s stuttering energy supply.

“We received petitions by a whistleblower and representatives of other companies which were left out who said one of the firms that prequalified was an Iranian (firm),” said Vincent Mugaba, spokesperson for Public Procurement and Disposal of Public Assets Authority (PPDA).

“The Iranian company would not have the capacity to conduct international trade in light of sanctions imposed on Iran so we have halted the whole procurement process until we complete an investigation into the matter,” Mugaba said.

Washington and Europe have imposed sanctions on Tehran over its disputed nuclear programme. Some of the sanctions make it difficult for other countries to trade with Iran.

Mugaba said PPDA had requested the energy ministry, which is managing Karuma’s procurement process, to explain why it had overlooked the impact of sanctions on the Iranian company, Perlite Construction.

“What happened was that when we prequalified the Iranian company the U.S. sanctions had not come into effect but of course we realise that the company might have problems executing the contract if its bid was to be successful,” Yusuf Bukenya-Matovu, a public relations officer at the energy ministry, told Reuters.

“Uganda isn’t bound to respect U.S. unilateral sanctions but nevertheless there are implications. Perhaps there would be problems if the Iranian firm were to win but we’ll cooperate with the PPDA investigation,” he said.

LATEST DELAY

The Karuma dam is expected to more than double the country’s total power output. The state-run Electricity Regulatory Authority says Uganda produces a total of 550 MW while power demand at peaks stands at about 480 MW.

The snag was the latest to stall progress on Karuma, which the government is banking on to help prevent persistent power outages that have put a strain on the economy and discouraged investors from pouring more money into the oil-rich country.

Several years ago, a Norwegian investor that had expressed interest pulled out because it failed to secure funding for the project.

The Ugandan government wants to develop Karuma as a public-private project with the private investor as lead financier.

Uganda is keen to woo investment in its cash-starved energy sector to rapidly increase its generation capacity and in October plans to start pegging power tariffs to changes in inflation, international fuel prices and the exchange rate to make the sector more attractive.

Energy officials say the internal rate of return for energy projects in Uganda is fairly attractive at between 15-18 percent and higher than South Africa’s 12-14 percent, although the country has a higher risk perception.

Commercial hydrocarbon deposits were discovered along the Albertine rift basin along its border with the Democratic Republic of Congo in 2006 and reserves are estimated at 2.5 billion barrels. (Editing by Yara Bayoumy and Jason Neely)

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Thomson Reuters journalists are subject to an Editorial Handbook which requires fair presentation and disclosure of relevant interests.

S. African telecom firm helped Iran evade US sanctions, documents show


By Steve Stecklow  Reuters
August 30, 2012, 8:11 pm

Rogan Ward / Reuters  A shopkeeper awaits customers in a shop advertising MTN airtime sales in Umlazi township in Durban, South Africa.

LONDON — A South African telecom giant plotted to procure embargoed U.S. technology products for an Iranian subsidiary through outside vendors to circumvent American sanctions on the Islamic Republic, according to internal documents seen by Reuters.

The fresh revelations about MTN Group, buttressed by interviews with people familiar with the procurement, come as the South African multinational faces fights on several fronts over its lucrative but controversial Iranian venture, a fast-growing telecom.

MTN is in talks with the U.S. Treasury in an effort to win permission to repatriate millions of dollars of profit now bottled up in Iran by American sanctions on the Iranian financial system. MTN’s chief executive disclosed the talks with U.S. officials this month, saying, “U.S. sanctions should not have unintended consequences for non-U.S. companies.” An elite South African police unit is investigating how MTN obtained the Iranian telecom’s license, following corruption allegations made by a Turkish rival in a U.S. federal lawsuit.

Johannesburg-based MTN Group is Africa’s largest telecom carrier, with operations in more than 20 countries. It owns 49 percent of MTN Irancell, a joint venture with a consortium controlled by the Iranian government. The South African company provided the initial funding for the venture and oversaw the telecom’s launch in 2006.

Hundreds of pages of internal documents reviewed by Reuters show that MTN employees created presentations for meetings and wrote reports that openly discussed circumventing U.S. sanctions to source American tech equipment for MTN Irancell. The documents also address the potential consequences of getting caught. The sanctions are intended to curb Iran’s nuclear program, which Tehran maintains is peaceful.

The equipment included products from Sun Microsystems Inc, Oracle Corp, International Business Machines Corp, EMC Corp, Hewlett Packard Co and Cisco Systems Inc, and was used to provide such services as wiretapping, voice mail and text messaging, the documents show.

In a statement, MTN denied any wrongdoing. The U.S. companies have said they were not aware MTN Irancell had acquired their products, and several are investigating the matter. U.S. Treasury officials declined to comment.

‘It all showed up’ Reuters first reported in June that MTN Irancell had procured U.S. equipment through a network of tech companies in Iran and the Middle East. The article quoted Chris Kilowan, MTN’s top executive in Iran from 2004 to 2007, saying that the South African company was directly involved in obtaining U.S. parts for the Iranian telecom.

The new documents provide a much deeper understanding of the extent of MTN’s procurement of embargoed U.S. goods, exposing new links in the supply chain of products worth millions of dollars. They also give a rare inside look at the thinking of a multinational doing business in Iran and the difficult choices involved. The documents show that MTN was well aware of the U.S. sanctions, wrestled with how to deal with them and ultimately decided to circumvent them by relying on Middle Eastern firms inside and outside Iran.

MTN was not alone. In recent months, new evidence has emerged that other foreign companies, including Britain’s Standard Chartered bank and China’s ZTE Corp, have helped Iran undermine increasingly tougher sanctions. The bank, which agreed to pay $340 million to New York’s bank regulator to settle allegations it hid transactions with Iran, still faces a separate U.S. probe. ZTE is the subject of investigations by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Commerce Department after Reuters reported it had supplied U.S. equipment to Iran’s largest telecom.

The new MTN documents appear to detail an intentional effort to evade sanctions. For example, a January 2006 PowerPoint presentation prepared for the project steering committee — comprised of then top-level MTN executives — includes a slide titled “Measures adopted to comply with/bypass US embargoes.” It discussed how the company had decided to outsource Irancell’s data center after receiving legal advice.

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“In the absence of applicable U.S. consents, it is a less risky route to MTN for Irancell to outsource data centre than it is to purchase restricted products,” the PowerPoint slide says.

The documents also include a lengthy spreadsheet of “3rd Party” equipment dated June 2006 that lists hundreds of U.S. components — including servers, routers, storage devices and software — required for a variety of systems.

A delivery schedule also dated June 2006 lists U.S. equipment needed for “value-added services,” including voice mail and a wiretapping system. The schedule states that the equipment would be “Ready to Ship Dubai” that July and August. It estimates it would take two weeks to arrive in the southern Iranian port of Bandar Abbas by “Air or Sea/Road,” and then up to 30 days to clear Iranian customs.

According to a person familiar with the matter, the equipment ultimately arrived by boat. “It all showed up,” this person said.

‘Outstanding issues’ Reuters reported in June that a Kuwait-based telecom-service provider called Shabakkat was used to procure some U.S. equipment for MTN Irancell. Shabakkat’s former country manager in Iran said the products were purchased from a local Iranian company.

But the person familiar with the matter said Shabakkat also sourced U.S. products from a distributor in Dubai called Exit40. The distributor no longer operates.

A Shabakkat executive in Kuwait did not respond to requests for comment. Two former top executives of Exit40 could not be reached for comment.

The documents suggest procuring the U.S. parts often wasn’t easy, and the process was plagued by delays. For example, a “High Level Weekly Report” in November 2006 discusses problems sourcing Sun hardware.

“Urgent decision required to source SUN machines through local supplier,” it states. A note in red at the bottom of another PowerPoint slide says: “According to Shabakkat, all SUN HW is at Dubai waiting for Payment.” HW stands for hardware.

The following month, a spreadsheet detailing “Outstanding issues” cites delays in deploying a system called USSD that enables interactive services. “The USSD platform is completely built on SUN hardware – hence until the SUN hardware is delivered by Shabakkat USSD implementation will be delayed,” the spreadsheet says.

Paul Norman, MTN Group’s chief human resources and corporate affairs officer, said in a statement to Reuters: “MTN denies that it has ever conspired with suppliers to evade applicable U.S. sanctions on Iran or had a policy to do so. MTN works with reputable international suppliers. Our equipment is purchased from turnkey vendors and all our vendors are required to comply with U.S. and E.U. sanctions. We have checked vendor compliance procedures and continue to monitor them and we are confident they are robust.”

The Hawks, a South African police unit, is investigating MTN over allegations contained in a federal lawsuit filed in Washington in March by Turkcell, an Istanbul-based rival. The suit alleges that MTN stole the Iranian telecom license from Turkcell in November 2005 by paying bribes. MTN denies the allegations and has attacked the credibility of former MTN executive Kilowan, who is Turkcell’s key witness in the case. The procurement of banned U.S. products is not a subject of the lawsuit.

‘Civil and criminal consequences’ According to the internal procurement documents, right from the start MTN was well aware of what it termed “embargo issues” and the inherent risks involved.

A December 2005 PowerPoint presentation marked confidential and emblazoned with MTN’s logo noted that the “Consequences of non compliance” included “Civil and criminal consequences.” The PowerPoint slide added that the U.S. government could blacklist MTN, “which could result in all MTN operations being precluded from sourcing products/services from U.S. based companies in future.”

According to a person familiar with the matter, MTN was determined that MTN Irancell procure substantial amounts of U.S. equipment: The U.S. products had performed well in its other networks, and the company’s technicians were familiar with them. But MTN soon learned that its major contractors on the project — particularly Nokia — wouldn’t provide the equipment because of the U.S. embargo.

So MTN executives began to explore ways to procure the parts without violating sanctions, the documents show. The company initially explored an exception to the sanctions known as the “de minimis” rule. Under it, tech products can sometimes be legally exported to Iran from a foreign country if the aggregate value of the U.S. parts or technology inside is less than 10 percent.

According to the person familiar with the matter, MTN believed that if U.S. components comprised less than 10 percent of a large system, its major contractors could legally procure them. But the company learned that the rule applies to each component, not to an overall system.

“Once they figured it out, they realized the vendors wouldn’t accept that,” this person said. “Now they had a problem.”

According to a weekly report from December 2005, MTN also explored another alternative — obtaining U.S. parts from the so-called “grey market,” or unauthorized distribution channels. The report suggests “obtaining go ahead to procure US embargoed products … from grey market notwithstanding the adverse consequences to MTN.”

The person familiar with the situation said MTN was under tremendous pressure to launch the Iranian mobile operator as quickly as possible, because it had told shareholders it projected having 1 million subscribers by the end of 2006. The operator finally launched in October, after months of delays, and is now Iran’s second-largest wireless carrier by subscribers.

The procurement problems are referenced in numerous internal MTN and MTN Irancell documents. A June 2006 status report discussed delays in the delivery of essential components for value-added services, or VAS.

“The primary challenge in the establishment of the VAS solution is simply that the hardware platforms required are of US origin and therefore fall foul of the US embargo on exports to Iran,” the report says. “This means that innovative mechanisms need to be applied to secure delivery of the hardware platforms.” Another progress report makes reference to an “Order placed last week with Turkey and Iran to circumvent embargo issues.”

Reuters reported in June that some of the U.S. equipment — including at least a half-dozen Sun servers –was sourced locally through Iranian companies. But according to the person familiar with the matter, many other U.S. components were acquired via Dubai by Shabakkat, which was paid about $30 million to $40 million to acquire them — about twice their value.

“You had a buyer who was desperate,” the person said, referring to MTN. “They didn’t have any other options.”

Mahmoud Tadjallimehr became a project manager for Nokia on the MTN Irancell project in November 2006. In an interview, he said it was known within the mobile operator that Shabakkat was sourcing U.S. equipment for the project, and he dealt directly with the firm. But he said that one day in discussing a delivery problem, a Shabakkat manager told him, “The issue was not with Shabakkat but with Exit40.” He also said “someone told me that we should never use this name (Exit40) in any kind of emails or conversations.”

According to archive.org, which archives websites, Exit40’s site in 2006 described the firm as a privately held, “leading independent wholesale distributor of IT products” that was headquartered in Switzerland, with offices in Dubai, Florida, Switzerland and India. The site also included this boast: “Exit40’s procurement executives source hard to find or locally constrained products for customers.”

Zambia short-lists 11 banks for Eurobond role


Reuters

By Tosin Sulaiman
April 23, 2012

LONDON, April 23 (Reuters) – Zambia has issued requests for proposals to 11 international banks seeking to act as book runners for its debut $500 million Eurobond, a government agency official said on Monday.

Goldman Sachs, BNP Paribas, Standard Chartered and Deutsche Bank were among the banks short-listed from an initial 16 that submitted expressions of interest, an official at the Zambia Public Procurement Authority, who asked not to be named, told Reuters.

There has been strong appetite for African debt and the last such issue from the region – a debut $500 million, 10-year Eurobond from Namibia launched in October – was heavily oversubscribed with an initial coupon of 5.5 percent. It is now yielding 4.95 percent.

The limited supply from African sovereigns has ensured that debut issues are eagerly anticipated, with Nigeria’s $500 million 10-year Eurobond last year attracting heavy demand.

The tender closes on April 27 and it would take a minimum of three weeks to evaluate the bids, the official said. So far, eight banks had confirmed their participation.

“Last week, we had eight confirmations from the short-listed bidders that they will take part in the tender,” he said.

The agency has also issued requests for proposals to two law firms, Clifford Chance and White & Case, seeking a role as legal advisers, he added.

The government of Africa’s number one copper producer announced plans to issue a Eurobond in November when it unveiled its first budget after an upset election victory two months earlier.

In February, tenders were invited for two book runners to act as joint lead managers, to assist in determining the size and pricing of the issue and coordinate road shows.

The official said the size of the issue had been confirmed at $500 million.

The other short-listed banks were Citigroup, Absa Capital/Barclays Capital, UBS, HSBC, JP Morgan, Standard Bank and Credit Suisse .

Proceeds from the Eurobond are earmarked for upgrading Zambia’s dilapidated infrastructure – spending that will create jobs and go down well in rural areas where President Michael Sata is seeking to boost his support.

However, investors may be wary after rating agency Fitch said in early March that it was revising the country’s rating outlook to negative from stable, citing concerns about the direction of economic policy in the southern African state.

It said Zambia’s recent decision to reverse a privatisation deal could undermine property rights, while planned reforms of the mining and banking sectors could negatively impact investment and consequently macro-economic stability.

Alarm bells were subsequently raised by the suspension of the political party status of the main opposition party because it had not been paying its annual registration fees.

“Even if the decision is overturned by the courts, Fitch highlights again the risks associated with sending a negative message on matters relating to economic policy, property rights and respect for the rule of law,” Fitch said. (Reporting by Tosin Sulaiman, editing by Ed Stoddard, Ron Askew).

Ten foreign firms bid to supply Zambia oil


March 30, 2012

* Current supplier Glencore among bidders

* 12 for separate diesel, petrol supply tender

(Reuters) – Ten foreign companies, including Glencore Energy UK Ltd, have tendered to supply oil to Zambia for a period of two years starting this year, the public procurement agency said on Friday.

The oil should be configured to Zambia’s 24,000 barrels-per-day Indeni refinery, which does not process pure crude oil.

Zambia in February invited tenders for the supply of 1.4 million tonnes of oil after the expiry of a contract with Glencore under a two-year arrangement from March 2010.

Hazel Zulu, the Zambia Public Procurement Agency spokeswoman said Mercury Energy Trading (SA), Agipol Africa Limited, Gunvor (SA) and Crown Hill Investments Limited had also put in bids.

Others are KenolKobil Limited, Trafigura PTE Limited, Vitol SA, Independent Petroleum Group Company of Kuwait and Addax Energy SA, she said…Read more.

DryShips drilling unit signs offshore Africa contract


March 22, 2012

(Reuters) – Ocean Rig UDW Inc, the drilling unit of DryShips Inc, said it signed a new contract for a rig to drill in offshore West Africa.

Ocean Rig UDW, in which DryShips owns a 73.9 percent stake, said the contract is for 84 days and has an estimated backlog of $67.5 million.

The customer has the option to extend the contract for one additional well for an estimated duration of about 40 days, Nicosia, Cyprus-based Ocean Rig said in a statement.

U.S.-listed shares of Ocean Rig, which went public in October last year, closed at $17.24 on Wednesday on the Nasdaq. (Reporting by Divya Lad in Bangalore; Editing by Sriraj Kalluvila)

South Africa duped by fixers before World Cup – FIFA


Chicago Tribune

FIFA Volleyball World Cup 2010
Image via Wikipedia

Mark Gleeton, Reuters

March 5th, 2012

CAPE TOWN (Reuters) – South Africa were duped into allowing an Asian match fixing syndicate to provide them with referees for a series of warm-up games before they hosted the 2010 World Cup, FIFA security chief Chris Eaton said Monday.

The outcome of friendly internationals against Thailand, Colombia, Bulgaria and Guatemala in the weeks leading up to the tournament are all in question after FIFA found the match officials had been provided by a Singapore-based company, fronting for match fixers…Eaton suggested the South Africans were duped rather than complicit in any deceit.

“It should also be said that to date there is no information, suggestion or evidence that any player or team, including the national South Africa team, was in any way complicit with any attempt to manipulate a match outcome,” he said…Read more.

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