Sierra Leone forced to rethink its future

As Sierra Leone rebuilds itself after the Ebola epidemic, it may be forced to move from a mining-heavy economic base. Falling iron ore prices and the effects of Ebola on the industry are signals for the need for change, according to the chairperson of the Chamber of Mines, John Bonoh Sisay, who said diversification would be beneficial.

He said mining companies would also have to change the way they interacted with people and would have to support healthcare as part of their corporate social responsibility.

“In the long term, it’s not a bad thing to mature the economy in that way,” said Sisay, who is also chief executive of Sierra Rutile, a mineral sands producer with a rutile mine in the southwest.

“There are other opportunities, especially in agriculture, which, from a stability point of view, really does create a lot of jobs very quickly [and the] skills base is minimal.”

Demand for iron ore in China has slumped and, with a global glut, the price has dropped, causing a shake-up in Sierra Leone’s mining industry, which has also been battered by costs linked to Ebola.

More than 9 700 people died from the disease in the three worst-affected countries – Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia.

In January, the World Bank said the three nations would lose more than $1.6-billion in output in 2015 alone, more than 12% of their combined gross domestic product.

Sisay said Sierra Leone needed accessible credit for small and medium-sized businesses, infrastructure investment and improvements in health services.

He acknowledged concerns about corruption, raised in a report last month by the auditor general. It showed that the country had failed to account properly for almost a third of the money allocated to fight Ebola.

“The headline news is not that people were corrupt … The headline news was that the auditor general was allowed to do the report,” Sisay said. “Getting it into the system now that people will be held to account bodes well for the future. It’s a long process, it’s a painful process, but it’s a move in the right direction.” – © Guardian News & Media 2015

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