Sierra Leone is known worldwide for its mineral resources, and the Ministry of Mines and Mineral Resources is working to develop the country’s mining and minerals sector in order to boost its contribution to Sierra Leone’s GDP.
Diamonds are the country’s top minerals export at present but the ministry is working hard to shift to other minerals, including iron ore, bauxite, gold, and rutile. “We believe that around half of the diamonds mined in this country are smuggled out. We can more easily control outflows and revenues when dealing with bulk minerals,” explains Alhaji Minkailu Mansaray, Minister of Mines and Mineral Resources.
The government has devised a new legislative framework for the Mines and Minerals sector, the Mines and Minerals Act of 2009. The Minister explains, “The overall goals of the new legislation are to pay more attention to environmental conservation, to make sure that our people benefit from mining operations, to ensure that mining and mineral companies support corporate social responsibility projects for local communities, and to boost government revenues from mining and minerals operations. The law is well balanced; it is good for the investors, it is good for the communities and it is also good for the government of Sierra Leone.”
The Ministry of Mines and Mineral Resources has received strong support from international organisations, including a €3 million financing package from the World Bank (Mining Technical Assistance Project) for institutional and capacity building and assistance from the UK Department for International Development (DFID) through Adam Smith International concerning new mining legislation.
The government has also recognised the importance of strengthening the administration of the sector; it has in fact embarked on a process of implementing significant institutional reform. In response, the government is committed to establishing a professional, well-resourced and accountable agency to oversee the minerals sector. The decision to establish a National Minerals Agency is based on extensive analysis, both of the constraints we face, as well as internationally recognised best practise, Hon. Minkailu Mansaray stated. He believes the National Minerals Agency (NMA) will be better placed to monitor and ensure compliance with the laws and regulations associated with diamond trading, mining operations, environmental and social management issues. The government has now developed a full transformation plan that is ready for implementation first quarter this year.
Significant advantages for EU investors
Sierra Leone welcomes more foreign investment in its mining and minerals sector, particularly from the EU. As the Minister points out, Sierra Leone has rich minerals resources, many of which are completely untapped. In addition, Sierra Leone is much closer to the EU than other minerals producers like Brazil, has well-established ties to the diamond industry in Antwerp, and offers a very favourable tax regime. Minister Mansaray notes that new legislation protects investors and encourages transparency.
A current goal for the ministry is to promote geological surveys of Sierra Leone by international specialists since the last such surveys were undertaken in colonial times. “We want to map the country into grids concerning minerals resources, and then to award concessions for exploiting these resources in the proper manner. We would be in a much stronger bargaining position if we knew exactly what mineral resources we have,” Alhaji Minkailu Mansaray says. He adds that these surveys will begin in early 2011. They should help make the world even more aware of Sierra Leone’s investment potential.