Timber, mining firms agree to repatriate profits

Timber and mining firms in the Central African Republic (CAR) have agreed to repatriate all their profits from sales abroad to help the government out of its present cash crunch, Minister of State for Finance Jean-Pierre Lebouder said on Thursday.

"All timber firms signed two days ago accepting to repatriate 100 percent of the funds generated by their sales and to conduct all their transactions through local banks," he said.

He was speaking at a meeting between CAR leader Francois Bozize and political parties in the capital, Bangui. Lebouder added that mining companies had also adopted the same measure.

Soon after he seized power from President Ange-Felix Patasse on 15 March 2003, Bozize suspended all timber and mining activities pending audits in firms and national conferences to define the country’s new policies in the sectors. The conferences took place in August 2003 for mining and in September 2003 for timber.

Special armed brigades to fight corruption in the two vital sectors were set up in January but exploitation activities have not yet officially resumed. Timber and mining are the two leading sources of the government's income.

Lebouder said the repatriation of funds and use of local banks were part of a series of measures the government had taken to stabilise the economy and boost its finances. Other measures are salary cuts, and the reorganisation of financial services to eradicate corruption.

"There is no accounting system in our public treasury," Lebouder said at the meeting broadcast live on state-owned Radio Centrafrique.

During the meeting, also attended by the UN secretary-general’s representative, Lamine Cisse, and government ministers, political leaders denounced the government’s unilateral decision to cut salaries and urged Bozize to convene similar meetings more frequently.

The meeting took place as the country prepares to mark the first anniversary of Bozize’s coup on Monday. Striking students have announced that instead of jubilation, they will be drumming empty pots in Bangui streets to demand the payment of their three-month scholarship arrears.