The Sierra Leone Telegraph: 3 July 2013
President Koroma’s week-long visit to China has been controversial. And as he returns to Freetown to face the enormity of governing a country with a population of 5 million – over 70% of whom are living well below the poverty line, converting those Chinese promises into jobs cannot come too soon.
The president will also be returning home to a different continent, where the American president has left behind a ray of hope for hundreds of millions of Africans, who may soon start to benefit from increased US investments.
But as Jarrah Kawusu-Konte & John Baimba Sesay (government information officers) report on the outcome of the president’s visit to China, is it just possible that president Koroma may have managed to convince his Chinese friends to up their stakes in Sierra Leone?
This is their report and interview with president Koroma:
With this latest visit serving as his third as President of Sierra Leone, President Ernest Bai Koroma on Monday 1st July ended a week-long visit to the Peoples Republic of China.
Whilst in China, President Koroma met with the Chinese leadership, including President Xi Jinping, Vice President Li Yuanchao and the leadership of Tsinghua University.
President Ernest Bai Koroma held fruitful discussions with the China Kingho Energy Group and also visited their headquarters in Beijing. He visited the company’s Recycling and Industrial Park in Inner Mongolia, a rubber plantation in Hainan Province and a host of tourism projects in Sanya.
President Koroma who was accompanied by a number of state officials, including government ministers and staff from the Office of President, also had several discussions with China’s Export and Import Bank – Exim Bank.
He also visited several enterprises and representatives from a number of financial institutions.
Kingho Energy Group recently signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Sierra Leone Government, for the development of mining activities and the construction of a new port in Sierra Leone.
Other investment plans by the company in Sierra Leone, include the construction of supporting electricity power generating facilities to support long-term sustainable growth.
The company is also offering to construct a 250 km railway line, starting from Magburaka in the north to Sulima in the south, at an estimated cost of US $1.74 billion.
Agricultural investment also featured highly in the president’s discussions with Chinese investors, as he signed a $1.5 agreement with Hainan Rubber Industry Group.
President Koroma also met with the Governor of Hainan province, where they discussed the twinning of Hainan province and a province in Sierra Leone. Details of this proposal will be worked out by the local government officials in Sierra Leone.
During the long flight on board Air China to Hainan Province from Inner Mongolia, we asked president Koroma to give us his impression of his visit and the outcomes. This is what he said:
Ques: What is your general impression about this your latest visit to China?
Ans: Well this came out as a very successful visit. I have visited a few times. I had more opportunity to interact with the leadership -the President, the Vice President and the Foreign Minister. They presented their own policy guidelines with the way they would want us to collaborate and move forward.
Ques: What can you say about the outcomes in terms of tangible results?
Ans: You know that they have made an offer of 250 million RMB, which was given to us as a grant with a commitment of supporting the construction of the Centre of Excellence and other ongoing programmes.
But as a leadership they have stated that they will require more interaction – collaboration both at bilateral and multilateral levels.
Also, we had several meetings with the private sector-companies that are already doing business in Sierra Leone and those with the desire to do business in Sierra Leone.
Most importantly, we had a meeting with EXIM Bank, with a view to preparing a package of support for programmes in Sierra Leone. We also met with the China-Africa Development Fund.
Now, for the projects we had already negotiated with the Kingho Group and the Hainan Group, I have visited one of the outfits of Kingho. Am sure we are all impressed with what we saw.
There was a great commitment on the part of the chairman to replicate the kind of industrial park that they have in Inner Mongolia in Sierra Leone.
They have already signed a $6.5 billion agreement with the Sierra Leone government to develop a mine and a port. Our visit was impressive.
Again, the Hainan Project is a project that we have negotiated and we are now going to conclude the negotiations by signing. It is also $1.5 billion that will grow rubber and embark on irrigation of rice.
We have also concluded discussion on the airport project.
Now, what we have derived from this visit is a conclusion of the airport project; the Hainan agricultural project; and the Kingho project. The Kingho project is $6.5 billion; the airport is a $300,000 million project and the Hainan project is $1.5 billion.
So in terms of both the political engagement and the private sector engagement, I consider it a very successful trip.
Of course, I had the opportunity of meeting sierra Leoneans in the embassy and I admonished them to work very hard and endeavor to be part of the Agenda for Prosperity.
Ques: There was also an issue on building our human resource capacity?
Ans: The Kingho Energy Group is committed to supporting sierra Leoneans to come here (China) and be trained, especially those that will be interested in involving in their outfits.
They are also committed to supporting efforts of government projects to the tune of about $10 million.
The Chinese leadership has also indicated strong commitment to supporting the development of our human capacity, with frequent in-house training of government officials and other employees to enhance their professionalism in what they are doing and also learning from the Chinese experience.
Ques: Can we relate these outcomes to the Prosperity Agenda?
Ans: You see we will be launching the Agenda for Prosperity in July and with the launch, we intend moving forward with the implementation and all of what we are doing is preparing support for the implementation of the programmes.