Dr Doma: Sierra Leone Telegraph: 9 November 2023:
The ongoing infrastructure development agreement controversy in Sierra Leone involving the government, Kingho Investment Company Limited – otherwise known as Leone Rock Metal Group, and ARISE IIP has ignited a heated debate about the government’s due diligence process, the rule of law, and the government’s ability to effectively manage the country’s affairs.
This unhappy controversy, with its twists and turns, has left many Sierra Leoneans with several pressing questions, while also underscoring the need for transparency, fairness, and accountability in awarding critical national infrastructure development contracts to foreign investors.
Two years ago, Kingho Investment Company Limited announced that effectively Monday 4th October 2021, it has changed its name from Kingho Investment Company Limited to Leone Rock Metal Group.
At the heart of this controversy are the rail and port infrastructure agreements signed respectively by both Leone Rock Metal Group and ARISE IIP. What has raised eyebrows is the government’s earlier decision to sign an agreement with ARISE IIP without conducting a comprehensive due diligence process.
This decision has now come under intense scrutiny as ARISE IIP has been told by the government that it is unfit to fulfil the terms of the agreement. What is even more shocking is that the government has instead turned to Kingho, a company it had previously discredited as fraudulent.
Sierra Leoneans are perplexed by the government’s sudden shift in stance and are accusing the government of duplicity and double dealing. Some Sierra Leoneans are questioning whether there has been an element of corruption involved in the awarding of those contracts.
The central question that arises here is, why is Leone Rock Metal Group favoured over ARISE IIP, especially given the government’s previous vote of confidence given to ARISE IIP?
Adding to the complexity of the situation is its historical backdrop. The current government, the Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP), had criticized the former All People’s Congress (APC) government for what they described as poor governance and failing to promote market competition. This back-and-forth between political parties only deepens the intrigue surrounding this issue.
Complicating matters further is the history of the Chinese companies involved, which have a track record of changing alliances and positions in Sierra Leone’s critical national infrastructure projects. This history fuels concerns and scepticism, as it raises questions about the motivations behind these shifting agreements and alliances.
What is clear is the urgent need for the government to address these concerns transparently. It is essential for the government to provide clarity on their decision-making process and ensure that the best interests of Sierra Leone and its citizens are protected. These critical national infrastructure agreements should be managed in a manner that promotes economic growth and benefits the people, without leaving room for suspicion of undue influence, favouritism, or corruption.
Critical national infrastructure are those facilities, systems, sites, information, networks and processes, necessary for any country to function and upon which daily life depends. They should not be subjected to political cronyism, deal making and racketeering, because doing so affects the country’s image, competitiveness and prosperity, as well as its sovereignty.
To regain public trust and confidence, a thorough and impartial investigation is warranted to uncover the motivations behind these agreements and shifts in alliances. The government must demonstrate its commitment to accountability, good governance, and the welfare of its citizens. In doing so, they should engage relevant stakeholders to ensure that the country’s resources are managed in a manner that truly benefits the people of Sierra Leone.
The backdrop of accusations of poor governance and corrupt practices against the previous government in awarding foreign investor contracts, only amplifies the importance of transparency and due diligence in managing these vital infrastructure deals.
As concerned citizens, it is our duty to hold the government accountable, to ensure that the interests of the nation and its people remain paramount in all decisions related to such critical infrastructure agreements.
It is worth pointing also that concerns have been raised by Sierra Leoneans regarding the monopoly of the Pepel Rail and Port by Kingho, a Chinese company. They are troubled by Kingho’s practice of charging high fees for the use of these facilities, which could hinder the country’s ability to generate income from its natural resources.
This monopoly has also sparked worries that Kingho could exploit the situation to maximize its profits at the expense of the nation, as they refuse access to other players, even those with priority clauses in their contracts.
Citizens are urging the government to ensure fair access to the facility for all investors, as this monopoly could deter potential investors and compromise the country’s sovereignty. They call on the government to intervene and promote fair access to these critical facilities to prevent potential long-term consequences.