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Supreme Court
“Pakistan is possessed with the expertise and technology to explore and refine the precious metals — an investment which will help the government earn $2 billion per annum,” said nuclear scientist Dr Samar Mubarkmand. – File Photo

ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court was informed on Wednesday that the country could earn $2 billion per year by developing the Reko Diq copper and gold project on its own — much higher than a paltry return of $160 million offered to the Balochistan government by a consortium of Chilean and Canadian companies.

“Pakistan is possessed with the expertise and technology to explore and refine the precious metals — an investment which will help the government earn $2 billion per annum,” nuclear scientist Dr Samar Mubarkmand, chairman of the board of governors of Reko Diq Copper Development project, said in a presentation to a three-judge bench seized with petitions challenging a contract awarded to Tethyan Copper Company (TCC) for exploring gold and copper.

The bench, comprising Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry, Justice Ghulam Rabbani and Justice Khalilur Rehman Ramday, is hearing identical petitions filed by Barrister Zafarullah and Advocate Tariq Asad. Barrister Zafarullah also moved a contempt petition against the TCC for carrying out advertisements in the print media, although the matter is before the court.

Dr Mubarakmand wondered if Pakistan could develop nuclear technology by reducing defence budget, why could it not develop mining technology. It would also help boost foreign exchange reserves and establish the downstream industry, the scientist said while talking to reporters.

“This technology is similar to uranium mining. The digging process will also help excavate a number of precious minerals, including zirconium and cobalt,” he said, adding that about 400 square kilometres of land had been leased out to the foreign firm, but it had dug only six to seven sq-km over the past three years -- only two to three per cent of the total area.

Dr Mubarakmand said that mines in Reko Diq had 0.025 per cent reserves of precious metals. The country, he said, had the capability to process these metals. He said the foreign firm would fetch an estimated profit of $104 billion from the digging site. Right now the firm’s owners wanted to ship the extracted raw mineral outside the country for refining.

The scientist informed the court that the total copper requirement of the country was one ton a year, but whatever copper was excavated from the Saindak copper and gold project had been exported. Not a single kilogram went to the local industry, he lamented.

He rejected allegations that Balochistan was not sharing the project’s feasibility report with the federal government.

Irshad Ali, Director General of Minerals in the petroleum ministry, defended the project and said the allegations levelled by the petitioners were unfounded. “No violation of rules or policy has been breached by the government at any stage,” he told the court.

He recalled that the Balochistan government had in 1993 entered into an agreement with Broken Hill, a foreign company, for exploration of mineral reserves, of which 25 per cent of shares as profit was to go to the province while the federal government reserved the right to levy cess.

On Sept 3, 2007, the then prime minister had constituted a five-member committee comprising federal secretaries to attract foreign companies, but it failed to reach any decision as the firms interested in the project were not ready to give more than two per cent share as royalty while the government’s demand was five per cent.

Dr Zubair Khan, an adviser to the TCC, claimed that a large quantity of precious deposits had been lying idle for years, but these were discovered only after exploration by the company.

“The TCC invested at a time when other investors were running away because of security concerns,” he said, adding that future of the country, especially Balochistan, would brighten only if those bringing investment were appreciated, encouraged and protected.

“The shareholding given to the Balochistan government from the project will be unprecedented. The TCC has already invested $200 million and negotiations for a $1.3 billion loan have been finalised with banks. The total size of the project is $3.3 billion, of which only $1.5 billion is required to develop necessary infrastructure,” the TCC adviser said.

Justice Ramday said that banks would lend the money only after securing interest. Dr Zubair said that everybody would take a big share if the cake was big.

He said that it was a wrong impression that the company would take away ready-made solid gold bricks from the mining site, adding that only a paltry amount of gold which could produce a small gold ring had been extracted from five trucks loaded with raw ores.

“Would we be able to see the face of copper and gold dug out from the site as ores would be taken outside the country in liquid form,” Justice Ramday asked.

When the chief justice asked whether the foreign firm would also set up downstream industries in Pakistan, the adviser replied in the negative. “We are a mining and exploration company,” Dr Zubair said, but added that the company would transfer technology by training the people of Balochistan.

Dr Zubair claimed that the Balochistan government had restrained the company from sharing the feasibility report conducted by a Canadian firm when the chief justice asked whether the TCC had shown the report to the federal as well as provincial governments and the apex court.

The court also hinted at listening to TCC chief executive Gurhard Von Borris on Thursday.