How many signed MOUs does it take to develop Sierra Leone?

The Sierra Leone Telegraph: 1 October 2013

mouA memorandum of understanding (MOU) is nothing more than a piece of paper, outlining the wishes of two people, who may or may not become parties to a contract to perform any of those wishes. There is no legal obligation on the part of those making the promise to discharge or deliver any aspect of an MOU.

But it seems the government of Sierra Leone is fast becoming obsessed with the signing of an ever increase volume of MOUs.

Like comfort to fools, several African heads of state have successfully used MOU as a propaganda tool to keep their gullible people happy and confused. President Koroma is no exception.

Since coming to power in 2007, President Koroma and his ministers have signed more MOUs than any other elected government of Sierra Leone and the total sum involved keeps rising, without any sign of real development arising from those MOUs.

But how many MOUs is the government going to sign before the people of Sierra Leone can begin to have respite from poverty?

Last year, the president told the people of Sierra Leone that his government had signed a series of MOUs valued at over $10 billion with the Chinese.

The president and his ministers also said a few months ago, that they had signed MOUs with wealthy Arab princes worth hundreds of millions of dollars to help develop the country’s agriculture, fishing and tourism sectors.

President koroma and chinese leaderSadly, not a single dollar promised since 2007, estimated at over $20 billion has materialised, yet government ministers continue to sign MOUs as though they will soon go out of fashion.

Indeed, if the mere signing of MOUs could so easily translate into development, Sierra Leone would have been one of the most developed countries in Africa today.

But it seems that is far too difficult a lesson for the president and his ministers to grasp.
Since returning from an official visit to China a few months ago, the countless number of signed MOUs that have followed president Koroma back to Freetown – when pieced together, is sufficient to square the length and breadth of the country.

There is not a single week that goes past without an announcement from a minister in the Koroma government of the signing of another MOU.

Perhaps the president will soon appoint a new ‘Minister for MOUs’ in his next cabinet reshuffle, which it is understood is quite imminent.

Last week, there was the airline MOU, the railway and seaport MOU. The previous week, there was the new Port Loko Airport MOU.

MOUs galore – courtesy of the Chinese government.

solar power for communitiesAnd of course, there was also the solar power MOU, despite millions of dollars having been squandered by corrupt ministers from the World Bank fund, which was meant to provide much needed electricity for poor communities.

It would not be surprising to learn that the president himself has lost count of all the MOUs that have been signed by his ministers, although it has been suggested that at each signing of an MOU, officials concerned receive hefty backhanders into their personal overseas bank accounts.

The signing of an MOU can also be a precursor to the minister or government official becoming a shareholder of the company that is formed in Sierra Leone by the foreign investor, so as to deliver any of the contracts arising from the MOU.

So there is after all a method in this MOU madness, the benefit of which, only those signing it will realise, while the people of Sierra Leone continue to languish in abject poverty.

Robin Coker - Minister of Energy signs MOUThe latest MOU announcement from – yes you guess it right – CHINA, is yet another signed MOU for the development of more unfulfilled hydro-electricity dams in Sierra Leone.

And lest we forget, what happened to that MOU signed with the American Joule Corporation, for $800 million to redevelop Bumbuna?

Despite the disastrous consequences of the poor judgement and lack of foresight shown by the ruling APC party leadership, regarding the failed Bumbuna hydro-electricity project, president Koroma is still pushing for more of the same.

Report received today from the Sierra Leonean embassy in Beijing, says that:

“Sierra Leone’s Minister of Energy and Power – Oluniyi Robin-Coker on September 29th signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with China Kingho Energy Group, underpinning power growth agreement and joint development of up to three hydropower plants and one thermal generation in Sierra Leone.”

Not much of that announcement makes sense, but then why should it? When idle ministers, who are solely preoccupied with foreign trips to anywhere and everywhere they could find an MOU knocking about to sign, one has to ask about the seriousness of those in charge.

But, the report from Beijing goes on to say that:

“This MOU followed an initial one between Kingho and the Government of Sierra Leone, through the Ministry of Transport and Aviation on the development of Port and Railway in Sierra Leone, also during the month of September.

“It is also a supplementary one, to the one signed in May 2013, between the Government of Sierra Leone (Ministers of Mines and Justice) and China Kingho Energy Group for the development of Mines, concentration plant steel plant Sea Port, Railway and Road.’

And which one of the MOUs, does the previous one before the previous one, follow? One is tempted to ask.

“With anticipated investment portfolio running into billions of dollars, China kingho Energy group will be in need of 350 megawatts of power for its operations in Sierra Leone. This MOU has established the needed principles for a joint venture with the Government of Sierra Leone.”

Now we get it. This new MOU, which is the one that follows the previous one, which did not follow the one before, is all about looking out for the resource exploitation needs of the Chinese. That’s very clever.

But, “Speaking at the signing ceremony in central Beijing, Minister Robin-Coker expressed government’s appreciation to Kingho Energy Group, for its support to Sierra Leone’s development.

This new MOU, the one that follows the last one, which we cannot remember, the Minister said: “will help to progress the relationship between the company and the Government of Sierra Leone” as the country’s Agenda for Prosperity is built on energy.

“Sierra Leone’s Agenda for Prosperity, Minister Robin-Coker said, is about transforming her mineral resources to goods that can be competitive, was therefore looking forward to seeing Kingho succeed in Sierra Leone.

“The country’s energy chief also stated that the construction of Port and Railway in Sierra Leone will be important to the country’s development and “all part of facilitating growth for the country to become a middle Income nation which is a vision of President Ernest Bai Koroma.”

But was that not in the previous MOU which followed the one before the other MOU, which we cannot remember?

“He disclosed that following a visit to China three years ago, he visited the Kingho’s industrial park in Inner Mongolia and was able to see firsthand what they had to offer and then became convinced that they will become better partners.”

So why did Minister Robin Coker not sign an MOU then? Perhaps he could not remember whether an MOU had already been signed by another minister colleague.

“Sierra Leone and China, Minister Robbin-Coker said, have had good political friendship for forty two years and it was therefore time for the business friendship to be used in taking the relationship to another level. He was convinced, that the business relationship between Kingho Energy group and the Government of Sierra Leone “will be a win-win for all, as Government is committed to a successful partnership under the Agenda for Prosperity of president Koroma.”

After several months of president Koroma leaving the shores of China and waving goodbye to his communist friends, how many real contracts and legally binding funding agreements have been signed by ministers for the development of Sierra Leone?

No – not that MOU, or the previous one that followed the one we cannot remember. I mean real contract of service or scheduled financing package, with quantified outputs and milestones.

This is what the Chairman of Kingho Energy Group – Mr. Huo Qinghua had to say about the MOU:

“In his statement, he said, the event marked another historic day in the relationship between Sierra Leone and China and strengthening his company’s operations in Sierra Leone.

victor foh in china“Huo Qinghua thanked Sierra Leone’s envoy to China, His Excellency Victor Bockarie Foh for his unflinching support to the development of Sierra Leone, through his support to Kingho.”

“You have done a lot of work and significant contribution to Sierra Leone. You have also contributed to our efforts in our portfolio of development in Sierra Leone.”

“He assured of his company’s continued readiness to implement “commitment made initially to support Sierra Leone”, noting, that even though they have challenges, he was confident, with the support of the Government of Sierra Leone, they can move the project forward.”

“Kingho, Ambassador Foh said, has a core aspect of mining in its development portfolio, as well as energy and transport amongst others and was therefore, looking at Kingho from the perceptive of a conglomerate of investment opportunities that should be supported by all the relevant players”.

“Speaking from a political front, Ambassador Foh said, Sierra Leone is built on the solid foundation of the All peoples Congress “I am coming from the background of a politician and I feel pause of the party. The president feels for Sierra Leone’s development agenda and Kingho Group will be a big player in all of this, “ he disclosed.

Ok, so few would understand what that means, but maybe – just maybe, the next MOU signed by the president himself, would shed some light on this MOU.

Confused? Don’t be, this is president Koroma’s Sierra Leone, where MOU is fast becoming a legal tender, and every minister wants to make a quick buck.