Coltan: the American AVX Corporation questioned on the conduct of SMB in DR Congo

Bad student for the deficit found in his head by several recriminations registered for compliance with the regulations giving access to 3 T (Tungsten, tin, tantalum) on the international market, the Mining Company of Bisunzu (SMB) has just crossed the Rubicon by slamming the door of ITSCI traceability system. The reason for the higher and higher costs associated with this system is more perceived as an evasion in that this company – which has been operating for years the island granted to them in the concession of SAKIMA in Masisi – has seen, in the meanwhile, its production grow to the point of being No. 1 coltan in North Kivu parallel to the counter of its incidents against the duty of care that it has now. And the fact of wanting to switch to more profitable mechanisms in place in neighboring countries hides not only the worries of a company struggling to hold the monopoly in the face of competition that is gradually taking place, to get rid of incidents to really be in step with the regulations, but also its intention to evade control in DR Congo. An attitude that must, at the very least, challenge the American AVX Corporation, user of minerals exploited by SMB and whose reputation for the code of good conduct does not call any ambiguity in the matter, and the Congolese Government with regard to President Felix Tshisekedi’s statement that “the well-being of every Congolese is a guarantee of good management of our natural resources”.

De facto rights acquired by the Bisunzu Mining Company (SMB) during the rebellion for the exploitation of tin-bearing ores in SAKIMA concession in Rubaya, Masisi (North Kivu), were formalized in connection with the Global Agreement and Inclusive of Sun City, one of the consequences of which will have been the maintenance of certain previous commitments. With this in mind, SMB was granted an island of 32 squares in the concession of SAKIMA valued at 360 squares, under the PE 4731. From a few tons at its beginnings, this company now exceeds the hundred tons a month, becoming coltan champion in DR Congo.

Meanwhile, like the blood diamond, coltan trade, popular in the electronics and aerospace industries, has been restricted following the 2010 Dodd Frank legislation requiring all US companies listed on Wall Street to verify their supply chains and prove in a report that their minerals were “conflict free”. Initiatives aimed at eradicating conflict minerals or supporting the formalization of the mining sector has thus shifted to the point where as result the adoption of the OCDE Due Diligence Guidance. It request companies to take steps to ensure that the minerals they buy do not benefit armed groups or contribute to human rights violations. And in the process, ITSCI certification was introduced at the instigation of International Tin Association LTD (ITA LTD), formerly ITRI LTD. It is a bagging and labeling system for metals, designed to ensure that the minerals in question are not related to conflict, child labor or other forms of listed human rights violations. Packed with large quantities of coltan, an object of international greed, DRC Congo has not remained on the sidelines of this initiative. As a result, it has signed a memorandum of understanding with ITRI LTD. As a result, companies around the world have continued to use minerals from DRC Congo, as have those from neighboring countries, namely Burundi, Rwanda and Uganda.

Gamble

While the DRC Congo is struggling to enforce the new mining code in order to benefit the country the remunerative price, SMB throws the pavement into the dread. In a letter of 13th December 2018, Director General Benjamin Ngamije Mwanga Chuchu informed the Minister of Mines Martin Kabwelulu of the decision to leave ITSCI with 30 days’ notice. Because as a result of his company’s inability to cope with the higher and higher costs of relative traceability costs. And note that SMB – unflaggingly attached to the implementation of traceability and the exercise of the duty of care – intended to migrate to another traceability system. According to Jean Malic Kalima, President of the Rwanda Mining Association (Reuters), the costs of ITSCI are between $ 130 and $ 180 per ton depending on the ore.

In the profession, SMB’s decision is seen as a pretext that reflects its concern since it has been formally established that several incidents documented as being in a cantilevered position with due diligence are spawning its production. The correspondence of the mining cooperatives denouncing these incidents addressed to the national and provincial authorities as well as the head of ITSCI project in DRC based in Goma, even those of Rwanda and Burundi, many complaints against SMB in court, even judgments condemning the company and its Managing Director or dismissing their charges against other operators are proof of this.

On 5th October 2017, for example, Mr. Robert Habinshuti Seninga, President of the Masisi Miners Cooperative Co-operative (COOPERAMA), sent a letter listing SMB’s abuse of duty of care to the project manager ITSCI in DRC, copies of which include the National Minister of Mines and the OCDE. This is the case, among others, of the police shootings at the instigation of an agent of SMB on roadmenders with the dead of men (June 29, 2016) in the locality of Luwowo (near Bisunzu); the use of the elements of the military prosecutor’s office for the malicious destruction of Rubaya’s mineral labeling deposit belonging to artisanal mining operators (12/01/2016) following the claim of their looted minerals; disinterested delay of up to three months of suppliers, which led some of them to bankruptcy; the over-militarization of the supply chain in Masisi with its lot of harassment in the quarries, extortion and arrests; the threat of eviction of the population without compensation; the undervaluation of minerals, the export of minerals without prior transaction with suppliers, etc. In May 2017, Mrs. Brigitte Gakuru Urara, to name only one, appealed to the Prosecutor General at the North Kivu Court of Appeal, through her counsel, to oppose the export, without her consent, of 6 tons of minerals belonging to her, hidden by SMB in the Lot 120 in the trunk. Its Managing Director Benjamin Ngamije Mwanga Chuchu was sentenced on 28th July 2018 for three years of principal penal servitude by the Goma Peace Court for slanderous denunciation against the person of Mr. Mouzon Kavutse Mutund, Director North Kivu CDMC, and treatment entity, accused of theft and receiving minerals that belong to SMB. Which is no less an attempt to extort minerals. And sources from the Ministry of Mines in Kinshasa added by pointing out that this company, which had displayed the industrial vocation, remained in the artisanal production with “hypothetical acquisitions”.

These incidents, the list of which is not exhaustive, testifying the violation of the OCDE’s duty of care by SMB. They are so blatant that to continue to benefit from access on the international market, the mining operator is looking for ways and means to clear it by relieving itself of the abuses and incidents committed in its production chain with regard to the duty of diligence guaranteed by the ITSCI traceability system. It is not for reasons of the high price of this program, it is said in the profession, that the SMB would like to leave it. And beyond these alleged costs of traceability, it is questionable whether SMB does not intend to evade control in DR Congo to move towards enchanting horizons.

Moreover, it is said that the mining operator badly digest the competition that takes place and which, for sure, will dethrone him as a major producer of coltan in North Kivu. From where she does not skimp in initiatives.

AVX and the Congolese Government challenged

The SMB’s gamble puts his unorthodox conduct back on the carpet with due diligence. The American AVX Corporation-user of coltan including SMB and supplier of end consumers such as Apple and Intel – is challenged in relation to a practice that is no less striking its code in the matter whose reputation calls for no comment. There is no doubt, the facts revealed above that the activity of SMB is characterized by human rights violations, insolvency, extortion of exported minerals without having previously paid the price, the rest unfair, traders, bribery and trading in influence to try to keep the monopoly on Masisi ores, the use of elements of the Armed Forces of the DRC to intimidate the population as well as traders in Masisi, the encroachment of the concession of SAKIMA, the false accusations and allegations of theft of minerals in its concession by other mining operators. In short, this company – which has no social commitment to the people living near its concessions – is at the heart of many controversies and abuses after getting rich on the backs of the population, artisanal miners, traders, even the Congolese State, owner of SAKIMA.

This situation should challenge the American AVX who has an exclusive contract with SMB. Especially since the minerals of Masisi sow desolation in this part of North Kivu instead of giving hope to the people. The same call is valid for the Congolese Government, whose new President of the Republic Félix Tshisekedi declared in his inauguration speech that “the well-being of every Congolese is the guarantee of a good management of our natural resources”.

Lucien Paluku

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