Mining and Lands: Investment or Exploitation?It was because of the Africa minerals our country was called fastest growing in 2015 or so overnight. However when the price of iron ore slumped on the world market, we were brought to naught as a nation economically. African Minerals was put on life support but it never recovered. Things later got so bad for the former government that they signed off their second term in office with an austerity. It was like what the Creole would say, “You dream gentry, and wake poor”.
Fast forward, the Bio administration took the reins of power and soon came out with a damning report on the previous government of former President Koroma’s handling of state affairs. In the SLPP Manifesto section on Mining, this is the analysis, “Corruption in the mining industry has been institutionalised. A recent report by a Civil Society organization entitled, “Not sharing the Loot” states that in 2010, the mining industry accounted for 60% ($200 million) of the country’s exports and 8% ($24 million) of Government revenue. Government revenue from mining accounted for only 1.1% of GDP. Companies paid the government a mere 2.2% of the export value of minerals as tax; only Sierra Rutile paid corporate tax, the others reported heavy losses and so paid no tax at all. As a result the government raised only $2.4 million from the mining sector or 10% of its total revenue from the sector. Companies paid considerably lower than the stipulated 37.5 corporate tax in the Income Tax act or the general company tax rate of 30%. They also had a considerable number of waivers or reduction in other fiscal imposts.” The SLPP Manifesto promises to provide efficient political and economic management of our natural resources.
The first Minister of Mines was relieved of his position amidst controversies with government relationship with London Mining whose services had been stopped. Next in January newspaper reports say the China Kingho mining Company had done its first shipment of iron ore. While some news outlets call this smuggling, others lauded it as a good step forward.
Our land issue is as controversial and paradoxical as the fact that our country is run on both common law and customary law. Indeed we are a nation of many heritages.
The issue of investment dominated our last political campaign especially that of the Ruling Party. It started off fine in power and we were branded “fastest growing economy”. Investment is only good when it benefits citizens otherwise it is exploitation. In Sierra Leone the land issue as investors’ target appears to be another headache for our governments. Incidentally our vibrant and no-nonsense hands on Lands minister was also recently relieved of his “yagba.”
Years back Action Aid launched a Report on land rights reform titled “Act On It.” In this report 4 steps to prevent land grabs are advanced for government to act on. These refer to the implementation of tenure Guidelines; ensuring free prior and informed community consent; formulate policies for sustainable land use; regulating business so that they are accountable for respecting human rights and environmental, social and labour standards. It will interest you to know that our constitution does not have a section dedicated to land and the environment. However this government has now separated the Environment as a separate ministry.
A land policy was prepared in 2005 with the theme: Our Hopes, Our Aspirations. In the foreword of that document, it says in part, “this is the first time in the history of this country that a comprehensive land policy is being formulated. Hitherto, land has been managed through various legal instruments and customary practices … This approach to land management did not provide the basis for a comprehensive overview to assess the social and environmental implications of the dynamics of land ownership, acquisition procedures and the use to which land is put.” Very fine statement, but many years on, what has happened? The policy mentions some of the land management challenges as: general indiscipline in the land market characterised by land encroachments; falsification of documents; multiple land sales and registrations; unauthorised use of the land; haphazard development; improper survey practices; indeterminate local authority and chiefdom boundaries resulting from lack of reliable maps and plans; rampant encroachment on and illegal acquisition of large tracts of government land which have either not been surveyed, registered and otherwise protected or have not been utilized; a weak land administration system and conflicting land uses, such as the activities of mining companies, which leave large tracts of land denuded as against farming, which is the mainstay of the rural community; and the time consuming land litigations which have clouded other cases in our courts. There are a range of categories of land ownership in Sierra Leone including: state land, private land, communal land and family land.
Today all the wetlands in the western Area have human settlements with their related infrastructural development. This is prohibited but of course this is indeed Sierra Leone.
Another civil society organization called Action for Large Scale Land acquisition transparency (ALLAT) some years ago launched a report Titled, “Who is Benefitting?” The social and economic impact of three large-scale land investments in Sierra Leone: a cost benefits analysis. Issues raised at that launch have kept me reflecting for quite a long time.Why has the issue of land ownership remained so elusive? Whether we like it or not land will remain a very thorny issue especially with the ever growing populations. Some of our laws are so obsolete that it is most unfair to continue to even make reference to them today. To me it does not make sense using laws that existed when our population was 1.5 million.
According to the ALLAT report, more than a fifth of Sierra Leone’s farmland already signed over to foreign investors for the next three or more generations. One of the existing land laws in Sierra Leone is the 1927 Protectorate Land Act. This law prescribes that land cannot be bought or sold outside Freetown in the provinces. If our land reforms include the parcelling of large portions of land to foreign investors with little or no benefit to the dispossessed poor and depraved people, then our state actors have messed up big time.
Now let us look at the large-scale land projects that have caused great cause for concern in the country. Take Addax Bio energy in the North. I will remember when initial opposition to this project was voiced; it was the highest authority level that went on air to try to debunk the fears that citizens had. You know what was said at the time? We were told that Addax will plant sugarcane and that sugarcane will be made into fuel and that will in turn solve our fuel problems. We saw a different picture. The addax products were exported and refined for the European market, not Sierra Leone. So tell me, who was really benefitting?
In this modern world it will be suicidal to pitch David against Goliath, except of course if God is around. We are always employing dogs to be butchers knowing full well that they have not given up the habit of eating meat. When we deliberately keep our people in ignorance and enter into shoddy deals with investors, we lose both credibility and integrity. Communities need to give prior and informed full consent, otherwise land lease is invalid.
By Beny SAM