Mozambique seeks bigger stakes in new mining projects

MAPUTO (Reuters) - Mozambique plans to increase central government and local participation in new mining projects, a government official said, as the former Portuguese colony tries to ensure its citizens benefit from its mineral wealth.

The move comes as the country is poised to launch the next rounds of bidding for coal, oil and gas next year.

While some southern African politicians have campaigned to nationalise mines, or demanded that 51 percent stakes in companies be given to local black people as in Zimbabwe, Mozambique has largely sought to balance its national interests with those of outside investors.

Deputy mineral resources minister Abdul Razak Noormahomed said late on Tuesday that the cabinet had approved a new mining policy, replacing one adopted in 1998, to promote greater participation by locals in the sector.

"Some actions are already ongoing so that certain production and marketing licenses are given exclusively to Mozambicans, as well as to raise the participation of flag companies (those owned by the state) from 5 to 25 percent in any new deals," Noormahomed said.

The new policy will have to be passed in Parliament.

Mozambique has seen a flood of foreign investment into its mining sector, particularly coal, in the last few years. The war-scarred southern African nation is estimated to have some of the world's largest reserves of coking coal, used in steel-making.

But there had been suggestions that ordinary Mozambicans were not benefiting from the booming industry.

Major companies developing big coal and gas reserves in Mozambique include Rio Tinto, Vale, Anadarko and Eni.

Vale said earlier this month it plans to sell a 15 to 25 percent stake in its coal operations, including those in Mozambique.