Afghanistan shakes up mining sector for transparency

Sun Dec 5, 2010 11:24am EST
 
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By Emma Graham-Harrison

KABUL (Reuters) - Afghanistan's mining minister says he has shaken up a "Soviet-era" mentality of compulsive secrecy, shed some of his staff and drawn up the ministry's first business plan in a bid to create a more accountable industry.

Washington and its allies believe that Afghanistan developing its vast untapped mineral wealth is its surest path to economic self-reliance, but projects have been held up in the past by corruption and red tape. Cleaning out the mining ministry has been a priority for international donors.

Wahidullah Shahrani, who took over the ministry around a year ago, said the country has joined the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) as a candidate country and hopes to get full compliant status in little over a year.

"You cannot imagine the progress that we have made in the last nine months, transforming the ministry from an old Soviet-style entity where there was a mentality to hide all the information, not to share any information even with the Ministry of Finance or the parliament," he told Reuters.

He said when he arrived at the ministry, which has around 8,000 employees, he found no business plan or strategic goals.

"After five years we are expecting that the contribution of the ministry to the revenue of the government would be at least $1.2 billion," he said on the sidelines of a conference to report Afghanistan's progress with EITI.

"After 15 years its contribution to the revenue will increase up to $3.5 billion in a year," he added. At present most of Afghanistan's budget comes from foreign donors.

The government said on Sunday its biggest planned mining project so far, the Aynak copper mine run by Metallurgical Corp of China Ltd (MCC), would be delayed to safeguard ancient Buddhist relics found there.   Continued...