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Botswana, Russia jostle for top diamond post

MBONGENI MGUNI
Botswana and Russia are currently in compromise talks
Botswana and Russia are in a two-horse race for the vice-chairmanship of the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme (KPCS), the world’s premier watchdog against conflict diamonds and their trade.

Botswana is the largest producer of rough diamonds by value, while Russia is the largest producer by volume. Botswana last chaired the KPCS in 2006, after Russia’s own term ended in 2005.

Under KPCS rules, the annual battle to lead the organisation is focussed on the vice chair, as the vice automatically becomes chair the following year. The vice is chosen by other member states at the organisation’s annual plenary meeting, which this year is set for November 12 to 16 in Brussels, Belgium.

The KPCS, which has 81 countries and observers who include the World Diamond Council, is dedicated to cleaning up the diamond industry and preventing production and trading of conflict diamonds.

The upcoming Brussels face-off comes as the two countries are already locked in an increasingly acrimonious legal and political battle over the failed equity sale deal between Norilsk Nickel and BCL Mine.

The US$271 million dispute, which is presently plodding through courts in Botswana and South Africa, has also drawn in the latter’s Mineral Resources minister, Gwede Mantashe, who is considering an appeal by BCL.

This week, authoritative sources said while both countries had gathered support from other members for the Brussels battle, there were also discussions towards a compromise ahead of the November election.

“Both countries are wary of pushing too hard ahead of the plenary and are also wary of the fallout from such campaigns.

“They would rather discuss

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amongst themselves what to do and reach a compromise. All indications are that the talks are at an advanced stage,” a diamond industry analyst told BusinessWeek.

In a brief response to written enquiries, the Ministry of Mineral Resources, Green Technology and Energy Security confirmed that Botswana was in the running for the KPCS’ vice chair position and that a compromise had been discussed. “We are aware that Russia has also submitted a bid for the same position.

“Botswana continues to lobby other members to support us.

“The process of consultation is in place and the two countries have begun negotiations to reach a consensus for a single candidate,” Ministry spokesperson, Moreri Moesi said.

Local officials at the Russian embassy confirmed that a proposal had been sent to government outlining what Moscow was willing to offer and concede.

Russian Embassy attaché, Nikita Eroshov told BusinessWeek that no compromise had been reached yet.

“We have not finished discussions and there is no compromise position yet. We continue to talk and we will share information when we have results,” he said.

The KPCS chairmanship is viewed as a powerful position from which countries enhance their influence in the diamond industry. For Botswana, securing the vice chairmanship this year and ascending to the chair next year, would be timely in government’s renewed push to focus global diamond activities in Botswana.



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