The Sierra Leone Telegraph: 17 June 2014
Following our article published yesterday, accusing the ministry of mines, of failing to publish the signed mining agreements as promised in its press statement released last week, the Sierra Leone Telegraph is pleased to see that this has now been done.
Common sense has prevailed, transparency and openness can now be achieved.
Sierra Leone’s mining industry – as in many other African countries, has been dubbed a natural resource curse, with very few in the country benefiting from the enormous wealth derived from its minerals.
Successive reports by international agencies have accused the government of Sierra Leone of signing dodgy contracts with mining companies; selling off precious agricultural land to foreign investors, in what has become known as ‘land grabbing’ deals; and granting massive tax concessions to mining companies, costing the impoverished nation hundreds of millions of dollars in lost revenue every year.
In 2012, Sierra Leone was suspended from the Global Extractive Industry Transparency Forum, after the government had seriously failed to meet key targets, and its lack of accountability and openness in managing mining contracts and revenue.
Sierra Leone continues to be regarded as one of the poorest nations in the world, despite its huge potential to increase average daily income per capita from the current paltry $1.
According to recent report, in 2012 alone, the government lost over $200 million in revenue, because of so called dodgy mining contracts signed with foreign investors.
But last week’s sacking of the president’s closest and most trusted minister – Dr. Richard Konteh, who has been responsible for managing affairs at State House, seems to have brought a change in government policy.
The country’s National Minerals Agency has now published the signed agreements with seven mining companies on its website, in order to promote transparency.
This is a bold move that can only enhance the government’s efforts in curbing corruption and addressing poor governance.
Announcing the minister’s sacking last week, the president’s office said: “It has come to the attention of his Excellency the President that Dr. Richard Konteh, chief of staff in the office of the president was not open and transparent in the conduct of official negotiations for a mining agreement with a private sector operator, thereby violating established policy, undermining existing institutional arrangements, and exposing government to potential loss of revenue. “
Richard Konteh is being investigated by the police, after evidence of corruption and abuse of office were uncovered, involving the signing of dodgy mining contracts.
A press statement issued by the ministry of mines last Friday, says that the government has now decided to make all signed mining contacts available on the ministry’s website, in line with its new transparency agenda.
And in demonstrating that it is serious about this sudden change of policy, the statement reads:
“The Ministry of Mines and Mineral Resources and the National Minerals Agency, wish to inform the general public that in line with our commitment to promoting transparency in the minerals sector, signed copies of the Mining Lease Agreements between the Government of Sierra Leone and the following mining companies have been uploaded on the website of the National Minerals Agency: www.nma.gov.sl
- African Minerals Limited
- London Mining Company Limited
- Sierra Rutile Limited
- Sierra Minerals Holding Limited
- Koidu Holdings Limited
“Members of the general public can now access signed copies of these agreements at the NMA website at no cost.
“The Ministry of Mines and Mineral Resources and the National Minerals Agency also wish to assure the general public that, henceforth, all relevant stakeholders will be involved in the consultative process leading to the signing of new Mining Lease Agreements between the Government of Sierra Leone and mining companies, and all such agreements will be immediately uploaded on the NMA website for the information of the general public.
“The general public is assured that we are committed to the development of the minerals sector, and to ensure that Sierra Leoneans derive maximum benefits from our mineral resources.”
In 2011, the government organised a National Transformation Conference in Freetown, aimed at getting people from across the country to discuss why after fifty years of independence, Sierra Leone is still classed as one of the poorest nations in the world.
There was an overwhelming view that the lack of accountability and transparency was a major driver, contributing to promoting the culture of corruption in the country.
In response, president Koroma promised to make good on his 2007 elections mandate to legislate a Freedom of Information Bill in parliament.
This procrastination has attracted strong criticisms from the opposition, saying that the government is simply playing politics and paying lip service to the fight against corruption.
Another promise made by the government after the 2011 Transformational Conference, was to establish a national website, which will publish details of all government programmes and projects – budgets, delivery progress and achievements.
But after two years of making that promise, the people of Sierra Leone are still waiting for that website, which should have become the government’s flagship showcasing transparency and openness.
Hence, when last week’s press statement was published, readers of the Sierra Leone Telegraph were eager to access the signed mining agreements which the Ministry of Mines and Mineral Resources and the National Minerals Agency, claimed to have published on their website.
To the disappointment and frustration of thousands of readers, those signed agreements were not uploaded on to the NMA website as promised on the 13th June, until today, 17 June 2014, after the Sierra Leone Telegraph had protested.
The NMA website is quite rightly, serving as a portal, giving front-of-shop access to and promoting the work of the mines ministry and the activities of some of the mining companies.