Delays in expanding Richards Bay Coal Terminal to become the biggest coal exporter worldwide have put South Africa's economy at a loss, Kumba Resources CEO Dr. Con Fauconnier said on Wednesday.

RCBT had secured a ZAR 1-billion ($147-million) to pay for expansion, but experienced delays in obtaining an environmental clearance and a lease agreement from governmental agencies. RCBT had previously said that expansion was expected to be completed by mid-2008.

"South Africa cannot afford to spend four to five years taking a simple decision on investing in a port upgrade,' Dr. Fauconnier said according to Mining Weekly.

The postponement caused the group to lose several mining and infrastructure opportunities offered from foreign business investors. Local interests also were affected as this created a delay for urgently needed jobs.

"I am still trying to find out for myself why it takes so long for us to take decisions. All I know is that we need to find a way to speed things up,' he added.

Authorities are currently offering 6.4 hectares for the project, a figure short of the 13 acres requested. An appeal has been made to increase the land given. He says that a lease agreement to incorporate the 13 acre piece of land with the National Ports Authority (NPA) was also being delayed.

Australia and Indonesia are currently the world's top coal exporters, however the RBCT is expected to surpass them with a 92 Mtpa capacity provided a decisions are reached soon. The RBCT had handled 69.2 million tons of exports in 2005.