| KINSHASA, June 2
KINSHASA, June 2 The Chamber of Commerce in
Democratic Republic of Congo has complained to the government
about a worsening business climate in the country's
copper-mining region, including what it says are unjustified
duties on power imports.
In a letter to the finance minister dated June 1, the
chamber said Congo's customs agency has levied more than $300
million in penalties on mining companies for failing to declare
electricity imports or making false customs declarations.
The chamber said this was despite the fact the public power
utility, rather than the companies themselves, imported the
electricity before selling it on, according to the letter.
"To force the companies to pay the unjustly demanded sums,
the (customs agency) uses heavy-handed tactics, going as far as
withholding the goods of the concerned companies so that they
quickly give in and pay the high penalties," the letter said.
The finance minister, who oversees the customs agency, did
not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Authorities routinely say they are committed to improving
Congo's business climate, which ranks a lowly 184 out 190
countries on the World Bank's Doing Business Index.
However, mining companies say they see little progress and
are also concerned about a government proposal to revise the
2002 mining code to raise royalties and other taxes to boost the
cash-strapped government's revenues.
Mines Minister Martin Kabwelulu told Reuters on Friday the
proposal would be presented to parliament later in the day.
Despite such concerns, mining giants such as Glencore
, Randgold and China Molybdenum have
made major investments in Congo, Africa's top copper producer
and a significant producer of cobalt, gold and diamonds.
But electricity poses a knotty challenge. Congo's
copper-mining Katanga region receives only about half the power
it needs from the national grid, forcing operators to rely on
expensive generators or imports from neighbouring Zambia.
The state power utility recently signed a provisional
agreement with South Africa's Eskom to import 200 megawatts of
power which would be used by mining companies.
(Editing by Joe Bavier and David Clarke)