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South Africa’s Eskom says Molefe reinstated as chief executive

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By Nqobile Dludla

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) – Eskom’s former chief executive Brian Molefe will return to his job next week, the South African power utility said on Friday, about five months since he stepped down after being implicated in a report by the anti-graft watchdog into alleged influence-peddling.

Molefe stepped down in November last year after a report by the Public Protector, a constitutionally mandated corruption watchdog, raised questions over coal deals between Eskom and a company controlled by the Gupta family.

Molefe has denied any wrongdoing.

His return follows a refusal by Public Enterprises Minister Lynn Brown to approve Eskom’s board’s 30 million rand ($2.24 million) pension payout for Molefe. Brown asked Eskom to find an “appropriate pension proposal.”

“Most of the options that were discussed were not mutually agreeable and the board decided that it was actually optimum to rescind its decision to grant him early retirement,” said Khulani Qoma, spokesman for Eskom’s board. “By virtue of that, then legally … you need to then proceed and reinstate him.”

Molefe was widely touted to replace Pravin Gordhan as finance minister but lost out to Malusi Gigaba in a cabinet shake-up late March.

His first stint at Eskom began in April 2015, when he was drafted in from state rail freight firm Transnet to stabilise the utility, which at the time was battling power shortages.

 

 

 

($1 = 13.4182 rand)

 

(Additional reporting by Mfuneko Toyana, editing by Larry King and Jane Merriman)

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Oil workers go on strike at Exxon Mobil in Nigeria: union

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LAGOS (Reuters) – Nigerian workers at U.S. oil major Exxon Mobil Corp have gone on strike in protest over the sacking of workers, oil labour union officials said on Thursday.

Nigerian labour unions have criticised oil companies for sacking workers in the last few months and held a number of strikes.

Abel Agarin, who chairs the Lagos zone of the Petroleum and Natural Gas Senior Staff Association of Nigeria (PENGASSAN), said members of his union were on strike in protest at the sacking of 150 workers in December. He said 82 were PENGASSAN members.

“We want them to be brought back and if that is not possible we want a proper severance package for them,” said Agarin, who led around 50 protesters in the commercial capital.

PENGASSAN said strikes were being held in Lagos, Bonny, Akwa Ibom and Port Harcourt.

A spokesman for Exxon Mobil said by email that there were “no impacts” on oil production.

Two oil traders said it was too early to say whether the strikes would have an impact on production.

Strikes by Exxon workers in Nigeria at the end of 2016 did impact output, leading to weeks-long loading delays.

 

(Reporting by Tife Owolabi, Libby George and Alexis Akwagyiram; writing by Ulf Laessing and Alexis Akwagyiram; editing by Jason Neely)

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South Africa regulator to investigate Eskom over unsigned deals

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CAPE TOWN (Reuters) – South Africa’s energy regulator has agreed to investigate power utility Eskom’s refusal to sign power purchase agreements with independent power producers, the South African Wind Energy Association (SAWEA) said on Thursday.

SAWEA last October asked energy regulator NERSA to investigate Eskom’s unwillingness to finalise agreements which it said had delayed 2,942 megawatts in new solar and wind projects.

“We have had confirmation from NERSA that an expedited investigation into whether Eskom is in contravention of its licence, has now commenced,” said Brenda Martin, chief executive of SAWEA.

Some of the projects have been waiting for financial closure for more than two years and SAWEA estimates they would inject some 58 billion rand ($4.33 billion) of investment into the economy.

“Our primary intention is to achieve financial closure of power purchase agreements. It remains our hope that Eskom will comply with the legal framework for power purchase, so that penalties do not need to be imposed on Eskom,” Martin said.

An Eskom spokesman was not available for immediate comment.

($1 = 13.3800 rand)

 

(Reporting by Wendell Roelf; editing by Tiisetso Motsoeneng and Jason Neely)

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Zambia President steps into row with First Quantum Minerals

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LUSAKA (Reuters) – Zambia’s president Edgar Lungu has called for an out of court settlement with First Quantum Minerals, which is being sued for $1.4 billion by a state-owned firm, the presidency said on Thursday.

First Quantum asked a Zambian court in February to dismiss the suit from Zambia Consolidated Copper Mines Investment Holdings (ZCCM-IH), which is 77 percent state-owned and holds minority stakes in most of the country’s copper mines.

“The president decided that the finance minister leads a government team to engage First Quantum for a speedy and amicable conclusion of this matter,” presidential spokesman Amos Chanda said.

“The government team includes the minister of mines and should start work by next week so that we can quickly have an amicable settlement as directed by the president,” he said.

Zambia is Africa’s second-largest copper producer and differences with mining companies over taxes, electricity prices, environmental concerns and labour matters often arise.

The $1.4 billion claim by ZCCM-IH includes $228 million in interest on $2.3 billion of loans that it said First Quantum wrongly borrowed from the Kansanshi Copper Mine, as well as 20 percent of the principal amount, or $570 million.

ZCCM-IH said in papers filed in the Lusaka High Court on Oct. 28, 2016 that First Quantum used the money as cheap financing for its other operations.

First Quantum says the loans were at a fair market rate.

Chanda said another team headed by the minister of energy would engage mining companies, including First Quantum Minerals, regarding a proposed increase in electricity prices.

Zambia said in April it plans to introduce a flat tariff of 9.30 U.S. cents/kilowatt hour (kWh) backdated to January for mining companies, rather than individually negotiated rates that have averaged 6 U.S.

 

(Reporting by Chris Mfula; editing by David Clarke)

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Nigeria should simplify taxes, cut fees to boost tech sector: Google

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By Alexis Akwagyiram

LAGOS (Reuters) – Nigeria’s government should simplify taxes and reduce fees involved in laying fibre optic cables to encourage development of infrastructure for the technology industry, Google’s manager in the West African country said on Tuesday.

Juliet Ehimuan-Chiazor told Reuters boosting the technology industry would help diversify Nigeria’s oil-dependent economy, the largest in Africa and which is now in its second year of a recession caused mainly by low crude prices.

The Budget and National Planning Ministry said in March the government should encourage local production of technology hardware to reduce dependence on imports and generate foreign exchange. The government aims to create 2.5 million new technology jobs in 2017-2020 via a state-run training programme.

“The private sector can play a very strong role,” Ehimuan-Chiazor said, adding that internet service providers regularly complained that multiple taxes at the federal and state level raised the cost of expanding the required infrastructure.

“Where the government can help is just removing some of those obstacles – for example, bringing down right of way fees and removing this challenge around multiple taxation,” she said.

Right of way fees are the charges paid when securing permission to lay cables. A reduction of fees by Lagos state government helped bring fast broadband to Yaba, a district of commercial capital that is now Nigeria’s technology hub.

Ehimuan-Chiazor said Google had laid fibre optic cables in Uganda’s capital Kampala and in Abidjan in Ivory Coast, but said it had no similar plans in Nigeria.

A spokesman for the Communications Ministry could not immediately be reached for comment.

 

(Editing by Edmund Blair)

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Nigerian lawmakers to consider 2017 budget on Thursday: Senate president

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By Camillus Eboh

ABUJA (Reuters) – Nigeria’s upper house of parliament aims to consider the government’s 2017 budget on Thursday, the Senate president said, and could approve the spending plan the same day in the next stage of its marathon passage into law.

President Muhammadu Buhari, who has faced rising disenchantment over his handling of Africa’s largest economy, presented his record 7.298 trillion naira ($23.24 billion) budget to lawmakers in December.

“We will send out copies to you (senators) and the report will be considered on Thursday,” said Senate President Bukola Saraki. The budget could be passed on Thursday if senators do not seek to make changes.

A document published by the lower house, which also has yet to approve the budget’s contents, on Tuesday said the spending plan now totalled 7.44 trillion naira.

The budget must be passed by lawmakers before the president can sign it into law. President Buhari is on medical leave in Britain and on Sunday handed over power to his deputy Yemi Osinbajo.

Nigeria is in its second year of recession brought on by low oil prices which have slashed government revenues, weakened the naira currency and caused chronic dollar shortages.

Last year’s budget – passed in May 2016 – was delayed for months due to disagreements between lawmakers and the presidency, cutting the supply of government money and deepening the economic crisis.

 

(Writing by Alexis Akwagyiram; Editing by Mark Trevelyan)

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Lafarge Africa to seek approval to raise 140 bln naira

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LAGOS (Reuters) – Lafarge Africa plans to seek shareholders’ approval next month to raise 140 billion naira ($445.86 million) and also convert some loans into equity as part of the capital injection, the company said on Monday.

The local business of Lafarge Holcim said it will seek approval to convert loans due from a shareholder to equity under the rights issue.

($1 = 314.0000 naira)

 

(Reporting by Oludare Mayowa; Writing by Chijioke Ohuocha; Editing by Louise Heavens)

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Mali 2017 gold output forecast to slip: mines ministry

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BAMAKO (Reuters) – Industrial gold production in Mali could drop slightly this year as the West African country awaits production from new mines in 2018, the ministry of mines said on Friday.

Output from large-scale mines, including Anglo Gold Ashanti and Randgold Resources, in Africa’s third-largest gold producer is expected to hit 45 tonnes in 2017, down from 46.9 tonnes last year, said National Director of Mines, Lelanta Hawa Ba.

He said the forecast was subject to revision upwards, however, depending on mines coming online. Last year Mali beat its production forecasts, and he said that could be possible this year too.

Canadian miner B2GOLD’s Fekola mine is expected to produce about 10 tonnes per year and Hummingbird Resources’ Yanfolila mine about 3 tonnes, according to the ministry. The mines are expected to start full production next year.

Artisinal output is set at 4 tonnes, making total official production of 49 tonnes in 2017. Artisinal production is much higher than 4 tonnes, ministry officials say, but there are no exact figures and the government prefers to cap it at 4 tonnes in official forecasts.

The gold industry contributes around a quarter of the government’s revenues.

 

(Reporting Tiemoko Diallo,; Writing by Edward McAllister; Editing by Susan Thomas)

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ABB wins $30 mln Congo order for power link upgrade

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ZURICH (Reuters) – ABB has won a $30 million order to upgrade a electricity transmission link in the Democratic Republic of Congo, part of the Swiss engineering company’s push into Africa, it said on Thursday.

ABB will carry out the partial upgrade of the Inga-Kolwezi high-voltage direct current (HVDC) power transmission link that transmits power from the Inga hydropower station on the Congo River to the mining district of Katanga in the southeast of the country.

The 1,700-km connection was built by ABB in 1982 and was at the time the world’s longest transmission line. The refurbishment will almost double the line’s power transmission capacity and improve reliability, ABB said.

Africa has been identified by ABB, which also makes industrial automation products, as one of its main drivers of growth.

 

(Reporting by John Revill; Editing by Michael Shields)

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SocGen to pay $1.1 billion to end Libyan wealth fund row

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By Maya Nikolaeva and Julien Ponthus

PARIS (Reuters) – Societe Generale avoided a costly and potentially embarrassing court case on Thursday by agreeing to pay nearly 1 billion euros ($1.1 billion) to settle a long-running dispute with the Libyan Investment Authority (LIA).

France’s second-biggest listed bank reached an 11th-hour settlement over LIA allegations that trades were secured as part of a “fraudulent and corrupt scheme” involving the payment of $58.5 million by SocGen to a Panamanian-registered company.

“By settling this dispute … we avoid a long trial that would have demanded a lot of resources,” SocGen CEO Frederic Oudea told journalists on a results call, adding that the bank was now able to concentrate its energy on its main businesses.

A spokesman in Paris said SocGen was paying 963 million euros as part of the Libya settlement, which overshadowed a fall of 19 percent in SocGen’s first-quarter net income to 747 million euros which it posted on Thursday.

Asked if SocGen had taken any sanctions against employees or if any of its staff had left the bank as a result of the case, Oudea said “appropriate measures” had and would be taken, while SocGen added that it had apologised to the LIA.

The Libyan fund lost a high-profile case last summer against Goldman Sachs in which it tried to claw back $1.2 billion from the Wall Street firm relating to nine equity derivatives investments carried out in 2008.

The settlement also marks the end of proceedings against Libyan businessman Walid Giahmi who controlled Lenaida, the Panamanian-registered company alleged to have been paid by SocGen, which was dissolved in 2010.

“This is a complete exoneration of my client, who has been subject to serious allegations involving bribery and intimidation for the past three years,” Giahmi’s lawyer, Kathryn Garbett, head of fraud defence at Mishcon de Reya, said, adding that her client was relieved the case was over.

U.S. TALKS NOT OVER YET

While significant, the Libyan settlement does not mark the end of SocGen’s legal woes, with the bank still in talks with U.S. authorities over dollar transfers it made on behalf of entities based in countries subject to economic sanctions.

Oudea, who is seeking to turn the page following a series of legal disputes and scandals so that he can focus on a new strategic plan under a new management structure, said those discussions would continue for at least several months.

“Among French banks, SocGen is the only one that does not seem to be able to get rid of recurring reputational problems,” analysts at Kepler Cheuvreux, who kept a “buy” rating on SocGen, said.

SocGen shares were down 0.4 percent at 1030 GMT following the results, which came a day after BNP Paribas, France’s biggest bank by market capitalisation, beat forecasts with higher first-quarter profits.

(Additional reporting by Claire Milhench in London and Jean-Michel Belot in Paris; Editing by Sudip Kar-Gupta/Greg Mahlich/Alexander Smith)

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