Sierra Leone has launched an online mining database—the first in West Africa—with a promise to increase transparency in the country’s rich natural resource industry.
The system is designed to contain all data on mineral rights, statuses and payments recorded by the Ministry of Mines and Mineral Resources that pertain to Sierra Leone's extractive industry—and records and publishes the information for public accessibility.
"This system will stamp out all forms of malpractice in terms of licensing, financial management and general information pertaining to the mining sector," said Minister of Mines and Mineral Resources Minkailu Mansaray. "The public should be aware of what mining companies pay to the government and what the government receives from mining and exploration companies."
Launched on Jan. 19, the Government of Sierra Leone Online Repository System is a joint initiative between the government and international donors, including the German Society for International Cooperation (GIZ), the United Nations Development Programme, the Revenue Development Foundation and the World Bank.
The system also shows whether mining companies are legally authorized to operate in the country.
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For instance, the website shows Koidu Holdings, a South African company currently operating the largest diamond mining operation in Sierra Leone, made a cash payment of 200,000 dollars on Jan. 11.
Sierra Leone’s mining industry has a long history of unregulated operations, most notably the "blood diamonds" which were found to be partially responsible for fuelling the country’s 11-year civil war.
Apart from diamonds, Sierra Leone has significant depots of other minerals, including iron ore, bauxite, rutile and gold. In late 2011, African Minerals and London mining began the extraction of iron ore in the country for the first time in 30 years. According to the government’s projected budget for 2012, this mineral alone could contribute to more than 50 percent increase in the country’s GDP next year.
The database is one step toward making Sierra Leone compliant with the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative—joined by the U.S. last year—which requires the publication of payments made by mining companies to governments, as well as revenues generated.
The mining industry for a long time has had a reputation of pointedly lacking transparency, and for not keeping records accurate or up to date. In fact, IPS writes, "old records were so poorly kept that the new system is only able to include information gathered after 2010."
Which is why a system like this is important. It has the potential to provide clarity to problems that right now go unnoticed in part because there's little information available, and little or no potential for recourse for people with grievances.
Lack of Transparency Has Real Consequences
Take an ongoing debate over a 2004 massacre at a Congolese copper mine as an example. Human rights groups claim that the Canadian company Anvil Mining provided logistical support—planes, trucks, and drivers—to the Congolese military when it crushed a rebel uprising in 2004 that reportedly killed 100 people in the port city of Kilwa, exit point for $500,000 worth of copper and silver daily, The Canadian Press reports. Anvil Mining denies culpability in the Kilwa incidents.
Groups announced just this week—eight years after the killings in Kilwa—plans to take the question of whether or not Anvil was culpable in the Kilwa incident to the Supreme Court of Canada.
But with greater transparency in the mining sector, there's hope it wouldn't have gotten to this point; that with more knowledge of payments between the mining company and the government, citizens may have better chances of making their case in court, or even of preventing problems in the first place.