Outcry over China-Niger oil deal
7/31/2008 9:13:20 AM -
A multi-billion dollar oil deal between China and the west African state of Niger has been denounced by unions and transparency campaigners.
Civil rights groups in Niger are calling for a parliamentary inquiry into the $5bn (£2.5bn) contract and for scrutiny of how funds will be spent.
China's state oil company was given oil exploration rights in Niger in June.
There is widespread concern that the people of Niger will not benefit from the country's oil wealth.
For centuries Africa has failed to gain much benefit from its enormous mineral deposits; they were plundered by colonisers and during wars.
But even when the governments of independent African countries have signed deals with mining companies, the people in those countries have rarely benefited.
Now as resource hungry China expands its business in Africa there are claims that a lack of transparency will once again prevent the people from gaining.
China recently said it would invest $5bn in Niger over the next three years to develop oil production.
But a coalition of organisations in Niger has called for a parliamentary investigation into the deal and an examination of how the funds resulting from the agreement are spent.
A mining union in Niger said the deal with China took place in the greatest of secrecy and with contempt for regulation.
It is not easy changing the way such deals are struck - political and business elites often have a vested interest in avoiding transparency.
Even when a company or investor wants to disclose the details of a deal, it risks losing its license to a less scrupulous competitor.
There are plenty of examples where governments have failed to do business in the interests of the people they serve.
It has been alleged that for several years Angolans were losing out on more than $1bn every year as oil revenues were misappropriated.
Unless the deals are transparent and accounts published, it is almost impossible to spot any corruption.
That is why campaigners are now making noise in Niger as they hope China's vast investment will break the mould and actually benefit the population.