* Guinean mining long plagued by graft, mismanagement
* Soros-backed watchdog hails transparency initiative
By Saliou Samb
CONAKRY, Feb 15 Guinea's government on Friday published contracts it has signed with mining firms including majors Rio Tinto and RUSAL in a bid for more transparency in a sector plagued by corruption and mismanagement.
President Alpha Conde vowed after taking office in 2010 following his election to revamp the minerals-rich but underdeveloped West African nation's mining sector and review existing mining contracts.
The government is also overhauling the country's mining code and has set up a technical committee to review existing accords, all of which are now published online on a new government website:
Guinean officials have said many of the contracts were signed under non-transparent conditions especially during the rule of a military junta before Conde's 2010 election. The government says such accords do not benefit the country.
"For a very long time, the Guinean mining sector was characterised by opaqueness, poor governance and inefficiency," Guinean Mines Minister Mohamed Lamine Fofana said in Conakry.
"Today, we are setting a very important milestone in the process of implementing transparency," Fofana told reporters during a presentation of the website.
Resources watchdog Revenue Watch, backed by billionaire George Soros, is advising the Guinean government on transparency and how to get more from negotiations with mining firms.
Revenue Watch said in a statement on Friday that the government had said it would publish online any amended contract and all future contracts.
"Guinea's action is a model for other countries and demonstrates that making contracts public is possible even in challenging environments," Patrick Heller, senior legal adviser at Revenue Watch said in the statement.
The watchdog, together with the World Bank Institute and Columbia University, helped the government set up the website.
Though not the first country to make its mining contracts publicly available - such deals are sometimes protected by confidentiality clauses - Guinea is one of the first states in Africa to publish all of its existing contracts and annexes.
The website so far has more than 60 contract documents covering 18 mining projects, Revenue Watch said.