Illegal Chinese shipment of iron ore from Sierra Leone – raises questions of impropriety

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:

19 Comments

  1. The question that I have is, what is the purpose of these findings when at the end of the day no one is being held accountable for them? Seems like there is a weekly pattern of extreme cases of corruption that government officials are involved in, but not once has the outcome been arrests and serving serious jail time of those who are supposedly involved in them. In many instances, the accused is simply rotated from one governmental occupation to another. Is it merely a matter of ultimately not having enough evidence to throw the book at these men/women, or are they flat out being wrongfully accused? If so, then we can allude that “corruption”, in the way that it is being described to us, is simply not the reason why our people are forced to live under such extreme conditions.

  2. Why do people like playing cheap politics where politics should not be played, and I am talking about the bread and butter issues, the health care delivery and infrastructural development of a country or nation. The APC leader in Parliament Honorable Bah is misleading people in the country to score cheap point. Like another contributor in this thread said, Iron ore cannot be mined and smuggled easily. If the APC leader actually wants to help stop corruption, he should have nip anything illegal about this iron ore shipment by Kingho before it happened. In this glorious paper, the Sierra Leone Telegraph, it was reported in October last year that Kingho Company which was granted license is to start shipment of iron ore in December 2020. This was a bit delay and was done in January this year see https://www.thesierraleonetelegraph.com/chinas-kingho-investment-to-start-shipment-of-iron-ore-in-sierra-leone-by-december-2020.

    In September 2020, an SLPP Parliamentarian, Hon Tawa Conteh had asked Parliament put a temporary stop to the activities of Kingho Company, asking for certain issues to be clarified including monies they owe to the country as tax before 2018. Honorable Bah was in that sitting and to the surprise of many who do not know, the parent company of Kingho the Chinese mining company was granted licence to operate in Sierra Leone for 25 years in 2012. Honorable Bah was head of the negotiation then, to grant that licence as a member of the EITI that was formed in 2009.

    That notwithstanding after the temporary ban in September 2020 and the appearance of the Director of the NMA before parliament on the operation of Kingho, with Hon. Bah in attendance, the issues raised by parliament were clarified and Kingho was permitted to go ahead with its operations. There was a lot of fanfare about the lunching of their operation which was reported in other Sierra Leone newspapers. See for example this article in the politico at: https://politicosl.com/articles/kingho-takes-over-tonkolili-mines-sierra-leone
    At all the deliberations in parliaments and the previous mining license granted to the parent company of the group by the old Parliament, Hon. Bah was part and parcel of everything. Therefore it behooves that Hon. Bah can go to parliament with a hidden camera to record as he tell lies to the people of the country. Worst still he went ahead to subsequently share such lies on social media to further mislead and misrepresent the fact to the gullible and lazy readers. This is a clear sign of desperation and one cannot go so low to misrepresent the title Honorable. Thank God we papers like The Sierra Leone Telegraph which report it as it is without any hidden agenda.

    • May God bless you for bringing light into this Forum. You are highly welcome here anytime. Most of us only read and forget quickly, that is why most of such reports become news to us though they are not. Most of these things are just propaganda.

    • But Mr Seneth Brown,if your assertions are anything to go by, why didn’t the parliamentarians who were there with Mr Bah when the agreement were being made,come out and condemned him for hypocrisy? You see, though common sense is always common but in many cases doesn’t seem so at all.You are giving out instances of websites where reports of agreement were reached with the parliamentarians in which Chernoh Bah fully participated.But what you failed to realise is that,to participate in an ongoing agreement doesn’t mean it was fully agreed upon. There could be a half way agreement down the line but perhaps who knows the other side didn’t completely go through the final agreement process,that causes the other side to react. As it is happening so now in parliament.

      Looking at the level of seriousness this issue garners I don’t think Mr Chernoh Bah, given the level of knowledge he has in parliament will stoop so low just to score political points as you have claimed. So for us to be able to get to the bottom of this,and to fully understand why all this is happening, let’s wait and see. Since chernoh Bah has asked the speaker of the House to put halt to any further shipment,let the mining company, mines minister and all those that participated in the granting of the “license to mine” come and rebuke Chernoh for being a liar and a hypocrite. Only then we will know who is telling the truth – ok?

  3. Since the start of the just concluded commission of inquiry(COI), most members and supporters of the destructive AYAMPI PEOPLES CONGRESS (APC) party became mentally deranged. Now that the deadline for the repayment of their looting has expired, they are now throwing all types of SH*T on the wall hoping some will stick dreaming that they will not be held accountable. Elections have consequences, so they first have to win before they can set up their own COI, but for now they have no option but to respect the verdicts of the Nigerian, Ghanaian and Sierra Leonean judges otherwise face the full penalty of the law. Based on the link below, I hope they will come back to their senses about this opportunity that our citizens are now enjoying.
    https://www.thesierraleonetelegraph.com/chinas-kingho-mining-takes-over-tonkolili-iron-ore-mining-operations-in-sierra-leone/

  4. I just wanted to make a humble request. Please could legal luminaries out there spell out ever so briefly and for the benefit of us legal ignoramuses, the essence of what our law books say about the extraction and commercialisation of our precious minerals? I suppose one commentator here is a legal luminary. Could he come to our rescue while we wait for others like him to come forward? By the way and to the extent that this information is of any value, some of here speak from a strictly neutral postion, party politically and ideologically.

  5. Hmmm, this is a huge mess up again, from corruption to curruption with Covid-pandemic as a cover-up for your dubious acts, suffering the people of Sierra leone. Citizens it high time we stand firm for our right, because we put them there for a purpose to serve us as a nation.

  6. This sounds like deja vu all over again. A poor APC president amassing huge personal wealth during a decade in power, followed by an SLPP president alledgedly trying to follow suit. The only losers here are the people of Sierra Leone.

  7. It is nice to expose corruption. But it is even nicer to stop corruption. What baffles me is that iron ore is not mined alluvially as you will do diamond or gold. How would Hon. Bah confess that he came to know about the export if any, of the country’s iron ore through Reuters. Iron ore cannot be smuggled in a pocket. It requires manpower and machinery to mine it and transport it in containers to the port where it needs additional machinery and manpower to put it into a ship.

    So considering all that it takes to mine, transport and ship iron ore, there is more to this story than we have Heard. The last is that the iron ore in question is from the heartland of the opposition. The railway in question runs through the heartland of the opposition. No deal like this would go on unnoticed to the opposition. But looking at it, the aim of the opposition has been met. We will not hear the other side of the story if it is contrary to this allegation.

  8. Recently, I made the comment that APC were beginning to stitch their backbone together to start doing their job as the main opposition party in the country. The first sign came when Osman Foday Yansaneh, chairman of the party, put out a statement claiming that Maada Bio and his gangsters had taken corruption to an unprecedented level. I ended the piece with the assertion that “kaynda” and “ogiri” were about to start a war, and that the rest of us should only move in to pick up the casualties while firmly covering our noses because of the intense stench which both of them would emit.

    The best criminal catcher is a criminal. That’s why serious police forces around the world secretly recruit criminals as informants or agents; these recruits know everything about the underworld of criminality. The not-so-subtle message here is that the Commissions of Inquiry (COI), uncovered the widespread criminality of the former APC regime. We don’t need another COI – the former criminals now have the current criminals on their radar.

    As 2023 looms we the people must see that APC and SLPP need a rest from the damage they have been inflicting on us. We should keep them away from the leadership of the country and bring in Dr Yomkella and NGC. We need a fresh start. We must stop the recolonisation of our dear country by the Chinese.

  9. Shame to see members of parliament not wearing their face masks properly. Most of them had their masks under their chins. They are the makers of law(s) and they cannot set an example for the common Sierra Leonean to follow suit. Mr Speaker, please take your stand of the people’s house and throw those outlaws not wearing their masks properly, out of the seats of parliament. SHAME ON THEM!

    • I hate stupidity…when can we start reading something intelligible and devoid of political propaganda in our local tabloid. The deal between Kingho Chinese company and SL had long since passed through parliament and the required approval obtained. Kingho has exportation license so why does it have to reappear again before parliament for clearance???? That’s not what our law books say.,..the time when media boys and our so called politicians will start addressing issues objectively without political lineage the better for this country.

  10. I hope – although I can’t help harbouring a feeling of deja vu – that the Opposition leader’s questions and assertions are without foundation. For if indeed that hope is nothing other than a figment of my own overly optimistic imagination, then our country is in deep trouble, having undergone the ultimate metamorphosis to become that hell hole of corruption and decay worthy of Dante’s poetry: ‘Abandon all hope ye who enter here’. Indeed corruption and economic criminality are so endemic in our society that their cancerous proliferation defies reversibility? The answer, I am afraid, is probably yes. For it cannot be the case that Chinese investors in our mining sector can ship away loads of a key resource all by themselves and in contravention of the laws governing the extraction and commercialisation of that resource, without the complicity of rogue elements within our nation’s political and administrative machineries.

    No, there is no reason to call the foreign businessmen ‘Yellow men from the Far East who are here only to line their pockets, and this, at our nation’s expense’. To call them so would not only be disingenuous but downright racist and unacceptable. The responsibility lies directly with those among us who have been entrusted with overseeing mine operations in the country. They seem to have failed the nation dismally, and must face the music. This matter stinks to high heaven. And a multiplicity of human foibles – insatiable greed, gross lack of public spiritedness, criminal deception or negligence or both, and so on – seem to be at play here. Ironically, what should enable us to transform our poverty-stricken country into a developed, self-supporting African economic oasis becomes the cause of our calamitous stagnation, or more exactly, retrogression.

    I don’t care who are in power at any point in time so long as their handling of public affairs shapes into the protection and sane and profitable management of our God-given resources. An urgent official enquiry into the circumstances surrounding of what may well prove to be a case of economic criminality is in order. And there should be no sacred cows. Whichever persons among our politicians and public servants are found to be working hand in glove with the Chinese should be held accountable. Mr Anti-Corruption Commissioner and team, the ball is your court. Please rise to the occasion and shed full light on what appears to be a criminal operattion.

  11. I have always maintained that State House has become a Den of Thieves. Yup, our Nation’s house has become a place frequented by thieves and criminals. These SLPP individuals are out to enrich themselves at the expense of the suffering masses of Sierra Leone.There is no shame in their game any longer,for they can be seen out in public boasting loudly about their shady,underhanded dealings to their unscrupulous tribesmen hungering for their daily handouts.(lol) Hon Chernoh Bah needs to be commended for the fantastic work he is doing on behalf of our beloved poor nation.The great Confucius once said,”A people are like the grass and a leader resembles the wind and wheresoever the wind blows there also will the green grass lean.” Ingenious!

    Folks,those words of wisdom aptly resembles our traumatizing situation in Sierra Leone today – The old soldier Maada Bio is corrupt and so is his wife and everyone else – David Francis,JJ Saffa,Juldeh,Keifala,all of them and many others corrupt to the bone and marrow.Oh mercy,mercy me! Boot-licking errand boys who also used to shine boots until they became spanking new mirrors are now in control of a fragile nation that they have now connived and sold into harlotry ten times over for the price of peanuts to dubious,predatory foreign entities – shadowy to the bone.But lets be sincere with ourselves there is a old crooked tortoise in the depths of State House that crawls along crookedly,shamelessly showing her young ones the zig-zagging paths they should all follow instead of straight lines – so much for progress and moving forward.

    Unfeeling armed bandits that’s who they are; Pirates that would rob the suckling infant of her mothers milk and deprive the disabled of their wooden crutches and wheelchair – selling our minerals and rare natural resources discreetly is the easiest thing for them to do – they don’t know “Diddly Squat” about the true meanings of honesty and transparency.(lol)

  12. Folks, truth to be told, Sierra Leonean people made a big mistake in electing a gang of HUSTLERS, who paraded themselves back in 2018 as politicians, with the ring leader being a jobless man, having no legitimate source of income for a period spanning over a decade. Time without number, I have pondered over the notion of people actually believing that, a financially strapped man (dead-broke), who in many respects was only surviving via political financial contributions along with people of goodwill within his inner circle, will somehow be corrupt free, by not first enriching himself and cohorts, if given an opportunity to be in charge of multi-billion resources.

    Last night, I collected my best friend of over 20yrs from Dulles International airport Washington D.C, a native of Kenema returning back from a 4 weeks vacation from Sierra Leone. Despite his die-hard support for the SLPP, backed by him personally traveling to Freetown to campaign and witness the 2018 election of Maada Bio, his assessment of our nation’s situation couldn’t be any gloomier. In our usual opposing views when it comes to Salone politics, I tried all possible ways to solicit from him some form of positive developments he experienced or seen during his 4 weeks stay, and all he kept telling me was our nation being in a precarious situation. Like my previous experience while I was there 2 months ago, he basically concluded that there is no hope in sight. Absolutely nothing good to write home about.

  13. This goes at the heart of how our country is being mismanaged. Government corruption has a passive element that undermines trust, and the way investors look at them through the lens. A government that follows the letter of the law, won’t be taken advantage of by foreign entities or investors. It will not wash in a well organised and managed state, because there are consequences for braking the laws of the land. The – don’t ask, and don’t tell mentally about the way our government does business with foreign investors like Kingho mining groups, foster a sense they can buy their way in anything they want, in such a corrupt environment with no repercussions.

    It’s not only our iron ore that has been shipped out this way to China. In Falaba, Bindi, Musia, and I suppose in the South and East of the country, the deforestation of our rain forest, with truck loads of wood are being transported at night to Guinea, is a common sight. Its hidden in plain view. This has been going on for years. By copping up our trees, we are storing up future environmental disasters, because once these trees are gone, there is nothing to protect the soil or remedy the consequences.

    I hope ministers will read this in the ministry of agriculture and forestry and take the necessary action, and send team of investigators to the border regions. It’s happening right under the noses of our custom officers. Sometimes I suspect they are party to it. The recent flooding in Freetown on 14th August 2017, and 2nd May 2019, are a good example of what happens when you chop off your trees and ship them to China. It will only increase your chances of deadly flash floods.

    • Not only transported to guinea, I have never in 12 years seen the amount of timber on trucks and stored in giant stockpiles only 10 miles outside Freetown on the masiaka highway. The forests are being systematically razed for personal enrichment.

    • Corruption by those who appear to govern in Sierra Leone, is a pandemic disease with no scientific formula for a vaccine.

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