Sunday, December 09, 2007

S.Leone wants more give, less take from mining firms

FREETOWN (Reuters) - Foreign mining companies must build new roads, railways and ports in Sierra Leone which will benefit the country's poor if they want to extract its precious minerals, the mining minister said.image

After largely peaceful elections this year in the former British colony, torn apart by a brutal 1991-2002 civil war, foreign firms are once again starting to consider mineral-rich Sierra Leone as a possible investment destination.

"We are trying to create a situation in which mines can be the basis for our infrastructure development," Mines Minister Alhaji Abubakarr Jalloh told reporters late on Thursday.

"We are saying if you want to mine bauxite, iron ore, rutile, we want all these companies to come together and create a plan for a massive harbour that will have the capacity to take big ships and to have a railway system and a future network."

Many mining companies are waiting for details of the new government's mining strategy, expected to be unveiled early next year, following presidential elections in September.

Several mining companies are wary of potential moves to impose more strenuous conditions, including higher tax.

"We are going to look at all the things and modify them for the good of the country," said Jalloh, who has promised to review all mining contracts in an effort to extract more wealth for the country.

The West African state's diamond fields helped finance the conflict both at home and in neighbouring Liberia, wars which together killed a quarter of a million people and destroyed once-thriving economies.

imageJalloh said he wanted dilapidated roads and railways to be rebuilt along routes leading, for example, from the capital Freetown to bauxite mines in Port Loko and Kambia districts or to iron ore deposits in the north.

Demand for African natural resources is booming, not least from rapidly industrialising China and India who need the raw materials to develop their economies.


Sierra Leoneans hope their new president, Ernest Bai Koroma, elected on a promise of greater prosperity for the country, will help turn around their fortunes.

Five years after the end of the war, Sierra Leone ranks as the least developed country in the world, according to the United Nations. More than 70 percent of the population live below the poverty line.

Voters complained bitterly of appalling roads pitted with potholes during the election campaign. The railway line has long been defunct. Many hope a well-managed mining policy could revitalise that infrastructure.

Jalloh said previous such efforts had served only the needs of mining companies and the country was in danger of falling prey to the same kind of exploitation from new mining companies.

"All sorts of companies are coming in; they want to take the remnants (of old mines) and just load the barges. We will be left with the same problem we have now," he said.

"They built these railways and the harbour purely to convey the iron ore. There are still trucks that are loaded with iron ore on the railways from when they stopped."

Sierra Leone | Africa - Reuters.com