DRC: Gécamines and the missing millions

By Jeune Afrique
Posted on Monday, 6 June 2022 11:42

Albert Yuma Mulimbi was removed as chairman of the Gécamines board of directors on 3 December 2021. © Vincent Fournier/JA

The Congolese mining giant is the subject of a detailed report by the General Inspectorate of Finance (IGF). The conclusions finalised on 31 May, and to which we have had access, are damning: the anti-corruption agency pinpoints a series of irregularities that led to the loss of several hundred million dollars.

A pillar of the Congolese economy, Gécamines had been in the crosshairs of the General Inspectorate of Finance (IGF) for several months. The anti-corruption agency had launched an extensive audit of the management of the emblematic public company, for the 2010-2020 period, when Albert Yuma chaired the board of directors.

The audit was launched in September 2021. A few months earlier, Félix Tshisekedi had announced his intention to renegotiate the mining contracts signed during the two terms of his predecessor, Joseph Kabila. This initiative had so far resulted in a review of the “contract of the century” signed with China in 2008. However, the current president said he wanted a more comprehensive review of the sector to be carried out as well.

The IGF investigation, whose conclusions have long remained secret, and which we were able to consult exclusively, targeted – in particular – the conditions of sale or transfer of mining assets of Gécamines to private actors and, above all, the financial performance of a company regularly accused by NGOs of “selling off Congolese minerals”.

“Lack of control”

For the IGF, all transfers of mining assets through partnership contracts were subject to irregularities. First, the report explains that “the deposits contributed by Gécamines […] have never been subject to an independent evaluation of the reserves”. The company’s shares in these agreements, which have been revised downwards over the years, were therefore determined in the absence of reliable estimates of the potential of assets concerned.

None [of them] was able to distribute dividends before the 2020 financial year

The IGF then highlights “the absence of profits made in all the partnerships concluded by the mining company”. Indeed, as the operators in question did not provide their own capital for the exploitation of these deposits, preferring, according to the IGF, to get into debt with their subsidiaries, the exploitation of Gécamines’ assets was very often “used to repay these credits”, depriving the Treasury of important tax revenues.

As Gécamines often has very little control over this type of contract, the investments made by the partners were regularly accounted for without the state-owned company making its own assessment. “None [of them] was able to distribute dividends before the 2020 financial year,” the report says.

Uncollected royalties

A system of royalties, a fee “ranging from 1% to 2.5%” on the proceeds of the sale, which the companies had to pay, was supposed to avoid the capture of revenues from the exploitation of mining sites by Gécamines’ operators.

“This principle was neither generalised nor standardised, and the state never received as much money as expected. According to the anti-corruption agency, “from 2012 to 2020, Gécamines’ partners achieved a global turnover estimated at $35bn, while [the latter] only received $564m” in royalties (1.6%).

For example, Tenke Fungurume Mining, a project that inherited the largest reserves from Gécamines and has been successively operated by different companies, is not required to pay any royalties. Based on an estimated royalty rate of 2.5%, the IGF estimates that the shortfall for the period 2012-2020 is more than $360m.

Opacity

This issue of royalties illustrates, above all, the great opacity in which the mining sector has developed over the past two decades. This lack of transparency is illustrated by the non-publication of certain mining contracts or the absence of traceability of the payment of door steps by certain partners.

Moreover, the report continues, the few assets and revenues that Gécamines was able to obtain in return did not benefit it. The IGF highlights several examples. The agency refers to a transaction signed in January 2015 between Gécamines, Africa Horizons Investment LTD (AHIL) and Kamoto Copper Company (KCC), under which the royalties generated by the 2.5% of KCC’s net turnover were transferred to AHIL, a subsidiary of the Fleurette group of Israeli businessman Dan Gertler. This sale would have caused Gécamines to lose more than $87m over the period 2015-2020. Contacted by us, the tycoon’s teams formally deny this allegation.

In addition to the sale of Gécamines’ shares in several joint ventures, the IGF also pinpointed the famous hybrid contract signed in 2008 with China, which provided for the construction of several infrastructures in exchange for mining permits. The state’s share of this contract, estimated at $175m, remains untracked in the Treasury’s general account to this day.

Debt

Misuse of income from partnerships, creation of non-productive subsidiaries, non-payment of taxes due to the Treasury, debts of several tens of millions of dollars to staff and third parties… The report also denounces the internal management of Gécamines and raises suspicions of embezzlement.

The IGF teams recommend that the government prohibit the signing of partnership and farm-out contracts on the deposits that are still available

According to the IGF, the state-owned company presented a file on tax advances totalling $530,621,863. Of this amount, the IGF claims that only $178m were traced to the Treasury account, leaving more than $413m unaccounted for, even though the IGF claims in its summary dated 31 May to be continuing its investigations.

In conclusion, the IGF teams recommend that the government “prohibit the signing of partnership and farm-out contracts on the deposits that are still available” as well as the “transfer of Gécamines’ shares and rights in the contracts and partnerships in force”. Gécamines, for its part, is invited to “explore the possibilities of revising the royalty rate fixed in the farm-out contracts” and “initiate the necessary procedures for the recovery of mining assets sold at fixed prices”.

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