Where is the $8 million missing from the Sierra Leone mineral resources fund?

The Sierra Leone telegraph: 22 April 2013  

State House - FreetownIn December last year (2012), the information unit of State House in Sierra Leone, announced that the president will leave no stone unturned in finding out what happened to the $8 million.

The money was part of the mineral resources fund, set aside to help rehabilitate and develop communities displaced and blighted by the environmental impact of mining companies in the country.

News of the missing $8 million was buried amid the political fall out that emerged; following the disclosure that $5 million meant for fighting malaria in the country had also disappeared.

In a press statement issued by State House information unit in December 2012, shortly after the announcement of presidential election results, president Koroma said that there will be a thorough investigation conducted by the Anti-Corruption Commission.

But four months on, both the Anti-Corruption Commission and State House have kept tight lipped over the $8 million missing from the country’s mineral resources fund.

Kaifala Marah1The man heading the Mineral Resources Transparency Unit – who was also the president’s chief of staff at State House – Dr. Kaifala Marah is now the minister of finance.

Observers say that he is one of the close confidantes of the president, tipped to take over from president Koroma when he leaves office in 2017.

But there are concerns that he may have been dipping his hands into the coffers of the Mineral Resources Transparency Unit.

He was last year accused by sections of the media of purchasing luxurious properties in London, valued at over $1 million.

Last month – 9 March 2013, president Koroma launched the National Minerals Agency (NMA) in Freetown.

But the launching of the NMA came in the wake of bad news received from the office of the International Extractive Transparency Initiative (IETI) in Oslo, Norway, that Sierra Leone had been suspended from the forum.

claire shortThe IETI Board is chaired by former British government minister – Claire Short (Photo: centre).

In a statement issued by the IETI in February 2013, the Board expressed dissatisfaction with the inadequate transparency arrangements put in place by the government of Sierra Leone.

The statement said: “Sierra Leone had completed its second validation exercise by the agreed deadline. The report documented significant progress, but also several technical issues that needed to be addressed in order to achieve compliance. The Board agreed to temporarily suspend rather than delist Sierra Leone, to allow a period to undertake further corrective actions.”

But speaking at the launching of the Sierra Leone NMA, president Koroma said that: “My administration is determined to make our mineral resources a strong force for good in Sierra Leone, playing a key role in lifting standards of living and employment prospects for all.”  

President koroma launches NMA with MarahNot surprisingly though, he did not speak about the missing $8 million mineral resources fund. Standing next to the president at the launching ceremony of the NMA was the former head of the minerals transparency unit – now minister of finance – Dr. Marah (Photo: far right).

Does he know what happened to the $8 million?

The Anti-Corruption has failed to commence investigation into the disappearance of the $8 million mineral resources fund, since the government admitted four months ago that indeed the money had gone missing.

President Koroma is hoping that with the launching of the NMA, he will be able to point out to the international community – the World Bank and the Board of the EITI that he is taking the issue of accountability, transparency and corruption very seriously.

Critics are not impressed. They say that the gate is being shut after the horse has bolted. $8 million has been stolen and no one is being held to account by the Anti-Corruption Commission.

President Koroma under the strain of leadership 2010But the president was eager to inform the international community gathered at the NMA launching ceremony that; “With this Agency we are sending a strong and positive signal to international investors that our beloved country is the ideal place to do business in the mining sector.

“Investors can expect a speedy turnaround time for licence applications and a customer-friendly attitude from members of staff at the NMA.  We will also be developing our geological database of the country, ensuring that prospective investors will have, in time, up to date information on geological formations, which will greatly aid their exploration activities,” said Koroma.

In 2009 the World Bank approved seed corn investment funds, necessary for Sierra Leone to establish the Extractive Industry transparency Unit at State House. It also helped the country formulate new mining laws.

A statement released by the World Bank in December 2009 said: “The Board of Executive Directors of the World Bank has today approved a US$4 million IDA grant for the Mining Technical Assistance Project (MTAP) in Sierra Leone.

“The project will help implement the country’s mineral sector reform by strengthening the Government’s capacity to improve management and regulation of the mining sector within the framework of other donor assistance in the sector.

“This will be achieved by financing: (i) improvement of the regulatory regime for mining through preparation of environmental and social regulations and frameworks, as well as regulations for underground mining and precious minerals and diamonds trading; (ii) capacity building for the Ministry of Mineral Resources and Political Affairs to manage and promote geological data, develop selected mining areas rehabilitation plans, and improve administrative capacity; (iii) the provision of temporary salary support to the Ministry of Mineral Resources and Political Affairs and prospective National Minerals Agency to sustain their human resource base; and (iv) project management.”

And now the World Bank is determined to see that the government takes full responsibility for financing the activities of the NMA.

World Bank’s Senior Governance Specialist in Sierra Leone – Chris Gabelle speaking at the launch of the NMA, told president Koroma:

“The key to the NMA’s stability is the ability of government to self-finance it. In the face of the current and temporary EITI suspension the launch of the NMA could not come at a more important time.

“It is our hope and belief that the NMA will be able to make the required contributions not only in achieving EITI compliance but by firming up the country’s steady march unto middle income status.”

It seems no one wants to talk about the $8 million missing from the mineral resources fund. In the meantime, communities affected and displaced by mining activities are suffering.

Will the Anti-Corruption Commission launch an investigation?

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