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Afghan aid boost welcome, checks needed on support for mining industry

Greens Senator and overseas aid spokesperson Lee Rhiannon today welcomed plans to increase Australia's aid contribution to Afghanistan but warned that benefits for Afghan people may be limited if there is too much focus on aid money being used to open up Afghanistan to overseas mining interests.

 "Boosting Australia's aid to Afghanistan is good news but its effectiveness will depend on Foreign Minister Bob Carr putting his weight behind programs focused on poverty alleviation, infrastructure and governance", said Senator Rhiannon.

"The Foreign Minister has already stated that Australia's $1 billion contribution to Afghanistan will assist the expansion of the mining industry in that country.

"Considering mining companies have a poor track record in many low income countries and that Australian mining companies may well put up their hand to open mines in Afghanistan, the Australian government has a responsibility to ensure the wealth generated by this industry benefits local Afghan communities.

"Afghanistan has little capacity to negotiate the best deal for local interests. It has been ranked last in the World Bank's ranking of a country's ability to enforce contracts.

"Any Australian aid money spent on the Afghan mining industry needs to prioritise assistance geared to wealth staying in country.

"The capacity of the Afghan Ministry of Mines to manage mining projects is already under a cloud.

"Integrity Watch Afghanistan has reported that Chinese mining companies operating in Afghanistan are allowed to exploit water resources for mining and local wood supplies for railway construction. The contracts these companies operate under are never made public.

"I have written to Minister Carr to urge that he considers a 'bottom up plan' for mining, like that advocated by the Centre for Afghan Studies at the University of Nebraska. Their plan requires mining companies to obtain the permission of locals, employ local workers and ensure the bulk of the profits are distributed locally", said Senator Rhiannon.

Senator Rhiannon has initiated a Senate Inquiry into Australia's aid program in Afghanistan, which is currently open to submissions.



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