Gold production by mining corporations had exceeded expectations by close to 20pc at 1.9tns reports the Ministry of Mines. The Ministry outlined a six-month performance at a press briefing held at its headquarters around the Lamberet area (Mariam Road). It was indicated that artisanal mining was the biggest hurdle faced by the mining sector during the six months. Despite the central bank raising the premium it paid to artisanal miners to 35pc last year, it has contributed only 17pc to the gold mining sector in the previous six months. Following questions regarding the fractured cement market, the Minister indicated that the recent deregulation by the Minister of Regional Trade & Integration, combined with an expansion of production by Muger, Habesha and Dangote cement factories, is serving to meet the local demand. The Minister conceded that meeting the cement companies' 62 million tns annual capacity will take time and coordinated effort. Takele took the audience back to a less regulated period in the early 2010s when Petro Trans had lost a court battle to the government worth 1.4 billion dollars. The Ministry is working to reform the mining proclamation from 12 years ago to create a more cohesive bureaucratic framework. Takele remarked that six billion Birr withdrawn from eight Commercial Bank of Ethiopia branches under the pretext of gold manufacturing is being traced in partnership with the Customs Commission and Federal Police. Gaz Prom, the Russian gas giant with over 300 billion dollars in assets and Sino Pec, the largest gas processor in Asia, are the leading candidates for natural gas exploration in talks with the Ministry of Mines. Minister Takele Uma indicated that several foreign companies are in talks with the government to develop natural gas in Ogaden, in Somali Regional State, following Netherland Sewell & Associates (NSAI) confirmed natural gas deposits are available in the area.