Sierra Leone precious minerals – public trust and government openness

Sierra Leone Telegraph: 23 March 2017

The recent finding of Sierra Leone’s second largest diamond (Photo: Above – President Koroma showing the diamond to the world) in the Kono district by pastor Emmanuel Momoh  and the involvement of the Koroma government, in what will soon become a bonanza sale of the century to be staged in the capital Freetown, has prompted the Sierra Leone Telegraph and other journalists to raise many questions about the ownership of the diamond, its authenticity, and trustworthiness of government officials. Is there a government cover-up to this  Diamondgate?

During last week’s Monologue radio broadcast by David Tam Bayor in Freetown, it was alleged that the pastor who handed over the diamond to president Koroma for sale by the government, may not after all be the legitimate owner of the diamond.

It was also alleged that the original diamond found many weeks ago was different in shape and size, to that which was presented on TV by the president.

And today, according to reports, ministry of mines officials are now saying that the diamond belongs wholly and solely to the government, because pastor Emanuel’s mining licence had expired when he discovered the diamond.

But was pastor Emanuel used in the first place as a mule to carry the diamond to State House? As a man of the cloth – was the pastor used, so as to give credence to the source of the story about the origin and authenticity of the diamond? Is the government now embroiled in a James Bond style diamondgate theft? Why is the government failing to announce the commercial quality and true market value of the diamond?

Because of these and many other unanswered questions, this fast evolving story about the discovery, ownership and authenticity of Sierra Leone’s second largest diamond to be found in the east of the country, have cast further shadows on the honesty and trustworthiness of the Koroma government.

Writing in the Sierra Leone Telegraph – defending the Koroma government’s efforts in fighting corruption and in particular – the handling of this Diamondgate saga, John Baimba Sesay said;  “Such a precious mineral calls for openness, if a government is to continue to build public trust and confidence. In my view, so far, the Koroma-led government has demonstrated the highest level of openness and has been accountable to its citizens.”

This is John Baimba Sesay’s analysis:  

By late 2001, the Anti Corruption Commission arrested then Sierra Leone’s  transport and communications minister, together with his wife, “for involvement in illegal diamond mining” in Kenema district.

Large quantum of illicit diamonds had been found in their possession, according to a BBC report at the time. (Photo: John Baimba Sesay)

With some diamonds said to have been smuggled out of the country by the minister, the incident happened at a time when the rebel war was raging and the key perpetrators- the RUF, were also seriously involved in illicit mining and smuggling. The minister was later jailed in 2003 for two years for illegal possession of diamonds.

Among other factors, Sierra Leone’s civil war was fuelled mainly by diamond, specifically “conflict diamonds”- those diamonds that originated from territories controlled by rebel forces (UN definition).

Referencing the West Africa magazine, David J. Francis wrote, in ‘Diamonds and the civil war in Sierra Leone’ that “the sale of conflict diamonds by the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebel group was estimated at $70 million by 1999.”

The return to multiparty democracy and particularly so, the election in 1996 of a democratic government initially, never brought about the needed environment in terms of ensuring an accountable system of managing state resources like diamonds. 

In trying to prevent “conflict diamonds” from flowing through the valid diamond supply chain, the UN and other agencies introduced the Kimberley Process, allowing for rough diamonds to be “sealed in tamper-resistant containers and have a forgery resistant conflict free certificate with unique serial numbers each time they cross an international border…” (Conflict Diamonds and the Kimberley Process Fact Sheet)

Sierra Leone is a member of the Kimberley Process

By 2003, the UN resolution 1306 (2000), an embargo against the import of rough diamonds from Sierra Leone was lifted just when the Kimberley Process came into effect.

Just recently, (March 2017) a 706 carat diamond was unearthed in Kono district, a diamondiferous district, East of Sierra Leone.  The diamond is said to be the second largest ever discovered in the country, the largest being the 968.9-carat diamond found in 1972.

Such a precious mineral calls for openness if a government is to continue to build public trust and confidence. In my view, so far, the Koroma-led government has demonstrated the highest level of openness and has been accountable to its citizens.

Receiving the precious stone on 15th March, 2017, the country’s President “underscored the importance of selling such a diamond here (Sierra Leone)”, assuring, “the selling process would be transparent…” stated a release from State House.

The President has directed that the diamond be sold “by international tender” to be conducted “in a transparent manner, subject to a reserved price,” says the National Minerals Agency.

Also, the government has assured the public that the stone will be “displayed for viewing at the Bank of Sierra Leone…” with the media to be invited, “and the outcome of the tender will be communicated to the general public.”

If this is not how to be transparent, then I wonder what else could be done by the President.

President Koroma is fully aware of the challenges the mines and mineral sector faces. The sector, he had said in 2010, “lacked proper regulatory regimes, leading to non-transparent transactions, decrease in investor confidence and failure to attract large scale investments…”-(State Opening of Parliament).

Over the years, the government has been working thoroughly towards developing the sector in order to boost up GDP and help in job creation.

The Mines and Mineral Act 2009 is instrumental in promoting both domestic and foreign investments through the introduction of “new and improved provisions for exploration, mine development and marketing of minerals and mineral secondary processing.”

The Act also ensures, management of the mineral sector “is transparent and accountable in accordance with international best practice.”

Unlike before, the country’s mineral ministry today encourages the development of open and transparent mechanisms for marketing mineral products.

These actions, as President Koroma once said “are bearing tangible dividends…” since there has been “an increase in Government revenue from new mining investment in exploration and development, and from current mining operations.” 

In conclusion, I am of the view, though government’s openness in dealing with the recent discovery is nothing new, it has further strengthened public trust and confidence.

It has also gone further to fulfill the administration’s policy of openness and in promoting the mining establishment in line with international best practice, based on the values of sustainable growth. I hold the view; this has been a commendable move by the government.

About the author:

John Baimba Sesay is the Sierra Leone government information attache at the Sierra Leone embassy in China.

2 Comments

  1. Is this diamond bigger than the one found during the Tejan Kabba era, which upon reaching Freetown miraculously turned to stone? It was the talk of the country; and the then famed Local Musician Daddy SAJ referenced it in his song “Corruption Corruption.”

    I wish the Telegraph in their Editorial on Diamond issues could have enlightened us about the authenticity or not of that diamond, allegedly found during the Kabba era, of which Usu Boie was the custodian – before the diamond turned into ordinary stone.

  2. Sierra Leoneans are yet to know how the same APC government in 1972, dealt with the over 900 carats diamond discovered for the benefit of the country. These wheeler dealers cannot be trusted, and I see no evidence of trust and confidence this time around.

    People like John Baimba Sesay are yet to prove their independence in reporting, when he is paid by the same APC government. We are yet to see questions asked about how this President acquired all the wealth he has, since becoming President – including the properties and business interests he has.

    In our country today any serious illness is a death sentence, as medical facilities are the poorest you could find in the sub-region. Yet we claim to be rich in natural resources.

    The Botswana model where all mining of diamonds is carried out by De Beers – cut, polished and sold – with the government earning a share of the value, has worked and benefited the people.

    I hope this recent diamond find will not turn out to be another failed hope to the impoverished people of our Country.

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