By Richard Valdmanis
BISSAU, March 26 (Reuters) – Angola’s $500 million plan to build a bauxite mine and deepwater port in Guinea Bissau has stalled, with nearly no work done since the project was officially inaugurated in July 2011, officials said.
The project, first signalled by Angola in 2008 after it won rights to a mining concession in the southeastern Boe region, would be the single biggest foreign investment in Guinea Bissau, an impoverished country plagued by turmoil since independence and whose main export now is cashew nuts.
Guinea Bissau’s former prime minister, Carlos Gomes Junior, who stepped down to run for president in ongoing elections, told Reuters construction of the port and mine by Angola Bauxite, part-owned by the Angolan state, was being held up by the completion of an environmental impact study.
“(Construction) will start soon. Angola Bauxite already has an office in Bissau, the technicians are in place. The only thing missing is the environmental impact study, and I think we’ll have that soon,” he said.
But an adviser to Bissau’s Ministry of Industry and Planning said Angola was dragging its feet on the investment because of an uncertain political and security environment in the country, which has had a history of coups.
President Joao Bernardo Vieira was assassinated in 2009, and there have been several outbursts since by the country’s notoriously unruly military, including a coup within the armed forces in 2010 and a shoot-out in the capital last December.
“Maybe once security reform makes some headway and the election resolves smoothly, the project will start moving forward,” he said, asking not to be named.
An Angola Bauxite official was not immediately available to comment on the status of the project.
A Reuters reporter visited Angola Bauxite’s offices in Bissau last week, but found them empty. A security guard said the director had been out of the country since before Christmas and that local workers were taking half days.
The project, publicised in 2008 and inaugurated with an official ceremony in July last year, would create a deepwater port at Buba with a capacity of three 70-tonne vessels simultaneously, and a 3-million tonne per year mine in Boe.
Guinea-Bissau officials say the Boe deposits are a continuation across the thickly forested border of huge bauxite reserves in neighbouring Guinea, the world’s leading exporter of bauxite – the ore from which aluminium is made.
Gomes Junior won 49 percent in Guinea Bissau’s March 18 first round vote, well-ahead of his closest rival Kumba Yala with 23 percent but not enough to avoid a run-off vote loosely scheduled for late April. Gomes Junior, running on the ruling party ticket, is seen as favourite to win the run-off.
His rival Yala has said he is unfamiliar with the Angola Bauxite contract and would have to review it if he wins to see if it is fair for the country. (Editing by James Jukwey)
© Thomson Reuters 2012 All rights reserved Há mais de seis anos que prometem aos guineenses ouro, bauxite e outras riquezas. Mas, vai-se a ver e nada aparece; fica tudo nas gavetas. Projectos, só projectos, que ninguém é capaz de levar a cabo.