In Madagascar Government to pass mining, petroleum bills in October

Madagascar's parliament in May impeached the president, a move later overturned by the constitutional court, and nearly toppled the government in a censure vote earlier this month, ratcheting up tensions on the coup-prone nation.

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A Malagasy worker walks along an access track at mining giant Rio Tinto's project to construct an ilmenite (iron titanium oxide) mine in Fort Dauphin on Madagascar's south-eastern coast in this file photo. REUTERS/Ed Harris/Files play A Malagasy worker walks along an access track at mining giant Rio Tinto's project to construct an ilmenite (iron titanium oxide) mine in Fort Dauphin on Madagascar's south-eastern coast in this file photo. REUTERS/Ed Harris/Files (Reuters)
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Madagascar will pass long-delayed mining and petroleum bills in October when the national assembly returns from a recess, the country's resources minister said, a step seen as vital to boost flagging exploration in the mineral-rich Indian Ocean island.

One of Africa's poorest countries, Madagascar hopes to accelerate economic growth by developing natural resources, but has struggled to attract foreign investors in recent years due to political instability and falling commodity prices.

Madagascar's parliament in May impeached the president, a move later overturned by the constitutional court, and nearly toppled the government in a censure vote earlier this month, ratcheting up tensions on the coup-prone nation.

Mining and Petroleum Minister Joeli Valerien Lalaharisaina told Reuters Madagascar plans to auction 96 offshore blocks in the Mozambique channel after the petroleum bill is passed.

"As soon as the petroleum bill is updated at the parliament, we will make an international bid round," Lalaharisaina said.

The new mining bill has been delayed as the World Bank, mining companies and civil society needed to be consulted, Lalaharisaina said. "It’s in the final phase now," he added.

The World Bank in Madagascar confirmed it was advising the government on the new mining bill.

London-listed Rio Tinto owns 80 percent of an ilmenite mine on the southern tip of the island, while Toronto-listed Sherritt International owns 40 percent of the $5.3 billion Ambatovy nickel mine.

Few miners in Madagascar have seen the draft of the new bill, unnerving investors who did not shutter their operations after the 2009 coup which prompted donors to withdraw aid and triggered a period of international isolation.

Donors resumed aid after a peaceful poll in late 2013 but the government has struggled to introduce vital reforms needed to get the economy on a more stable footing.

Madagascar's hopes of major oil finds were also dealt a blow last week when Exxon Mobil Corp said it had ended exploration in the country.

Lalaharisaina said the new bills would be unveiled at an international mining and petroleum forum held in Antananarivo between Sept. 23 and 25 and would not have any substantive changes compared with the previous bill.

Lalaharisaina added the government will soon start re-issuing mining permits and clearing up a backlog of about 4,000 applications dating back to 2011, often cited by experts and investors as a key obstacle to exploration.

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