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Investigation: Corruption at mines ministry

  • Minkailu Mansaray, Minister of Mineral Resources

A six-week long investigation carried out by Politico has revealed that there is a corruption ring in the Ministry of Mineral Resources with the highest bidder ostensibly given licence to explore and to mine. Our investigation which bordered on one concession area alone in the Tonkolili district, shows that such bidding does not necessarily go into the consolidated revenue fund. The Tonkolili concession in Masumbiri involves three companies – China Kingho, Transcend International and Wangtong. Mines ministry officials we spoke to, both on and off the records, admitted to what we had found out, namely that a Chinese company Wangtong were mining in Masumbiri “illegally” yet the ministry asked that they be allowed to clear their piles of gravel containing gold, iron and zircon and ship out of the country which they did in full view of the authorities without consequences. This came to the fore only after government had signed an exploration licence agreement with Transcend International Resources Sierra Leone Limited (TIR-SL) on 23 February 2013 for a 240.70 KM2 concession site in the same Masumbiri area. TIR-SL went to the area to discover that Wangtong were already mining there. The Permanent Secretary in the ministry, Fatmata Mustapha, did not deny when asked by Politico that Wangtong were allowed to clear their illegally-acquired gravel and ship it without consequence. In April 2013 the then Director of Mines, Jonathan Sharkah, wrote to the Assistant Inspector General of Police in Makeni asking that they remove the assets of Wangtong after the company had refused to budge to the dictates of a letter written to them in March. A letter obtained by Politico shows that the ministry had written to Wangtong to vacate the area as they were not aware of their existence. But the Permanent Secretary in the ministry told Politico that the company claimed to have been given a letter to allow them to ship their minerals out of the country. Prior to the illegal mining by Wangtong, China Kingho had been given an exploration licence in 2010 for the same area. The consultant for Kingho, Paul Kamara told Politico that they did have an exploration license for the area which was subsequently cancelled. He denied his company did anything wrong to have led to the cancellation. But a letter written to Kingho dated 8 October 2012 reads in part thus: “We have had several discussions with you from the complaints we received from the Kafe Simera chiefdom community that you have not been working on your exploration licences EXPL 33/10… “On this note, we visited the headquarter town of Mabonto…where you were also present. It came out clearly that due to long lapse in starting your explorations a claim which in your view was also accepted…To avoid embarrassment for your good self and the government the Minerals Advisory Board has resolved that your exploration licences EXPL 33/10 and EXPL 34/10 be cancelled”. In a dramatic twist of events, just days after President Ernest Bai Koroma’s visit to China in July, TIR-SL were notified that their licence would be cancelled with China Kingho taking over the area. A cancellation letter was duly sent on 25 September instructing the company to remove all their equipment from the area. China Kingho who had had their licence cancelled in October 2012, were given a concession rights over the same place. Asked why Kingho who were in complete breach of the mines act as stated in the above letter, had been given licence to the area, again, just a few weeks after the presidential visit to China, the Permanent Secretary declined to comment on the “political” but said that Kingho had protested their innocence. On why TIR-SL had their license cancelled, Mrs Mustapha said that they had failed to deploy machinery in the concession area and to start work within the stipulated timeframe. The lawyer for TIR-SL denied the allegations by the ministry as reasons for the cancellation. Mohamed Pa Momoh Fofana told Politico that the company complied with the requirements of the Mines and Minerals Act 2009 “in the sense that we presented a work plan to the ministry which we are strictly adhering to by providing exploration equipment, personnel and resources on the ground, to commence and continue work.” He said the company did so “notwithstanding that fact that Wangtong Company which we believe has links to Kingho was mining in the area”. Fofana said that following the notice of cancellation from the ministry he wrote back to them asking for reasons for the threatened action which he said was not acknowledged let alone its content addressed. A visit to Masumbiri by Politico proved that there was some machinery on the ground including caterpillars, drilling machines and excavators deployed by the company. Other mines ministry sources who spoke anonymously to Politico said that the Kingho contract at the expense of TIR-SL was “a political decision that was dictated to us by the mines minister”. Weeks of calls and visits to the office of minister Minkailu Mansaray failed to yield any dividends. Several SMS text messages were apparently ignored. We wanted to know whether Kingho had a hand in the president’s visit to China and why their licence was reissued to them despite their default and only after the return of the president from China. Our investigations suggest that the Wangtong, who were illegally mining in the area, have a close relationship with Kingho if not the same company. The Kongho consultant, Paul Kamara however denies this, saying that the relationship between the two was like immigrants from the same district or area in their home country. We are also investigating the involvement of traditional leaders, especially Paramount Chiefs, in this apparent corruption in the country’s mineral sector.  A letter we have in our possession, apparently signed by one of the Paramount Chiefs in the area, suggests that he asked Kingho for money he claimed he needed for his “pregnant wife” and his children’s school fees. (C) Politico 10/10/13