The figures keep being given. Never mind how they are worked out. Assurances keep coming. Don’t bother to ask the coats they are clad in. Hopes keep rising. Save yourself the urge or effort to know what it’s dressed in.
Like yesterday, like today it would seem. Take a genuinely critical look at our mining lease agreements and the behaviour of the companies, then prick the scar and scab of the Government who seem more like apologists for mining companies than for their people.
There will be thousands of well-paid jobs for Sierra Leoneans especially the youth who have been long discarded, long vilified, long lied to. So we have been told. In the form of royalty, income tax, etc., hundreds of millions of US dollars (even one billion dollars has been mentioned) will come tumbling down for Government to use in a few years. So we have read. Areas in Tonkolili and Port Loko districts sit on billions of tonnes of iron ore. So we have been made to believe.
True figures combined with sexed up ones? Are we being lied to, again? Is our interest as a nation what is at the centre of all of this? Are we being let down yet again by businessmen and their cronies who are in league with those who should protect our interest and speak on behalf of the people? I am in jitters. Someone should keep this article for it may be useful in time to come.
In what seems like seventy years without having learned our lessons, iron ore seems to be the latest toy and we seem to be being toyed with by it. In 1930, diamond was discovered in the eastern Kono district. Since that time, my home district has been the country’s bread basket but has hardly benefitted from the rich sparkling stones. The stones have served as a curse for a district that would otherwise be blessed. Its schools are in a bad shape, its health centres in decrepit conditions, its roads abandoned to become pits like those left behind by mining.
The mistakes have been made and are still being made. During President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah’s reign, for example, if you spoke critically of Koidu Holdings Ltd, the largest investor in the diamond sector, you would be seen as a criminal and an opposition APC agent. The then Minister of Mines Alhaji Mohamed Swarray-Deen and all those close to the president would go for your jugular. Like history repeating itself, today, if you speak critically of London Mining Company and African Minerals Limited, no matter the genuineness of your concern, Minister of Mines Alpha Kanu and President Ernest Bai Koroma and all those close to them, will want to tear you apart. All of that leaves us with one impression, are they genuine with the people.
In less than one year, two mining lease agreements have been signed by Government, and ratified by Parliament. Both agreements, in my view, are flawed and play easily into the hands of people who don’t seem to have the people at the heart of what they do. Some of our MPs, some Government officials and some journalists have fallen short of asking the tough questions that the iron ore virus seems to be eating into our system.
It still galls me that cabinet and parliament would have approved of a mining lease agreement with London Mining Company that is clearly and blatantly put above the country’s law and asks for a 6% corporate tax where the law stipulates 30%. Even more stunning is the fact that no-one has been officially criticised for that even though I hear President Ernest Bai Koroma was displeased on knowing the lacunae in it. For parliament to ratify that agreement and not feel embarrassed by their action when it is sent back to them for a review is a shame.
And in all of this no-one has apologised to the nation. For that same cabinet and parliament to again approve another mining lease agreement that asks for a 25% corporate tax in stead of 30% is ominous. And that to a company, African Minerals, that had sold a quarter of its assets or equity or whatever it is called even before landing that agreement, is lamentable.
And hear the Minister of Mines who has repeatedly referred to the flouting of the country’s Mines and Minerals Act in relation to London Mining Company as a case of “the early bird catching the worm”. Just when did it become a favour for a company to come and invest in an area that is so attractive that it does not need courtship. For many years now steel has been big business especially since the recent industrial expansion of China and its huge appetite for steel. So the argument that as a nation we needed to slash 19% off our corporate to court any company does not make sense to me. Otherwise, why in less than one year another company comes and it is obliged to pay 25%.
We have suffered so much in the hands of mining companies in this country that we should learn to shed off our individualistic or political considerations and address the people’s interest. When President Kabbah stood his ground in the Wanza case, he won my admiration. Even though a good number of his cabinet and some MPs and sections of the media went away from the people, he stood his ground and refused to pay Wanza.
Never mind what has happened in the recent past on that matter the fact the president stood his ground in the interest of the country was commendable. We need a repeat of that. Otherwise why could our parliament have passed an agreement such as the London Mining Company one just for it to be sent back to them for a review? How come the Minister of Mineral Resources and all the technocrats in that ministry did not see the troubling clauses?
Recent events in and around Lunsar over the recruitment or not of locals may just be the tip of the iceberg if there is not more honesty in the whole iron ore affair. History is replete with instances of mineral-rich areas that are the wretched of the earth. Nigeria, Gabon, Ghana and our own Kono, Rutile and its environs. People’s reservations on key agreements must not be treated for sabotage or envy.
If we all are the patriots we claim to be, then this should be seen as patriots disagreeing on how to better the people’s lot. But the truth is, and we all know this in our consciences, many if not most of us are just pretenders who are more concerned about what we gain for our individual self than the benefits of the country. Hand on chest.
By Umaru Fofana