Sierra Leone lags behind in governance and transparency

Yusuf Keketoma Sandi: The Sierra Leone Telegraph: 23 May 2013:

Just last week Wednesday, the Revenue Watch Institute, published its latest Resource Governance Index for 2013. The Resource Governance Index measures the quality of governance in the oil, gas and mining sector of 58 countries.

After almost a year of assembling 46 expert researchers who gathered original data from all 58 jurisdictions, and the findings examined by 56 peer reviewers, plus an independent review, the report for Sierra Leone and many other countries makes for uncomfortable reading. (Photo: President Koroma).

Overall, the index finds that only 11 out of the 58 countries have satisfactory standards of transparency and accountability.  The public lacks fundamental information about oil, gas and the mining sector.

Most worryingly, more than half the sample – 32 countries, do not meet even basic standards of resource governance, performing weakly or simply failing.

So the question is: what does the report say about the quality of governance in the mining and extractive sector in Sierra Leone and how does Sierra Leone compare with its neighbour Liberia?

The 2013 index evaluates four components which reveal specific shortcomings of resource governance in each country: Institutional and Legal Setting; Reporting Practices; Safeguards and Quality Controls and Enabling Environment.

But for the purposes of this article, I will deal with two of these components which have always been very crucial: Institutional and Legal Setting and Enable Environment.

In the Institutional and Legal Setting Component, the Index looks at whether the laws and systems that encourage Integrity and Openness including basic transparency guidelines are lacking in the 58 resource rich countries. For Sierra Leone, the index ranks the country “Partial” with a score of 52 out of 100.

Undoubtedly, with the passing of the Mines and Minerals Act, the launching of the GOSL On-line Repository System and the creation of the National Minerals Agency, some progress has been made.

But when you compare that score to that of Guinea and Liberia – scoring 86 and 83 points respectively, you must be left with no doubt that there is still a serious integrity and openness deficit in Sierra Leone’s mining and extractive sector.

In January 2012, the government of Sierra Leone and its international donors, such as the United Nations Development Programme, German Society for International Cooperation, Revenue Development Foundation and World Bank, launched a joint initiative called the ‘GoSL Online Repository’, which records all public mining licences and related payments.

But there is still concern that the public does not have a means to cross check whether the revenue payments on the repository system is accurate, and whether other information which are in the public interest – not government’s are being uploaded.

Therefore, this index shows why President Koroma should ensure that the Freedom of Information Bill should now become law, which will guarantee public access to all records regarding mining agreements, mining transactions and mining revenues.

And you should be wondering why Liberia’s Mining and Extractive Industry is consistently being regarded by reputable international organisations as far more transparent and accountable than Sierra Leone’s, then wonder no more.

In July 2010, Liberia’s President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, signed into law a Transparency Act titled “Liberia Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative Act”, following the standards set by the International Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative.

By October 2010, President Sirleaf also signed into law a Freedom of Information Act, which is now allowing the media and individual citizens in Liberia to demand information from their government and other public authorities regarding their mining and extractive industry.

And this is why it was admirable that in the November 2012 elections held in Sierra Leone, the opposition SLPP led by Maada Bio made a manifesto commitment to review and enact the Freedom of Information Bill.

But now, President Koroma has the opportunity to leave a legacy on the campaign for transparency, especially in the mining sector by signing into law the Freedom of Information bill.

Another crucial area of the index is the “Enabling Environment” Component. This component deals with a country’s levels of corruption, government’s effectiveness, lack or presence of democratic institutions and the rule of law.

Staggeringly, the 2013 Index scores Sierra Leone 24 out of 100. This according to the Index  is a ‘failing’ score.

As a Sierra Leonean, irrespective of one’s political views, seeing your country given a ‘failing’ score by an independent international institution is worrying.

This is a stark reminder to the government and its APC praise singing friends, that corruption, government’s effectiveness, democratic institutions, human rights and the rule of law still leave much to be desired, at least in the eyes of some international institutions.

Therefore, as part of building his credentials and legacy, President Koroma will still need to convince institutions like the Revenue Watch that in the Resource Governance sphere, his government is creating the right enable environment –  tackling corruption more ruthlessly.

He needs to also demonstrate that he is presiding over a more effective government, providing the political will for democratic institutions to thrive and respecting the rule of law.

Liberia too does not seem capable of pulling this off, as they only score 31 out of 100 on “Enable Environment”, which is also regarded as “failing”.

Overall, Sierra Leone has been ranked 35th out of 58 countries with a score of 46 out of 100. This is regarded by the Index as ‘weak’. It represents the lowest ranking in the Mano River Union – below Liberia, which ranks 16th – with a score of 62 and Guinea which ranks two places above at 33rd – with a score of 46.

However, if there is any comfort we can take from the Index ranking, we are still ranked above countries like China and Nigeria. But for a country of our population size and level of mineral resources, such comfort may seem more like complacency.

Liberia has performed so outstandingly to be ranked 16th, Sierra Leone should also be capable of attaining such ranking and even better.

Perhaps one should ask: why is this ranking important for Sierra Leone?

The answer is that Sierra Leone has one of the largest deposits of mineral resources – diamonds, iron ore, rutile, bauxite, gold, platinum, tantalite, zircon, ilmenite, chromites and colombite.

In 2010, Sierra Leone was ranked as the world’s 10th producer of diamonds by volume and the world’s third ranked producer of rutile. In the same 2010, Sierra Leone exported a total of 550,395 carats of diamonds worth $129.6 million.

In the last couple of years, the country has attracted major oil producers, and exploration licences have been awarded to oil companies. In fact, some experts estimate that the country will be getting US$100 million a year, just from oil and gas.

Therefore, it is crucial that Sierra Leone should have Independent International Institutions like Revenue Watch and the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI), serving as watchdogs of the country’s mining sector. This will increase transparency and public awareness.

For instance, in September 2012 when the Sierra Leone’s Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) Report was published, it revealed that the government only received US$18.5 million in revenues from 2008 to 2010.

By the EITI’s analyses, with a population of about 6 million, it works out every Sierra Leonean would have received just US$ 1 from the mining sector every year.

And if you compare that to Liberia, the Liberian government’s revenues just for the fiscal year ending in June 2010 were US$ 72 million.

This shows that the amount of revenues the Liberian government reported to have taken for just a fiscal year (July 2009 – June 2010), were almost 4 times more than that which was reported by the Sierra Leone government in the three years: 2008, 2009 and 2010.

In fact, as I write, the present figures on the GOSL Online Repository shows that the total revenue the government has received (since 2010 as I understand it) amounts to US$48,120,363.

And comparing that to the latest EITI’s report on Liberia, which only spans from July 2010 to June 2011, the report states that the total amount received by the government of Liberia from the extractive industry amounts to US$117,802,566.

Hence, irrespective of one’s political views, we can all agree that the case for transparency and accountability cannot be made any better than these figures.

This is why, when President Koroma said few months ago at the launching of the National Mining Agency, that: “The Agency will play a critical role in ensuring that the mining sector is of benefit to all Sierra Leoneans. My administration is determined to make our mineral resources a strong force for good in Sierra Leone, playing a key role in lifting standards of living and employment prospects for all”, I am sure the president must have echoed the wish of all Sierra Leoneans.

But until ordinary people can begin to feel the benefits of the country’s God given resources, then his legacy on the Mining Sector will have a mixed review.

And if anything,  the recent suspension of Sierra Leone’s candidacy by the EITI and the evidence provided by this latest Resource Governance Index, show that for ordinary people to benefit from Sierra Leone’s mineral resources, needs more than words.

Sierra Leone needs more action to improve transparency, openness and accountability by passing the Freedom of Information Bill. The country needs better ways of ensuring that ordinary people and communities directly benefit from mining revenues.

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