- Title: NIGER: Niger audits Areva uranium mines seeking better a deal
- Date: 6th February 2014
- Summary: ARLIT, NIGER (RECENT) (REUTERS) VARIOUS OF URANIUM MINE IN ARLIT VIEWS OF ARLIT TOWN/STREET SCENES (SOUNDBITE) (French) HASSAN HAMANI, ARLIT DEPUTY MAYOR SAYING: "There are neighborhoods which go without water for three weeks at a time." HAMANI'S HANDS (SOUNDBITE) (French) HASSAN HAMANI, ARLIT MAYOR SAYING: "Who would have thought that here in Arlit there are schools where the pupils have to sit on the floor or study in straw huts." ENTRANCE OF SCHOOL SCHOOL HEADMASTER CHAIBOU BAKO WALKING OUT OF HIS OFFICE SCHOOL YARD (SOUNDBITE) (French) CHAIBOU BAKO, HEADMASTER SAYING: "This school was renovated in 2008, with funding from Areva and two other mining companies, Cominak and Somair. An enormous amount of work has been done, and the school was completely renovated, with around 13 classrooms in total." VARIOUS OF TOWN OF AGADEZ, MOSQUE IN FOREGROUND (SOUNDBITE) (French) RHISSA FELTOU, AGADEZ MAYOR SAYING: "Even if the mining companies pay their royalties to the state, but for us, as citizens of this country, we think that it's not enough, we can do better." STREET SCENES IN AGADEZ (SOUNDBITE) (French) AHMED OUGHAHIA, MEMBER OF CIVIL SOCIETY IN AGADEZ SAYING: "The biggest problem we have with Areva is the lack of employment. When it comes to employment, the Agadez region has been left behind, no one gives us jobs. They employ workers who are from outside of Agadez." CAR DRIVING AWAY AREAVA LOGO VARIOUS OF URANIUM MINE
- Embargoed: 21st February 2014 12:00
- Location: Niger
- Country: Niger
- Topics: Business,Economy,Politics
- Reuters ID: LVA3E3CZBCVDNEWKRWDH22QLW7FS
- Story Text: When France began mining uranium ore in the desert of northern Niger in the early 1970s, Arlit was a cluster of miners' huts stranded between the sun-blasted rocks of the Air mountains and the sands of the Sahara.
The 1973 OPEC oil embargo changed that. France embraced nuclear power to free itself from reliance on foreign oil and overnight this remote corner of Africa became crucial to its national interests.
Arlit, capital of the Agadez region has grown into a sprawling settlement of 117,000 people, while France now depends on nuclear power for three-quarters of its electricity, making it more reliant on uranium than any country on earth.
Niger has become the world's fourth-largest producer of the ore after Kazakhstan, Canada and Australia.
But uranium has not enriched Niger. More than 60 percent of its 17 million people survive on less than $1 a day.
Arlit is a dusty and neglected place, scoured by desert sandstorms and barely touched by the mineral wealth it ships off to Europe each year.
"There are neighborhoods which go without water for three weeks at a time," said Arlit Deputy Mayor Hassan Hamani, "Who would have thought that here in Arlit there are schools where the pupils have to sit on the floor or study in straw huts," he added.
Now Niger's government is demanding a better deal from Paris, and specifically from state-owned nuclear company Areva.
The two sides began talking more than a year ago but failed to clinch an agreement before Areva's 10-year mining contracts expired on December 31.
Niger, a former French colony and one of the world's poorest countries, has long complained it does not reap enough benefits from these resources.
The firm says it does plenty, spending 6 million Euros a year on health and economic development projects in Niger. There is no public hospital, but the mines allow residents access to their clinics free of charge. Areva has also built and renovated local schools.
"This school was renovated in 2008, with funding from Areva and two other mining companies, Cominak and Somair. An enormous amount of work has been done, and the school was completely renovated, with around 13 classrooms in total," said Chaibou Bako, headmaster at a local school.
Areva and Niger's just-expired agreements have never been made public. But Reuters has reviewed documents which reveal that Areva's mines pay no export duties on uranium, no taxes on materials and equipment used in mining operations, and a royalty of just 5.5 percent on the uranium they produce.
A spokesman for Areva declined to confirm the authenticity of the documents and did not comment on their contents.
Niger's President Mahamadou Issoufou says the deals are a throwback to the post-colonial era, when France played a dominant role in the economies of its former African territories. His government wants to cut the tax breaks and raise the royalty rate - its largest source of income from the mines - to as much as 12 percent.
Officials and NGOs often point to high levels of corruption as a reason for poor delivery of services. Local governments - which benefit from a 15 percent share of the royalties tax under the 2006 mining law - complain that payments are more than two years overdue. Local officials say the mining companies pay the royalties to the central government every month, and the delays are Niamey's responsibility.
"Even if the mining companies pay their royalties to the state, but for us, as citizens of this country, we think that it's not enough, we can do better," said Rhissa Feltou, Agadez mayor.
Some in Arlit feel angry that the mine has not brought greater prosperity.
"The biggest problem we have with Areva is the lack of employment. When it comes to employment, the Agadez region has been left behind, no one gives us jobs. They employ workers who are from outside of Agadez," said a member of civil society in Agadez.
Niger has a turbulent political history marked by rivalries and coups, and even though Issoufou's government has made progress in tackling corruption, the country still ranks 106th out of 177 countries in Transparency International's annual corruption perceptions index.
Analysts say the question for Issoufou is how hard he pushes President Francois Hollande on a new deal.
Issoufou said in December that the talks were progressing "normally" but has suggested Niger may turn to other countries - he did not say which - to help extract its mineral wealth.
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