The surprise dismissal of Mozambique’s Mineral Resources and Energy minister Pedro Couto on 29 September stemmed from direct talks between President Filipe Nyusi with exasperated foreign investors in the United States.
crepentant in Houston: The President was alone when he met on 15 September in Houston with the bosses of ExxonMobil and Anadarko, respectively Rex Tillerson and R.A. Walker. The talks were by no means kindly when it came to Couto. Anadarko complained about the slow pace of talks with the government and the Mineral Resources Ministry in making headway on LNG projects on Block-1, which Anadarko operates.
As for ExxonMobil, which is in talks to buy into that concession as well as into Block4 operated by ENI, Tillerson stressed that his company still hadn’t signed a production sharing contract on the block it acquired nearly a year ago alongside Rosneft during a fifth licensing round.
Before flying to Houston, President Nyusi made a stopover in New York where, according to our sources, he met with officials from the American equity fund Warburg Pincus, leading stakeholder in Delonex. That company also landed a block in 2015 and hasn’t yet signed an agreement to start exploration. Faced with the impatience of investors, the Mozambique President decided to strip Couto of his post.
The latter, a former deputy finance minister under Armando Guebuza (200515), had always stood out in Mozambique’s government and in the ruling Frelimo Party. Very cautious and reputedly incorruptible, he was the first minister in charge of natural resources since ENI and Anadarko made their giant gas discoveries to also find himself in charge of the power sector.
Greatly overworked – the mining sector and its coal are highly important in Mozambique – the now former minister fell victim to political isolation and that also deprived him of backing from Frelimo, which is indispensable when decisions are put to Mozambique’s parliament.
Couto’s dismissal appears to have been decided all of a sudden. Immediately handed the post of Chairman of state-run
Hidroeléctrica de Cahora Bassa (HCB) which operates the dam of the same name, Couto still hadn’t been replaced as of last week. However, the vacancy at the top hadn’t cause further delays in government operations because the big choices are always made by Frelimo’s political commission, the supreme decision-making panel that’s chaired by the President.
However, President Nyusi must now be sure the next minister enjoys the backing of Frelimo and thus has the capacity to get bills passed and to take the measures needed to keep the ball rolling. It’s also necessary that the future holder of the strategic portfolio enjoys the confidence of the oil companies.
That condition is especially important because Mozambique is currently in talks with the IMF on organising emergency assistance. An accumulation of hidden loans that piled up during Guebuza’s presidency has considerably undermined the current president who is struggling with debt equivalent to 80% of Mozambique’s GDP.
BP moves ahead quietly:
The political crisis triggered by Couto’s dismissal completely overshadowed news of a final accord between the major BP and ENI concerning the acquisition of all cargoes produced by the future FLNG supplied by gas from the Coral field on Block-4 operated by the Italian group.
That was a rare bit of good news for the beleaguered government because it opens the way for a final investment decision (FID) by ENI before the end of the year.
Source: Africa Intelligence
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