Sierra Leone Telegraph: 20 June 2018:
One serious criticism that was constantly levied at former president Koroma was his huge appetite for signing MoUs (memorandum of understanding) that yielded very little for the country. And now it seems the newly elected president Julius Maada Bio cannot resist the virus.
There is nothing wrong with the signing of MoUs – per se. But the question that must be asked is; in whose interest is the MoU being signed, and how does it benefit Sierra Leone in terms of economic growth, wealth creation and employment?
Before leaving office a few months ago, president Koroma and his ministers had amassed an impressive collection of MoUs in their briefcases, amounting to no less than $10 Billion worth – especially from China.
MoU’s are nothing but promises, which very often are not worth the paper they are written on.
But cynics say that they are worth more in gold than meets the eye, as they serve as prelude to bribery and corruption on a grand scale.
A lot is said about the evils of public contract kick-backs, and the same if not more should be said about MoU kick-backs and sweeteners.
According to report from State House yesterday, president Julius Maada Bio has signed an MoU with the Chinese government, which his government believes, “will add value and boost investment into Sierra Leone’s fishing sector”.
But there is an existing MoU already signed by president Koroma’s government with the Chinese government to develop Sierra Leone’s fishing sector. So why sign another MoU? What has been the result of the previous MoU?
How much has China invested in Sierra Leone’s fishing sector since in 2007 – 2018? How many jobs have they created? Sierra Leone is losing over $100 million in illegal and overfishing in its waters.
The country’s fishing sector is poorly managed and nothing more than a gravy train for corrupt public officials, with less than $30 million finding its way into the nation’s coffers annually.
A key objective of the government of Sierra Leone should be to transform the fishing sector from ‘fish netting’ to a high productivity – value added fish processing and marketing’ industry, that has the potential to generate Billions of dollars in export revenue.
When president Bio established his Transition Review Committee, headed by his chief minister – professor David Francis from Bradford University in April, it was with a view to assessing and evaluating the contribution that each government ministry is making to the nation’s development, including the fishing sector.
So, where is the Transition Committee Report? Will it ever see the light of day?
The Sierra Leone Telegraph has been reliably informed that president Bio has decided to abandon the publication of the Transition Committee Report, so as not to embarrass former president Koroma to whom critics say he owes much gratitude for winning the 2018 elections.
So, what was signed with the Chinese government yesterday at State House?
Witnessed by a high-level delegation from China, both president Bio and China’s Vice-Minister of Agriculture and Rural Affairs – Yu Kangzhen, signed an MoU to increase China’s investments in Sierra Leone’s fishing sector.
Mr. Yu Kangzhen told president Bio: “Your Excellency in on order to foster investment in the two countries and live up to trends in the international arena, the two countries have to sign such agreements that will allow us to invest in the fishing sector.
“This is a huge milestone and one that symbolises a high-level of corporation between the two countries. We are grateful for your support and we believe that with your corporation we will be able to develop the two countries,” the Chinese Vice- Minister of Agriculture said.
But why sign another MoU, when there is an ongoing Agreement signed by president Koroma giving the Chinese access to Sierra Leone’s coastal waters for exploitation. It seems the Chinese have another agenda. They would like to conduct deep sea research. But to what end? Oil exploration?
According to Mr. Yu Kangzhen, China would start by sending fishing vessels that would help to conduct research in the country’s fishing sector.
But there are specialists working in Sierra Leone’s ministry of fisheries that are knowledgeable about the country’s fishing sector and should be working in partnership with the Chinese to develop the sector without further research investment.
In response to the Chinese offer and after signing the MoU, president Bio expressed his gratitude to the delegation for their visit to the country and described the relationship between the two countries as mutually beneficial and one that spanned decades. He noted that Sierra Leone and China have had many areas of corporations, including sectors like fishery.
“One of my areas of economic diversification is the fishery sector. This is because we believe that if the right investment is made the sector will be able to serve as a strong base for our local revenue generation drive. This signing symbolises our desire to encourage further investment into our country and as we go about our development process, we will want to add more value to our fishery products even before they are brought to the market for sale. As we move further, I want to assure you of my corporation,” he said.
Mr Yu extended an invitation to President Bio to attend the China-Africa confab, scheduled for September in China.
President Bio added that while in China in the next couple of months he would also use the opportunity to explore possible avenues for investments in Sierra Leone.
According to State House, Sierra Leone and China have had a long history of cooperation in the fisheries, dating back to 1985 when the first Chinese fleets reached the shores of the West African nation. Presently, five Chinese fishing corporations operate in the country, creating many employment opportunities for Sierra Leoneans.
But as the ink on the MoU signed by president Bio yesterday begins to dry, all eyes are on the MoU signed two months ago when he visited Qatar and was promised hundreds of millions of dollars of investments by the Qatari government.
President Bio will soon be marking his first 100 days in office. He has promised a break from the previous government’s approach to governing Sierra Leone. He said there will not be business as usual. The people of Sierra Leone are watching keenly.