More than $2b lost in copper mining delays

Monitoring Desk

KABUL: An estimated $2 billion in government revenue has been lost due to inactivity from a copper mine–the country’s largest–in the last 10 years, TOLOnews findings reveal, based on projections of the mine’s worth since a deal was made between the Afghan government and a Chinese company in May 2008.

For the ten years after the deal was made, extraction at the MesAynak Copper Mine in Logar has been hindered by fighting between the government and the Chinese contractor – the China Metallurgical Group Corporation (MCC)–as well as by other obstacles, such as the push to preserve the area as an ancient heritage site.

MCC officials in Kabul said that their company–along with the government– also lost $2 billion this period for the Chinese company.

Figures from the government show that the revenue of the Ministry of Mines and Petroleum was expected to be $1 billion a year from mining projects, including the MesAynak project. But according to the figures, last year the revenues of the ministry was up to $20 million.

Currently, there is no activity at the mine, and a skeleton crew attends it.

“Right now, eight Chinese citizens are working on the project,” said Wang Bao, an employee of MCC in Afghanistan. “Our duty is only guarding this compound and tools. There are 13 Afghan workers who are working in transportation and servicing the machines.”

The site in Logar has been estimated to hold over 11.5 million tons (metric) of copper, worth $76 billion. The contract to extract the copper was awarded to MCC in 2008. It was worth $2.9 billion, according to the Ministry of Mines and Petroleum.

Work on the project was stopped when the site, which sits atop ancient Buddhist ruins, attracted efforts for preservation. This was one of many reasons for the stalled operation.

A representative of the MCC company in Afghanistan, HidayatullahAzizi, gave different reasons for the trouble with the project.

“We avoided the use of a copper melting factory because the nitric acid that is used for copper processing was not available; therefore, it was not wise to build the factory and it was not in favor of the people,” Azizi said.

But the government is still insisting on the implementation of all contents of the contract.

“The extraction of copper alone is not important for us – all contents of the contract that have been accepted should be implemented,” said Abdul QadirMutfi, a spokesman for the Ministry of Mines and Petroleum.

According to Mohammad RasulBawari, the deputy minister of information and culture, the excavation in the cooper deposit site in Logar is done by handmade tools, not bulldozers.

“We have made efforts to expedite the project,” he said.

Construction of a road that connects the copper mine with the center of the province has not been built so far, which was part of the contract.

“Local residents lost their houses for the sake of the mine but, so far, nothing has been done here and every time it is left for tomorrow,” said Zabihullah, a resident of the Aynak area in Logar province.

Former minister of Mines and Petroleum, WahidullahShahrani, said the problem needs a fundamental solution.

“Discussions should be held on the copper agreement if there are problems. The work on the project should be started,” he said.

At least five security force members were killed after their outpost was attacked in Mohammad Agha district in Logar province on Monday night, the provincial governor’s spokesman DidarLawang said.

He said the soldiers were part of a unit that was guarding a copper deposit in the district.(TOLOnews)