Hundreds of residents of Lunsar town in the northern Port Loko district have blasted the iron ore miner, London Mining Company. They vented out their palpable feeling of anger at a 2-hour long debate organised by the BBC Media Action for community people, their leaders and mining companies, to discuss the benefits of minerals in their locality.
Less than twenty people said the minerals in their area had been of any benefit to them. Hundreds of others said they had had no benefit whatsoever from the ore their chiefdom is endowed with.
Speaker after speaker in the packed Lunsar Town hall on Saturday said they were being marginalised in the area of employment. The animated crowd of mostly young people said jobs were being given to “outsiders” even where they could be performed by locals.
They said they needed jobs, good schools, roads, hospitals and a youth training centre, among others so they and generations after them would benefit from their minerals. They said they had got nothing from the company but flooding, displacement, menial jobs and girls dropping out of school owing to prostitution which they said were consequences of the activities of London Mining Company.
A resident of Bumbuna in Tonkolili district where another iron ore miner, African Minerals operates said his community had also not benefitted from its mineral resources. He said funds were not being properly accounted for, the authorities were influencing employment to marginalise the ordinary locals, and the use of heavy-duty vehicles by AML was destroying the community and the roads. “Big Poh insay big jenry” he said.
Loosely translated this means acute poverty amidst enormous wealth.
A representative of London Mining Company, Barry Hornor said they were a new company that needed time to be able to trickle its impacts to everyone. He said they had provided jobs for many people saying that only 106 of the 1,500 jobs they provided went to foreigners with the others being Sierra Leoneans.
“Development is a process”, he said, and assured that with time the company would do a lot more. He also said that expectations were very high from the people and urged a measured level of what his company could do for them since they also pay taxes to the central government.
Anthony Navo who represented African Minerals Limited said his company had provided over 10,000 jobs for Sierra Leoneans and had also awarded thousands of scholarships to people many of whom would otherwise have dropped out of school.
Minister of Presidential and Public Affairs Alpha Kanu agreed that the two companies started exporting only last year and urged the people to be a bit more patient. He said their contributions had led to the construction of roads and the provision of medicine in hospitals and electricity. He however said that the companies needed to do a lot more to address “the huge imbalance” in pay structure between foreign and Sierra Leonean employees. He said even though only about ten percent of staff of LMC are foreigners the pay of the ninety percent locals put together did not in anywhere come near their foreign counterparts.
Secretary General of the opposition SLPP, Sulaiman Banja Tejan-Sie blamed the Government for the mining agreement they went into with the companies. He said the contracts were unfavourable to the people and gave everything to the companies. He cited Liberia’s agreement with its own miners which he said was far more in the interest of Liberians.