September 30, 2009 / 12:21 PM / in 8 years

Canadian head of Congo state miner Gecamines quits

KINSHASA (Reuters) - The Canadian head of Democratic Republic of Congo's state mining firm Gecamines said on Wednesday he had resigned.

"It's a friendly resignation," Paul Fortin told Reuters. "I stepped down. I was at it for four years and it will take more time to sort things out, but I think it's time to pass on to a new chief."

Gecamines was once one of Congo's biggest mineral exporters, but barely functions as a mining operation after years of neglect and maladministration.

"I was appointed for 18 months, and I stayed for four years," Fortin said. "You chip away at the problems, but they are still there. We've made progress. I'm satisfied."

During his tenure, lawyer Fortin was credited with calming workers by paying back wages.

He also oversaw much of Gecamines' transition from non-functioning state miner to landholder joint venture partner in a period when many international resources firms invested in copper and cobalt mining in Congo.

Mining revenues, which depend largely on production volumes and international commodity prices, are a mainstay of Congo's public finances.

The price of copper, Congo's principal mineral export, hit a record high of almost $9,000 per tonne in 2008, and many firms rushed to build mines there.

Since then the price has fallen by around 30 percent, and some of those operations have been delayed, scaled back or abandoned, though there are signs of increasing interest in the sector again.

Fortin's former deputy Calixte Mukasa will step in as acting chief executive, with the government in no hurry to find a replacement, according to Deputy Mines Minister Victor Kasongo.

"It's not an issue that's on the agenda," Kasongo said.

"Mukasa has taken over now. Congo is not looking for a new CEO of Gecamines."

Congo, which sits on huge reserves of copper and other minerals but has not been able to fully exploit them, last month completed a review of its contracts with mining firms, which left the massive Tenke project yet to be fully approved.

Tenke, which could be one of the world's biggest copper and cobalt mines, is backed and owned by Freeport McMoran and Lundin Mining, while Gecamines holds a minority share in the project, as it does in many other foreign-owned mining developments.

Writing by Daniel Magnowski; Editing by William Hardy

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