A team of eight MPs in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) said Wednesday they are probing allegations of illicit mineral exploitation against Chinese companies in the eastern South Kivu province, weeks after provincial authorities suspended their operations.
The MPs were commissioned after South Kivu Governor Theo Ngwabidje Kasi on Aug. 20 suspended the activities of nine Chinese companies over alleged illegal gold mining in Mwenga territory.
Speaking to reporters in Bukavu, the capital of South Kivu, legislator Jean Claude Kibala, the head of the delegation, said they are to meet with leaders of mining companies in the province, cooperatives and a cross section of residents.
The lawmakers will make recommendations to the government after their investigation while parliament will decide whether it is necessary to change the country’s mining code.
“We will talk to different sections of people in Mwenga to find out whether the operators respect the rights of local residents. We will also visit the mine field to observe the mining operations,” he said.
“Our tour could enable us to understand the issues affecting proper management of this sector. We are also interested in knowing why mining companies operate without paying royalties, and why interests of local populations are not respected.”
The suspension of Chinese mining companies, however, sparked a clash between Kasi and Mines Minister Antoinette N’samba, who challenged his decision.
Beijing, however, assured its support against any “illegal economic activities in accordance with the law.”
Wu Peng, director-general of Department of African Affairs at China’s Foreign Ministry, said on Twitter: “After investigations by Chinese side, the related authorities of Zhejiang and Jiangsu provinces have commanded the companies involved to respect the order of local government of DRC and stop the relevant business completely and leave South Kivu province as soon as possible.”
On Monday, DRC police said it had fired in the air to disperse residents of the mining territory of Mwenga who were demonstrating against the Chinese companies.
The residents barricaded roads, burned tires and demanded that a Chinese company that continues to mine despite a suspension stop its activities, according to police.
Residents were also angered after the Chinese companies reportedly destroyed their crops and a community forest, for which they were demanding compensation, according to media reports.
“The related companies will be punished and sanctioned by the Chinese government. The related authorities of Fujian and other provinces are conducting investigations and will take measures. We’ll never allow Chinese companies in Africa to violate local laws and regulations,” said Wu.
Meanwhile, Congolese President Felix Tshisekedi urged for a review of mining contracts signed with China in 2008 by his predecessor, saying he wanted to get “fairer deals.”
A statement issued after a Cabinet meeting last Friday said Tshisekedi called for the “technical and financial details of Sino-Congolese contracts.”
Six of the suspended companies are reportedly investment companies of the Chinese Communist Party.
Local media reports say some of these companies entered the province with only a research permit and subsequently started illegal mining operations.