Tanzania names latest mining minister in ongoing industry clash

DAR ES SALAAM (Reuters) - Tanzania named a new mining minister on Tuesday amid a prolonged spat between the government and gold producer Acacia over a $190 billion tax bill, which has severely limited the London-listed company’s operations in the East African nation.

Dotto Biteko, whose appointment was announced by presidential official John Kijazi on state television, is the third mining minister President John Magufuli has appointed since he was elected in 2015.

Biteko comes from Magufuli’s home region and has been deputy mining minister since January 2018. He previously lead a parliamentary investigation that concluded there was widespread tax evasion and smuggling in the gemstone business, allegations that companies working in the sector have denied.

“He knows the mining sector well, so we expect continuity of policy,” Tanzania Chamber of Minerals and Energy (TCME) executive secretary Gerald Mturi said.

In 2017, the government passed laws that the industry complained would be costly and onerous. Among other things, the laws hike taxes on mineral exports, mandate a higher government stake in some mining operations and force the construction of local smelters, a move some companies said was uneconomic.

The laws aim to end what Magufuli, nicknamed “the Bulldozer” for both his time as public works minister and his pugnacious management style, has called years of corrupt practices and tax evasion. The mining sector contributes around 4.8 percent to GDP, the government says.

The reforms are part of a wider push by African governments to claw back revenues from mining and the share prices of many listed foreign firms working in Tanzania have tumbled in the last two years.

The populist government has said that it wants mining companies to list on the local stock exchange to give Tanzanians a chance to share their profits.

Reporting by Fumbuka Ng’wanakilala; writing by Omar Mohammed; editing by Catherine Evans/Jason Neely/Alexander Smith