Voice of America (Washington, DC)

24 February 2014

Niger: French Uranium Miner Owes More to Niger, Activists Say

Photo: Ikiwaner/Wikipedia
Uranium mine.

Dakar — Niger and the French uranium firm Areva remain locked in negotiations over how to divide revenues. Activists and non-governmental organizations have gotten involved and say Niger deserves a greater share of the profits.

The government of Niger is negotiating a new mining contract with the French state-owned mining company Areva. Activists say that for decades Areva has been operating in Niger without paying its fair share of taxes or revenue profits.

"Uranium is a big industry in Niger," said Ibrahima Aidara, the economic governance program manager for the Open Society Initiative of West Africa. "Some people say it is the fourth largest producer of uranium. But unfortunately, Niger is not benefiting much because they are not getting good revenue, and the damage on [society] and the environment is also very huge."

Niger is one of the poorest countries in the world. According to the World Bank, nearly 60 percent of Nigeriens currently live below the national poverty line.

This is despite a study by the Extraction Industry Transparency Initiative that showed that Areva mined more than $4.8 billion worth of uranium from Niger in 2010.

Areva's last contract with Niger, which came to an end on December 31, was signed in 2001. It was based largely on Niger's 1993 mining law, which not only exempted companies from export duties on uranium, but also from all customs duties and value-added taxes on mining materials and equipment.

Aidara said that Areva is currently only paying 5.5 percent in royalties to Niger. He says they should be paying 12 percent or higher.

Additionally, in 2013, Areva profited from an estimated $440 million worth of tax exemptions.

The advocacy officer for Oxfam's tax justice and extractive industries unit, Anne-Sophie Simpere, said it is clear the country is not getting its fair share.

"We calculated that with the VAT that Areva should pay, they could cover the cost of their free health care system for vulnerable people and their struggling financial system," Simpere said. "So on the one hand you have the poorest country in the world that needs money, funding for its development and on the other hand you have a big corporation that needs uranium because of the basis of their business."

To make uranium extraction by multinational companies more profitable to Niger, a new mining code was signed into law in 2006.

In theory, the next contract between Niger and Areva should reflect the updated code. But Areva has said the terms of the new code would make uranium extraction in Niger unprofitable.

Ali Idrissa is the national coordinator for Publish What you Pay Niger/ROTAB, a network of organizations that campaign for transparency and accountability in the mining sector. He said Areva needs to respect the terms of the new mining code and finally give Niger what it deserves.

"For more than 40 years, Areva has been mining uranium in Niger and still Niger remains poor," he said. "It's not normal that the country isn't profiting from its own resources. Why does uranium mining bring us nothing but sickness, when Areva takes all the riches?" Idrissa asked. "We can't continue with such an unequal partnership."

Negotiations between the government and Areva are ongoing. Activists say the terms of the new contract could be announced by the end of the month.

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