KABUL Oct 14 Afghanistan's government released
on Sunday the details of scores of mining and energy contracts,
including a major Chinese deal, in an effort to counter rampant
corruption and bribery of officials worrying resource investors
and donors alike.
As the government finalises new laws designed to attract
more foreign mining investment, officials made public 210
previously awarded contracts, including one signed in 2011 with
China National Petroleum Corp to develop three oil
and gas blocks in the Amu Darya basin.
"For the first time in the history of the country, we have
been able to publish the details of the awarded contracts on the
website of the ministry of mines," Mines Minister Wahidullah
Shahrani told reporters in Kabul.
Shahrani told Reuters in an interview last month that
contracts would be published on the mining ministry's website,
as well as newspapers, to safeguard delivery of $16 billion in
aid promised by foreign donors over four years and tied to
stronger anti-graft measures.
Chinese and Indian companies are already scrambling to
access to Afghanistan's estimated $1 trillion worth of untapped
mineral wealth. The country has large deposits of gold, copper,
iron ore and oil, as well as lithium and rare earths used in
Chinese firms are leading the race, with China Metallurgical
Group (MCC) and Jiangxi Copper
winning a 2007 deal to exploit the giant $3 billion
Aynak copper mine southeast of the capital Kabul.
The Amu Darya contract, covering an estimated 80 million
barrels of oil, revealed that CNPC would allocate the first 15
percent of extracted hydrocarbons in any month to the government
as royalties, and pay income tax of 30 percent.
The company would also be required to use Afghan labour and
materials where possible, although CNPC could be free to import
hundreds of Chinese or other foreign workers given the
difficulty of finding skilled labour in Afghanistan.
"The contractor undertakes to give priority to Afghan
nationals with equivalent qualifications and experience, and
actively search for Afghan nationals in order to meet the
training and employment obligations," the contract said.
In making the contracts public, the government risks more
public opposition to mining projects at a time when it is
relying of resource income to replace diminishing development
aid now accounting for 90 percent of the national budget.
Shahrani's ministry will soon resubmit to President Hamid
Karzai's cabinet mining laws that Afghan officials and Western
donors hope will persuade foreign firms to invest in the
country's resources, but which were rejected in July over
concerns they were too generous to miners.
The new draft, backed by Western donors and the World Bank,
would remove a 2009 clause separating exploration from an
automatic licence to exploit finds, a law which led miners to
question why they were spending their money on expensive and
risky exploration if they could not be assured of profiting.
Shahrani acknowledged that many contracts awarded in the
past had been either technically or legally flawed, with some
given to companies with no mining background or experience.
"An importer of oil and rice has been awarded a major
contract," Shahrani said. "We have opened a very important
chapter to demonstrate the highest degree of transparency in
managing our national resources."
Both Chinese-operated sites at Amu Darya and Aynak have been
delayed by attacks by Taliban insurgents aiming to destabilise
government revenues and frighten off fresh investment ahead of a
pullout by most NATO combat troops in 2014.
China recently agreed to train 300 Afghan police to
safeguard Amu Darya, while staff at the $3 billion Aynak mine
appear to have been spooked by Taliban attacks and have left the
country, leaving only a skeleton team to guard equipment.
(Editing by Jon Hemming)