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Chamber of Mines President addresses private sector on post-Ebola economic recovery

Chamber of Mines President addresses private sector on post-Ebola economic recovery

Speaking at the Ministry of Trade and Industry’s Post Ebola Economic Recovery roundtable at the Radisson Blu Mammy Yoko on Monday 16th February, John Bonoh Sisay, President of the Sierra Leone Chamber of Mines and CEO of Sierra Rutile Ltd (in photo) said:

Good morning.  The Sierra Leone Chamber of Mines welcomes this important initiative.  Early engagement with the private sector is essential if we are to build the post-Ebola resilience that Sierra Leone needs.  The Chamber is looking forward to contributing constructively to the process.

Sierra Leone’s mineral wealth is well known. The potential for wealth generation that our mineral resources offer our country, tends however to be misunderstood.    On the agenda here today is our future potential to contribute to Sierra Leone’s early recovery and post Ebola resilience.   Over the last months, the mining sector in Sierra Leone has been fighting for its survival on several fronts.

Falling prices and softer markets for our products  the price of rutile per tonne is down considerably from its 2012 high.  Prices of diamonds slumped after the 2008 financial crisis and have still to recover fully.  London Mining and AML are evidence of the effects of the plunge in prices in the iron ore sector.  Like the rest of the country’s business sector, we have also been impacted adversely by the Ebola crisis.

The mining companies were early responders during this crisis.  We put in place effective strategies to minimise the virus’s impact on our operations.  I am proud to say that every mining company in Sierra Leone has to date, kept the virus out of its direct operations.

Nevertheless, EVD outbreak has impacted our businesses.

The suspension of flights impeded the importation of critical parts for our operations.  Again delaying or halting projects, compromising operations and increasing costs where companies were forced to charter cargo flights for essential items.

Ebola related impacts such these are time limited.  They serve however to highlight our vulnerabilities both as a sector and as an economy to risks such as these.

One of the objectives of the Sierra Leone Chamber of Mines is to help our sector be better custodians of our country’s mineral resources; managing them responsibly and transparently so that they can deliver value to current and future generations.   Our recommendations today are intended to help us better deliver this.

The mining sector’s potential can only be realised by a conducive environment. Narrowing the skills gap and tackling the shortages of skills essential to the mining sector and other industries was a priority before EVD.  Its urgency is now undoubted.  We need to redouble our efforts in this area.

We need to develop the necessary skills and knowledge pool in country. The mining sector has been at the forefront of skills development, ensuring that new entry workers within the sector have multiple skills, necessary for labour market versatility.

The recently launched Local Content Policy Unit will be a key player in this area and we look forward to working closely with them, the government, educational institutions and the rest of the private sector to help develop the workforce that Sierra Leone needs to move past the Ebola crisis and into a more sustainable future.

The Local Content Policy Unit can also support capacity building for local suppliers.  The mining industry’s needs encompass a wide range of goods and services.  There are other big international companies with needs that mirror our own.  A vibrant and effective SME sector which can contribute to the efficient running of the operations of organisations such as the members of the Chamber of Mines will also contribute to the sustainable growth of our economy.

We welcome the recent CDC, the UK’s development finance institution, and Standard Chartered Bank risk participation agreement that will support new working capital lending of up to US$50 million to businesses in Sierra Leone.

However availability of funding is not the only issue.  The SME sector needs management skills, training and financial discipline to be effective suppliers.  As well as funding, support should be focused on developing leadership and management expertise within the SME sector.

Larger companies such as those in the mining sector also have an important role to play in our economic development.

We provide jobs, economic opportunities, infrastructure, revenues to government, energy and other benefits for local communities.  The larger projects that characterise our sector can also benefit from support funding.

 The government should work with the support of development partners and donors such as The International Finance Corporation and others to explore opportunities for larger loans at competitive rates.

Funding from the development sector, through government aid to mining companies, would be considerable cheaper and will help stimulate growth through job creation, increased revenue and other benefits.

The Ebola crisis has clearly highlighted the need for better communication and more effective processes between the mining sector and relevant ministries.   We would welcome less bureaucracy at the ports for instance but also within the ministries and bodies we interact with – Labour, Ports Authority, Customs and Excise, NRA and Finance.

The delays that we experience while we undertake necessary and often routine tasks with government departments and ministries should be subject to a review.  For all organisations there is a clear correlation between time and money. Delays at the port for items that are critical to our operations can affect our production output.

Tackling these should be undertaken alongside a closer look at some of the new or enhanced taxes being proposed. We commend the different government departments who in the last quarter have worked in a more consultative way. In particular the active and ongoing input we are having in the discussions of the new proposed National Resource Charter. This should be the model for all regulatory and legislative change.

Beyond our borders, the Ebola epidemic has reaffirmed Sierra Leone’s image problem internationally.  We need a strategic and collective approach to nation branding that helps address the concerns of potential investors, visitors, business people, educational establishments, employees.   The image of our country is not simply one that affects the tourist industry.  It affects the business community in its entirety.  The Chamber of Mines is actively looking at work in this area.

Next week, we are holding an event at the House of Commons in London to begin the process of changing the international perception of Sierra Leone.

The government and international community have worked tirelessly with the people of Sierra Leone to contain this epidemic. While we need to consider our post-Ebola phase, we must not forget that we have yet to achieve zero Ebola cases.  I am confident that the private sector will continue to play its part in ensuring that complacency does not delay that achievement.

Tuesday February 17, 2015

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