Open letter to H.E the president of Sierra Leone Dr. Ernest Bai Koroma

Sierra Leone President - Ernest Bai Koroma

Sierra Leone President – Ernest Bai Koroma

UNVEILING THE DEMON – LONDON MINING DESTROYING SIERRA LEONE’S ECONOMY – In reference to the above, we write on behalf of the ordinary people of Sierra Leone to draw public attention to attempts by London Mining Company Limited and the French company Bollore to undermine the recently introduced Local Content Policy (LCP).

The LCP which came into being courtesy of the wise thinking of the former Minister of Trade and Industry now Chief of Staff at the Office of the President, Dr. Richard Conteh and vigorously articulated by the current Minister of Trade and Industry Alhaji Osman Boie Kamara, seeks amongst other things to give preference to the local human resource in the job market and Sierra Leonean products and services.

A critical potion of the policy states very clearly that “All enterprises operating businesses in any services sector in Sierra Leone including but not limited to banking, insurance, transportation, construction, catering and legal matters , shall retain only the services of Sierra Leonean service providers whose firms are registered and located in Sierra Leone. Where there is no Sierra Leonean entity to render the required service and it becomes necessary to employ a foreign entity, the foreign entity shall operate in partnership with a Sierra Leonean owned and registered company. The foreign entity shall provide the Committee with a local participation plan which shall describe the roles and duties of each partner”.

What this all important clause in the policy seeks to ensure is the total protection of Sierra Leonean products and services as against the influx of foreign companies and their tendency of preferring foreign personnel and services.

If adhered to, the policy has the prospect of significantly addressing the huge unemployment crisis in the country, while at the same time enhancing an economic boom both in business terms and the locally generated income the country will derive through payee and other taxes as a result.

It goes without saying that Sierra Leone, a resource-rich country that has produced billions and billions of dollars worth of minerals including diamond, rutile, bauxite and gold and continues to produce millions and millions of dollars worth of minerals including iron ore, remains ranked as one of the least developed countries in the world. Call it a victim of the resource curse syndrome.

Imagine companies such as London Mining insuring their equipment with overseas countries rather than with our own local insurance companies. It’s like they have no respect or value for the structures we have in place. Companies, including London Mining, are even bringing in foreign catering companies to prepare among other dishes local food such as rice and cassava leaf for workers.

By way of finding a suitable entry point into the country and cognizant of the fact that the country has a big unemployment issue, the companies use fabulous and catchy phrases such as ‘African Minerals to provide 35,000 jobs’ and ‘London Mining promises 50,000 jobs’ but alas as soon as they enter into operation they start doing something entirely different and the sad thing is that there is often nobody to check that out.

If youths who by virtue of the companies’ assurances of massive job creation are supposed to be working in the mines could now engage in scooping fuel from an African Minerals Limited moving train carrying raw ore, then it shows how serious the unemployment situation has become even with the influx of corporate entities in the country.

The major factor responsible for this unacceptable situation is years of bad governance of the country’s huge mineral wealth which if utilized judiciously has the potential of turning the country into another mining success story in Africa as in the case of Botswana which in the early 1970s was far behind Sierra Leone in terms of infrastructural development and human resource.

While it is clear that the current government has taken positive steps in a bid to addressing the issue of beneficiation from the mines, the fact remains that such steps though well intentioned, are often reduced to mere white elephants. There comes the issue of effective implementation of policies formulated and monitoring which is presently a huge challenge.

The enactment of the Mines and Minerals Act of 2009, the establishment of an online repository or cadastre system to ensure transparency in the mining sector and the National Minerals Agency (NMA) to assist the Ministry of Mineral Resources in the area of policy implementation as well as steps to renegotiate all existing mining contracts and the recently introduced LCP, are all geared towards reversing the trend whereby our God-given natural resources are considered a curse rather than the blessing they were destined to be.

It is therefore with a view to add value to the structures and policies being put in place to right the wrongs characterizing the mining and extractive sector that we have deemed it fit to add our voices to the clarion call by concerned citizens to uphold the dictates of the LCP and intensify efforts to pass it into law.

We wish to reiterate the fact that the LCP is a saving grace and taking into consideration the fact that the country currently sits on a time bomb with communities directly affected by mining as well as local mine workers becoming increasingly angry at the performance of mining companies insofar as adherence to corporate social responsibility and labour issues are concerned. London Mining is no exception.

In view of the foregoing, we are calling on the Government of Sierra Leone (GoSL) to stop London Mining in its audacious attempt to undermine the LCP by way of granting a multi-trillion dollars worth contract to the French company Bollore for the transportation of iron ore from Lunsar mine site to the Thorfa-yim shipment point, something our local transporters are more than capable of doing.

Bollore which is presently responsible for ports container management at the Queen Eliszabeth 11 Quay, in 2011 entered into a suspicious seven-year contract with London Mining Company Limited for the transportation of iron ore. The sum total involved in the contract is $225 Million Dollars, an equivalent of Le 108,360,000,000,000 (One Hundred and Eight Trillion Three Hundred and Six Billion Leones). Imagine such an amount going out the country rather than trickling down to indigenous Sierra Leonean transporters and their employees.

In 2011 when Bollore was granted what in our view and in line with the LCP is an illegal contract, Bollore was unable to meet the expected target and had to resort to hiring local transporters to augment its capacity to deliver and maintain the contract.

With the help of local transporters that have been sub contracted, Bollore has ever since met its ore transportation target. What this means in essence is that while Bollore lacks the desired capacity to deliver on target, the local transporters do have the required capacity. This in itself makes nonsense the wisdom behind granting Bollore the contract in the first place. It should be noted that the process of awarding the contract to Bollore was a cosmetic undertaking shrouded in secrecy. It could best be described as a shambolic economic undertaking between members of the Anglo-Saxon Alliance i.e. the British and French nations on a foreign soil.

It his recent quarterly report, the Chief Executive of London Mining Greme Hossie stated that “Today’s reports show that London Mining continues to make excellent progress as we focus on our Marampa operations and establishing it as a solid sustainable long term cash producing business. We are pleased to report our first group operating profit since starting production and remain focused on our continuous improvement plan”.

While Greme’s statement in the above quotation seems rather too glaring, it has to be noted that such an unprecedented profit could not have been realized without the input of local transporters who over the period have contributed in no small way to meet the set ore transportation targets.

As if to show utter ingratitude to the local transporters, some of whom have even gone into huge bank loans just so as to beef up their fleets, Bollore, taking advantage of the weak monitoring mechanism in place to ensure that the spirit of the LCP is upheld, has notified the said sub contracted local transporters that their contracts would be terminated come October 21 2013.

What we know currently is that Bollore, not wanting to spread the contract money, has acquired a couple of trucks to replace those owned by the local transporters.

If London Mining and Bollore are allowed to have their way, it will only mean that local transporters will be put completely out of business and the fate of their employees such as supervisors, drivers, tally clerks, security guards and mechanics jeopardized. We are talking here about 500 Sierra Leoneans and above, alongside their families and dependants. Is this what the LCP seeks to achieve? Certainly not.

Honestly speaking, London Mining is much more of a disappointment than the company many concerned Sierra Leoneans including yours truly had looked up to.

Rather than being a model, London Mining is proving to be one of the worst companies currently operating in the country. This is the least expected from a company whose origin is generationally connected with Sierra Leone, a country that suffered massive British exploitation and deprivation during the unprovoked and unwelcomed self-imposed struggle by the Western World for the partition of Africa.

What London Mining is doing right now in our country represents nothing but a continuation of the heartless exploitation of the country which in the midst of so much in terms of mineral wealth still remains at the very bottom of the development ladder. Is this fair? Don’t we as citizens of Sierra Leone have the right to enjoy the fruits of our vast Godly mineral endowment? Why should our minerals still be a curse to us? Why? Is it because of the extremely bad governance of our natural resources or is it a dangerous game playing against we the ordinary people who are the real owners of the resources?

As if taking advantage of the seeming absence of effective regulations, London Mining, apart from openly violating the terms of the LCP as sufficiently explained above, has fallen short of the expectations of the vast majority of the people who are directly affected by its operations.

The residents have expressed regret that the company is operating within their locality and also feel regret that they blindly celebrated the much drummed about reopening of the Marampa Mines after 30 years since it was closed.

As far as the affected persons are concerned, the resumption of mining has only worsened their poverty situation, with huge pressure piled on the limited facilities available due to the influx of job seekers from all over the country and beyond and the ensuing increase in the prices of basic commodities needed for daily living.

The jobs provided by the company are not only extremely limited but without any security guaranties. Workers are hired and fired at will, sometimes even without benefit. While much is expected from the local workers who are mostly employed as labourers, drivers, cleaners, launderers and some other menial jobs in terms of performance, wages paid them are incommensurate. The company is yet to show any commitment to the requirement of transferring technology to Sierra Leoneans so as to enable them take over from the so-called foreign expatriates.

In the entire management structure of London Mining, there is only one Eurocentric Sierra Leonean who happened to have studied in the United Kingdom.

While the rest of the local employees especially at the lower and middle levels are still struggling to come to terms with their extremely low wages and work stress, the so-called expatriates from South Africa and countries in the Western World are enjoying unlimited facilities and opportunities.

They have adequate housing with uninterrupted electricity, adequate medical attention and insurance coverage, unprecedented pay packages and good allowances and are also entitled to spend four weeks in the country and proceed on two weeks holiday to any country of their choice. This amounts to millions of dollars when one takes into consideration the traveling, accommodation, feeding and entertainment costs, all of which are calculated at the end of the day as operational costs and therefore deductable from revenues that are supposed to come to the state.

The salary of one expatriate can pay the salaries of thirty Sierra Leonean workers. The opulence and ostentatious living of the expatriate have indicated very clearly that they are the masters and owners of the resources. Go to the most expensive hotels such as Mamba Point, Wusum Hotel in Makeni and others and you’ll be shocked to see the number of London Mining expatriates that are living there or having very expensive lunch or dinner there. Go to the Lungi International Airport on weekends and see how many expatriates are going in and out of the country on extravagant holidays.

In addition to that, London Mining like all other mining companies operating in the country is enjoying undue tax holidays amounting to millions of dollars each year. Isn’t this a complete reap-off for a country that is heavily donor dependent and cannot even balance its own national budget?

While we the ordinary citizens pay huge taxes for every item or commodity we bring into the country such as cars, London Mining and others enjoy free duty concession and while we Sierra Leoneans pay the Goods and Services Tax (GST) for any item we buy in the shop besides food, London Mining and all other companies are totally exempted.

Why do we have to go begging for alms and then continue to give so much away? Maybe this explains the reason why in the midst of so much, the country continues to wallow in abject poverty and underdevelopment.

Corporate guys like Bob Thompson of London Mining and Keith Muller of Bollore, better termed as economic canisters, are kind of living as presidents in their own self regulated enclaves. Imagine for one second that Keith Muller is making 300,000 dollars yearly plus substantial bonuses.

Is our President, His Excellency Dr. Ernest Bai Koroma making up to that amount or even close to that…not to talk about his ministers, the speaker of parliament and members of the house of parliament, judges of the supreme court of the land including the chief justice, our inspector general of police and the army chief of staff? This is far from being what the LCP is all about. Don’t we have hundreds of the likes of Bob Thompson and Keith Muller or even better in the country?

If anything, we firmly believe that London Mining is giving a very bad name to its country of origin and it is in view of this that we are calling on honourable House of Commons to fall on the Government of Great Britain to ensure that the company does the right thing in the country in line with international best practice.

As it is right now, the operations of the company are non transparent and by all indications the whole thing is appearing to be a foreigner to foreigner undertaking whereby even small contracts such as backfilling mined-out pits and such others are granted to foreign oriented companies like Dawnus from Great Britain which just bagged a $500 (Five Hundred Million Dollars) backfilling contract from London Mining.

As far as we are concerned, London Mining is yet to demonstrate any seriousness in meeting the expectations of the people and we doubt very much whether the company has plans to maintain the mine and not sell it overnight for higher stakes. So far, London Mining has not put up a single permanent structure in its operational area neither has it rented any house from the locals for dwelling or other purposes. All the company has done so far is to put up moveable container dwellings and offices.

The million dollar question that remains unanswered is who is responsible for the show of open recklessness by London Mining? Over the past three years, the operations of the company have caused much harm to residents of the affected communities. Apart from the massive dust pollution that has taken over the entire affected community, there have been two separate incidences of serious flooding at a village called Manonkoh and at the very heart of Lunsar Township.

Scores of farmlands and plants were adversely affected in both instances, thereby heightening the hunger level in the general area. Till date, the company is shying away from taking responsibility for the unprecedented flooding, just so as to dodge paying the due compensations and undertaking the necessary amends.

Should this recklessness by London Mining continues unabated, we fear that the investment of the company will be in great danger because the signs are there that the people and unhappy with its operations and could stage a massive demonstration anytime to put an end to it.

We are quite aware that in its bid to beat the LCP, London Mining is deliberately misinterpreting the operational objective of the World Trade Organization (WTO) to mean that with or without the LCP, international firms also have the ultimate right to be awarded or bid for any contract in the country. This is nothing but a move to undermine the LCP, and we’ll not take lightly to it.

If nothing is done now to right the wrongs, then Sierra Leone will very soon start experiencing spate of grievous demonstrations and this time around, the victims will definitely be in the reverse. Mind you, it’s a prediction based on the realities on the ground.

We all know what happened at Marikana in South Africa and continues to unfold in the Niger Delta in Nigeria and other resource-rich countries like Sudan, Somalia, the Democratic Republic of Congo and elsewhere.

With the coming of oil into the picture, we are more than convinced that things will take a turn for the worse especially after President Ernest Bai Koroma whose government is actually responsible for all the lapses we are talking about would have gone into retirement or close to it.

Think about the thousands of hectares of arable lands that have been taken away from local farmers and leased out for pittance to foreign companies for periods exceeding five decades and for the production of ethanol and other products for exclusive export to the European market. Communities affected have already started experiencing untold hunger, deprivation and intimidation. This is bound to explode anytime.

We wish to end by stating very categorically that the much talked about Agenda for Prosperity will not be achieved with the kind of slackness being exhibited in the governance of our natural resources, especially our mineral wealth, the bread basket of the country that has no business being poor but unfortunately finds itself entangled in state-sponsored poverty that seems to have no end in sight.

While it is good news that London Mining has announced its first profit, it is hoped that this will reflect positively on the lives of the people directly affected, the local employees and local workforce, the entire Marampa Chiefdom and indeed the country as a whole.

In thanking you for sparing time to read through this lengthy open letter, we call for the imposition of the LCP and do hereby demand the discontinuation of the extremely poor governance of our God-given mineral and natural resource wealth in other not to be remembered as a President who sat powerlessly by and saw trillions of precious leones going away to foreigners while the vast majority of the indigenes of the country continue to suffer shameful poverty.

Yours truly,

Signed:                                                                         Signed:

Theophilus Sahr Gbenda                                                 Paul Hinga Tucker

Journalist/Just Mining Campaigner                                   Social Commentator

232 76 982 623                                                          232 76 804 101

Cc:

  • His Excellency the Vice President of Sierra Leone
  • The British High Commission  Sierra Leone
  • The House of Commons
  • The British Prime Minister’s Office
  • The European Union
  • London Mining Headquarters
  • London Mining Company Sierra Leone
  • The American Embassy Sierra Leone
  • The Chinese Embassy Sierra Leone
  • The World Trade Organization (WTO)
  • The Chamber of Commerce
  • The Minister of Mines and Mineral Resources
  • The Minister of Trade and Industry
  • The Minister of Transport and Aviation
  • The Minister of Finance and Economic Planning
  • The Attorney General and Minister of Justice
  • The Minister of Political and Public Affairs
  • The Chief of Staff
  • The Chief Justice
  • The National Minerals Agency (NMA)
  • The Speaker of Parliament
  • The Parliamentary Oversight Committee on Mineral Resources
  • The Ombudsman
  • The ECOWAS Secretariat
  • The French Embassy Sierra Leone
  • The French Government
  • Bollore
  • The Sierra Leone Police (SLP)
  • The Republic of Sierra Leone Armed Forces
  • The Office of National Security (ONS)
  • The Anti Corruption Commission (ACC)
  • The Paramount Chief Marampa Chiefdom Port Loko District
  • The Member of Parliament Constituency 50 Marampa Chiefdom
  • Sierra Leone Drivers Union
  • Indigenous Transport Owners Association (ITOA)
  • Interreligious Council of Sierra Leone
  • The Press/General public

© 2013, Theophilus Sahr Gbenda . All rights reserved. – The views expressed here are purely those of the author and not necessarily those of the publishers. – Newstime Africa content cannot be reproduced in any form – electronic or print – without prior consent of the Publishers. Copyright infringement will be pursued and perpetrators prosecuted.

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