President Bio of Sierra Leone signs MoU with China 

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.

4 Comments

  1. It’s East meets Africa; and it could also be West meets Africa – the best position that Africa can adjust itself in the world’s political spectrum. That is, in the middle of the ‘international community’ politics, with a basic understanding that Socialism and Capitalism – in their extremes – are models that don’t emulate Africa.

    Being in the centre of most aspects in the international scene means Africa can bargain from both sides, East or West. The problem will be stabilizing Africa at this point, because there will be constant attraction from socialist and capitalist ideologies.

    The signing of the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between Sierra Leone and China is a further glimpse of the East in defining Sierra Leone’s development strategy underpinning the fishing industry.

    As President Maada Bio said, “The signing symbolises our desire to encourage further investment … and we Will want to add value … even before they are brought to the market for sale”. This amounts to a view to the final product: fresh fish, dry fish, marine delicacies etc, all in their final process – packed or tinned – and ready for consumption.

    In terms of know-how, one can imagine the wealth of skills that such an ‘end goal’ strategy will provide in the medium or long-term future.

    The final product carries the maximum added value, and if the aim is to optimise economic benefits, more resources should be channelled to achieve its eventual production or manufacture.

    Prior to President Bio’s expression of gratitude to the Chinese delegation, the head of the delegation, Yu Kangzhen, said, “… we believe that with your cooperation we will be able to develop the two countries”. It is not clear where the processing plant, that will produce the final product, would be located.

    Is there going to be a processing plant built in Sierra Leone, or in China?

    If the terms of this MoU – which was also signed by former President, Ernest Bai Koroma – did not clarify any provision for the location of a modern fish processing plant in Sierra Leone, then President Julius Maada Bio can re-negotiate new terms that will ensure the country is equipped with the necessary tools to produce the final product in the fishing industry.

    Indeed, the high level of presence of Chinese fishing corporations (five in operation) puts the President in a stronger position to address the case for the availability of a processing plant in the country. It is not like ‘starting all over’ again in the fishing sector, as a lot of advantages (scale economies) had already been established that will facilitate a smooth transition to high-tech fish production and resource management.

    As implied, if the Chinese want to extend this MoU to oil and gas exploration in the country, then that’s a fantastic idea that President Bio would have to exploit with a view to an open policy arrangement that would allow other nationals (Western countries or Middle Eastern countries etc.) to compete with them (Chinese) in this industry.

    Oil and gas exploration should include inland activities in order to maximise potential output in this sector. And any presnt or successive governments should adopt the same policy of achieving the final product, by ensuring – in this case – a modern oil refinery plant is built in the country.

    Africa should start thinking of assuming the role of being the next ‘factory of the word’.

    Africa has got everything. But can Africa make anything?

  2. President Bio can sign as many memorandums with the Chinese as he wishes – as long as it does not threaten the future security and integrity of the nation. This is a fear that all of us should have, particularly the so-called educated, with a tendency to behave contrary to what their PhDs say. These are the people [PhD holders] who should be educating the rest us about the dangers of imperialism – both direct and subtle.

    Surrounding oneself with PhD holders, such as President Bio has done, does not always equal good results and progress; there is ample empirical for this claim going back to the days of Siaka Stevens when the likes of Abass Bundu and others bust on to the political scene. What did they do apart from engaging in kleptomania? The trend continues even as I write.

    We must remember that China holds veto power at the United Nations, the last place to learn about democracy. Unless we keep our eyes wide open and behave as if blood and oxygen flow into our brains, our children and grandchildren may well have to fight a war of liberation when most of us will be six feet below the earth, thereby aligning ourselves with the current American President Donald Trump’s description of us as being a s hole.

    As a people we are too endearing to a fault, sometimes even favouring the foreigner over our own. Without losing this element of our national character, people who come to live with us must be made to know their limits.

    Beware President Bio about the dangers.

  3. The question is what is the role of our legislators in all this. Granted that it is only an M.O.U. and the President is entitled to enter into partnership with a foreign government in the interest of the nation. But Parliament must have a say in the nature of such agreements.

    Firstly, we need to examine our current strategy for the fishing industry and come out with policies that protect the interest of local fishermen; the economy and above all create job opportunities for our unemployed youths. Without any empirical research, the problem is the prevalence of illegal fishing vessels from Europe and Asia that are operating without proper control from the government.

    We have a naval force and it is their duty to protect our territorial waters. Are they equal to the task? What plans do we have for a fish processing plant and support for local fishermen?

    These are issues that need serious consideration and it is the duty of Parliament to examine development options for the fishing industry, albeit through the proactive involvement of the appropriate Departmental Committee.

  4. 100 days at office, I hope president Bio will observe the political situation in Sierra Leone rather than signing contracts.

    The political situation in Sierra Leone stinks. Imagine since our independence, this country’s political system is dominated by the north and south. It is time that the country politics changed; give chance to the ethnics minorities. Let’s take examples from the western countries – black president in America, woman Prime Minister in the UK; female chancellor in Germany. Please give chance to the East like Kono District or Kenema District. Give peace a chance.

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