Sierra Leone Telegraph: 03 February 2021:
As the people of Sierra Leone begin to come to terms with the twin shocks of the Auditor General’s Report and the scandalous revelations of reckless misappropriation of public funds under the Bio-led government, published by the investigative journalist – Chernor Bah, now comes another scandal – this time from the country’s Legislature about illegal iron ore export.
A visibly angry Leader of the Opposition in Parliament, Hon. Chernor Maju Bah of the All People’s Congress, yesterday 3rd February, 2021, expressed utter surprise over what appears to be another violation of Sierra Leone’s laws in the management of the nation’s huge natural resources.
Hon. Bah spoke of how he got to know, through a Reuter’s publication, about the shipment of Iron Ore from the country’s Tonkolili Mines by a Chinese Mining Company, Kingho, whose mining agreement, he said, has not been ratified by Parliament.
“Mr Speaker, I was shocked when I read that the first Iron Ore shipment by Kingho Mining took place last Friday. I saw it through a publication by Reuters”, Hon. Bah said in the Well of Parliament.
He lamented that “there is no way we can ship Iron Ore without an agreement being ratified by this House, it should not happen Mr Speaker, it is unacceptable!”
The Opposition Leader in Parliament went on to say that there were no details pertaining to that shipment in question.
“Under what terms and conditions did they ship our Iron Ore”, he asked, adding that “We don’t have any details; we don’t know the quantity of tailings on the ground; we don’t know under which conditions they are going to take over [the mines]…”
But according to the Reuters report of 30 January, 2021 which the Honourable Member of Parliament referred to, the Tonkolili mines has “estimated resources of 13.7 billion tonnes,” and this opaque and illegal shipment comes on the back of a huge “surge in the price of Iron Ore, $155.64 a tonne, believed to be a record high”.
Hon. Bah emphasised that the iron ore being illegally exported belongs to the Government of Sierra Leone along with the rail on which it was transported; yet, there was no clarity regarding what the people of Sierra Leone stand to benefit from either the use of their rail nor the export of their natural endowment.
What is baffling is the fact that the Sierra Leone’s Peoples Party ( SLPP) government of Julius Maada Bio campaigned to deepen transparency and accountability and had cancelled the contract of the previous owner, Shandong Iron and Steel Group – China’s state – backed company, which bought the mine in 2015, on the claim of seeking better terms for the country.
But while Sierra Leoneans may have been awestruck by disturbing revelations by the country’s Auditor General Reports and Chernor Bah’s Africanist Press of the blatant siphoning of funds from the national purse and those set aside for the fight against COVID -19; there appears to be no respite in the malaise.
Bemoaning what appears to be a recurrent act of complicity, financial indiscipline, misappropriation and downright sleaze, Hon Bah said, “It looks like we are back to business as usual.”
A lawyer of high standing, Hon. Bah further argued that there was no legal basis upon which even the President, in the exercise of his Executive powers, could have authorised such shipment.
“If you go to Section 40 of the Constitution, the provision is very clear that even when he [President] delegated, any treaty or agreement by or under his authority still needs to be ratified by this House”.
“I urge you Mr. Speaker, to summon the Minister of Mines to explain to Parliament the terms and conditions under which the last Friday Kingho shipment was made”, Hon. Bah said. In the meantime, he demanded the halting of all shipment by Kingho until an agreement has been ratified by Parliament.
This is Chernor Bah in parliament yesterday: