A Portuguese investor, Martinho Joaquin who is operating a timber factory, has threatened to shut down business and quit the country.
Speaking through an interpreter to the press yesterday at the factory’s No. 2 Access Road at Kissy Mess-Mess, he explained his frustration and reasons for closing down the factory.
Mr Joaquin said his company started operations in the country since 2005 employing 105 Sierra Leoneans and with great investment in machinery, power generating units to the tune of over $1,500,000m to transform wood according to international standards.
He said his frustration started in May 2007 when a release from the President’s office ordered a halt to the exportation of timber.
The release then stated that illegal exploitation and exportation of timber as well as dimension stones and granite were halted because it was obvious that deforestation was destroying the catchment areas in parts of Freetown and the peninsula area.
With that ban, he explained, all the finished products were stocked in the factory causing severe loses to the company. “Business like this is not fine. You have your products but could not export it,” he explained.
Continuing with his frustration he lamented that, “when I went through the rigors of registering the business we were faced with the problem of clearing our machines at the port. We as investors should not be treated like that.”
He said on November 22 he met officials at the ministry of agriculture and food security where it was explained to them that the anarchy which prevailed in the wood sector was because of the invasion of the Chinese in the field.
He alleged that the Chinese were from Guinea after strong regulation that wood operators should not only export but should process the woods and should employ Guineans in the company.
“They are not carrying out any industrial investment or creating jobs, they just go to the bush buy any wood and ship them in their rough state to China,” he alleged.
“We do not do that, we do not enter the bush, we have investment and we pay our taxes and create employment and we process the timber before they are exported,” he said.
Even when the ban is on, he said the Chinese and others continued to export tens of containers of wood in logs each week whilst his finished products were stock up in the factory.
Mr Joaquin went on to state that no encouraging word was given to him and the factory continued to run at a loss which had precipitated him to reduce the staff strength from 105 to 61 in July and 44 in November.
Looking very anguished, he said the company had paid more than one hundred and fifty million Leones as tax to government as export fees and the amount was expected to have doubled four times if work had been undertaken one hundred percent. “If the situation continues when I return from leave next month I shall close down the factory and lay off the workers as I would not continue to be losing Le2m per day since July 2007”