Congo state miner’s high-flying chief has his wings clipped

Albert Yuma was reconfirmed as chairman of the Democratic Republic of Congo’s state-owned copper miner.

The head of the Democratic Republic of Congo’s state mining company will no longer exercise control over the business, despite being reappointed to the post, the president’s spokesman said.

Albert Yuma, who was named president of Gecamines’s board in 2010, retained the position in a May 29 order signed by President Felix Tshisekedi. Nongovernmental groups have criticized the lack of transparency at Gecamines and Yuma of overseeing corruption — allegations he rejects. Yuma is a close ally of former President Joseph Kabila, whom Tshisekedi succeeded after elections in December.

Nongovernmental groups have criticized the lack of transparency at Gecamines and Yuma of overseeing corruption

International mining companies have an uneasy relationship with Yuma because he’s committed to renegotiating Gecamines’s joint ventures to secure better terms for the state, and supported legislation to increase royalties and introduced taxes. Miners operating in Congo, the world’s largest source of cobalt and the fourth-biggest copper producer, include Glencore Plc and China Molybdenum Co.

Yuma previously had “power” at Gecamines “beyond what was devolved to him as president of the board,” especially after the company’s director-general was fired by Kabila in 2014 and not replaced, Tshisekedi’s spokesman Kasongo Mwema Yamba Yamba said by phone.

The firm will now be managed by its new director-general, Sama Lukonde, and his deputy, Ntambwe Ngoy Kabongo, alongside Yuma and six other directors. Tshisekedi wants “Gecamines to stop being a kind of dairy cow for certain Congolese political officials,” Yamba Yamba said.

Yuma didn’t respond to calls seeking comment.

Organizations including the Atlanta-based Carter Center and London-based Global Witness have accused Gecamines of failing to account for hundreds of millions of dollars paid to it by mining companies. The company, a junior shareholder in most of Congo’s mining projects, rejects the allegation and says its paid $372 million to the national Treasury between 2009 and 2014, including more than $250 million in tax advances.

A local organization, the Public Expenses Observatory, wrote to Tshisekedi on June 6 urging him to reverse Yuma’s reappointment, claiming “his previous mandate at Gecamines excelled in financial scandal without precedent.” Such allegations are part of the “propaganda of the DRC’s enemies,” according to a Gecamines statement last week.

Boardroom battle

Kabila’s allies in parliament also want Tshisekedi to cancel the nomination of Gecamines’ new board. His Common Front for Congo, or FCC, says the directive is unconstitutional as it lacks the counter-signature of a sitting prime minister.

While Tshisekedi won the presidential election, FCC candidates secured majorities in both houses of parliament and provincial assemblies, leading the head of state and his predecessor to agree to govern Congo in coalition with a prime minister from the ranks of the FCC.

(By William Clowes)

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