Dar es Salaam — Barrick Gold Corporation has sent Mr Richard Williams, a soldier, who led elite Special Forces units in combat missions in Iraq, Afghanistan and the Balkans, to lead its negotiations with the government aimed at resolving a dispute between the two parties.
Mr Williams, who currently serves as Barrick's chief operating officer (COO), is leading the mining giant's team in the long-awaited talks with the government of Tanzania, which started yesterday in the city. The government team is led by the minister of Constitutional and Legal Affairs, Prof Palamagamba Kabudi. Mr Williams joined Barrick in October 2014 after a 20-year stint in the British Army, where he commanded the Special Air Service (SAS), an elite Special Forces unit, in operations in Iraq, Afghanistan, the Balkans, South America and the UK. He was appointed Barrick's COO in August 2015.
Before joining Barrick, Mr Williams, a trained economist, who also holds a Master's degree in Defence and Security Studies and an MBA, worked for a hedge fund, an investment bank and in a number of mineral exploration and service companies in Afghanistan, Central Asia and Africa. Speaking before the start of the talks yesterday Prof Kabudi said his team was well prepared to represent and defend Tanzania's interests during the talks. He said he had been meeting Mr Williams the whole of last week in preparatory meetings ahead of the talks.
"Tanzania is a sovereign country and so it has the right to own its natural resources and use them for the benefit of its people. I urge Tanzanians to wish the talks well. Tanzanians should also understand that their resources will be protected at any cost," Prof Kabudi said in a video clip sent to media houses by the State House's Directorate of Information.
For his part, Mr Williams said he looking forward to participating in the negotiations and that the only way to secure a way forward was to complete the negotiations and get things moving. "We have brought a series of proposals to discuss with the Tanzanian government and its people in what we believe is a very exciting way forward for the company (Acacia Mining) here in Tanzania," Mr Williams said. The talks between the two parties have started a fortnight after President John Magufuli threatened to close the mines if Barrick kept delaying. But the negotiations are also being conducted in the backdrop of a $190 billion tax billion that Barrick's Tanzanian subsidiary, Acacia Mining, was slapped by the Tanzania Revenue Authority.
Acacia has disputed the figure, saying it has been paying taxes, levies and fees as required by Tanzanian laws.
The agenda of the talks was not made public yesterday, but The Citizen understands that the talks, most likely, feature the disputed tax bill and the ban on exports of metallic mineral concentrates that the government imposed in March this year.
In April and May this year, President Magufuli received reports of two committees that he had formed to probe the export of the mineral concentrates. The reports claimed that Acacia Mining had denied the government billions of US dollars by under declaring the value of minerals contained in the mineral concentrates that it had been shipping out of the country for the last 17 years. Acacia denied the accusations and called for the formation of an independent team to probe the issue.
Barrick Gold Corporation's executive chairman, Prof John Thornton flew into the country in May, met President Magufuli and agreed to hold talks as soon as possible to resolve the issue.