* Nazarbayev wants to see progress on licence ban soon
* Moratorium, red tape frustrate global mining giants
* President says this has bred corruption in local clans
By Raushan Nurshayeva
ASTANA, Jan 23 Kazakhstan's president has urged
his government to move more quickly to lift a four-year
moratorium on issuing new mineral exploration licences to
develop new deposits and ease the grip of local clans on the
country's natural wealth.
"I have already given an order on lifting the moratorium,"
Nursultan Nazarbayev told the government during a meeting which
was broadcast live on Wednesday.
"This is needed to attract investment in developing new
deposits. I have given you the go-ahead ... So what's the
problem?" he said.
Nazarbayev, 72, who has run central Asia's largest economy
for more than two decades, was referring to his instruction
given to the government last November to remove the moratorium
on subsoil use.
"I charge Deputy Prime Minister (Aset) Isekeshev with
proposing concrete steps within one month to drastically rectify
the situation," said Nazarbayev, who wields vast powers.
"As for geological and exploration works, you must report to
me personally during the first half of the year."
Kazakhstan holds uranium reserves second only to
Australia's. Five times the size of France, the country also has
the world's largest chromium reserves and substantial copper,
iron ore and zinc deposits.
But less than 15 percent of Kazakhstan's explored metals
reserves are currently in production, official data show, with
only 75 of 282 identified gold deposits and 19 of 55 iron ore
deposits in operation.
Despite its prospectivity, Kazakhstan receives less than 1
percent of global investment in metals exploration. Miners have
no guarantee they will be able to develop any reserves that they
Companies including global miner Rio Tinto
and London-listed ENRC have grown frustrated at the red
tape encountered while trying to explore and develop new
resources in Kazakhstan.
"World-class company Rio Tinto, which is ready to invest
tens of millions of dollars in exploration virtually from
scratch, had spent two years roaming our government offices,"
Umirzak Shukeyev, who heads sovereign wealth fund
Samruk-Kazyna, told Nazarbayev the fund's mining unit Tau-Ken
Samruk had signed a memorandum on a 50-50 venture to prospect
for copper in the Kostanai region in northern Kazakhstan. He
gave no further detail.
State-owned Tau-Ken Samruk is currently exempt from the
moratorium on new licences imposed in 2008 pending a
restructuring of the tax code and subsoil law, which came into
force within a year.
Nazarbayev said massive foreign investment was sorely needed
in his country where an average of $20 was spent on geological
exploration per square kilometre, compared with $45 in
neighbouring China, $167 in Australia and $203 in Canada.
Nazarbayev said the arrival of large-scale foreign investors
would undermine the power of influential clans that cling to
control of mineral deposits in the regions.
"Mainly bureaucrats and their relatives have grabbed certain
deposits," he said without elaborating. "They have clung to them
up to now like a dog in the manger."
(Writing by Dmitry Solovyov; Editing by Mark Potter)