Chinese Spokesman Refutes IGR Assertions

By Amin Kef Sesay

In a recent report by the Institute for Governance Reform (IGR) in what it dubbed “China’s Emerging Influence in Sierra Leone” it was asserted that the bi-lateral relationship between Sierra Leone and China is one that is not mutually benefiting citizens and the country as a whole. In fact it was categorically stated that it borders on the Chinese blatantly exploiting the country’s resources and its people.

This was what the IGR stated, “We argue that China’s presence in Sierra Leone is rooted in its desire to secure vital resources and raw materials to feed its enormous domestic population. Despite China’s insistence that it promotes win-win trade relations with bilateral partners, local communities complain that they are at the losing end and poverty levels are rising. China’s dominance in the fishing sector undermines local revenue generation and exacerbates economic hardship in local fishing communities.”

However, when this news outlet conducted an exclusive interview with the Spokesperson of the Chinese Embassy in Sierra Leone, Hu Aimin , to ascertain the veracity of that assertion this was what emerged:

Calabash: Recently the Institute for Governance Reform (IGR) published a report titled “China’s Emerging Influence in Sierra Leone: Voices and Views of Local Fishing and Road Construction Community”. Can you give us some comments on that?

 Spokesperson: We noticed the publication of that report, which in the name of the so-called people contacted, made irresponsible comments on the China-Sierra Leone cooperation. We believe the report is full of speculations rather than facts, and its conclusions are subjective, exaggerated and sensational.

Calabash: The report says that the toll road built by the Chinese was over-priced and brings more debt burden to Sierra Leone. Do you think it is true?

Spokesperson: Toll roads are commonplace in the world. The Wellington-Masiaka Highway (the toll road) is an investment by the Chinese Company CRSG, which has made the local people’s transportation much more convenient, rapid, comfortable and safer. It by no means adds a debt burden to the Sierra Leonean Government because it is not a loan. In fact, based on the current toll levels, it may take CRSG about 27 years to recover their investment. The road construction started in April 2016, but the toll-collecting only began in August 2017, not from the beginning of construction as claimed by the report. The investor has been operating in strict accordance with the laws and regulations of Sierra Leone. It is neither fair nor rational to attack such a project which is in the interest of the country and people just because certain individuals are not satisfied. Otherwise, who is going to invest here?

Calabash: The report claims that Chinese vessels are overfishing and destroying the local people’s livelihood. What is your feedback?

 Spokesperson: As a matter of fact, all the Chinese operating vessels have licenses and other documents issued by the Sierra Leonean authorities. Every Chinese vessel is equipped with a Sierra Leonean Government observer and VMS and reports their catches to the Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources every day. The catches are mainly sold to the local market through the Sierra Leone local agents. All the activities are in line with the regulations of the Sierra Leonean Government.

Given the large number of artisanal fishing boats, the incidents of friction between them and the Chinese vessels remain less than 0.7%. When some rare accidents do occur, the Chinese fishing companies take appropriate actions to address the local people’s concerns. The so-called findings and conclusions of the report are full of prejudice against the Chinese fishing companies and distrust to the Sierra Leonean authorities.

Calabash: The report implies that the cooperation between China and Sierra Leone in the basic infrastructure area worsens Sierra Leone’s debt burden. What is your take on that?

Spokesperson: According to the 2019 annual report of the Ministry of Finance of the Republic of Sierra Leone, the Chinese side accounts for less than 3% of all the foreign debts of Sierra Leone. It is baseless to accuse China for adding a debt burden on Sierra Leone. Actually, most of the China-assisted basic infrastructure projects are funded by Chinese Government gratuitous aid. Such projects have greatly promoted the development of Sierra Leone and the improvement of the people’s livelihood and are welcomed by the local community. Furthermore, in 2018, China exempted all the interest-free loans borrowed by the Sierra Leonean Government, and China offered the Sierra Leonean Government a debt suspension of 2020 repayments under the Debt Service Suspension Initiative agreed by the G20.

Calabash: The report mentioned that the Magbass Sugar Complex has only recently begun to promote Sierra Leoneans into the upper ranks of Management. Is that the case?

Spokesperson: The fact is, this factory is a Chinese government aided project which was turned to a lease operation between 2005 and 2014. In 2014, due to the Ebola epidemic the project was halted. For a long time since then this project has been in the hands of the Sierra Leonean people.

Calabash: The report said they administered a qualitative questionnaire to some elites and conducted surveys targeting around 1000 people. Do you think that can make the report more reliable?

Spokesperson: The representativeness of the survey done by the report is dubious. Normally, how to select the samples and how to frame the questions have  direct bearing on the conclusions drawn. We respect the rights of any institution or individual to make remarks, but the conclusions drawn by the report are far way from the Sierra Leonean Government and people’s genuine opinions.

According to the Chinese Embassy’s observation and analysis, the mainstream opinion of the Sierra Leonean Government agencies and the ordinary people is that they highly appreciate the cordial relationship and sound cooperation between China and Sierra Leone as well as the positive effect brought by China to Sierra Leone’s development. China and Sierra Leone are enjoying sincere friendship, mutual respect, and mutual benefit. From schools to hospitals, from stadiums to office buildings, from hydro-power stations to roads, from Government scholarships to training programs, the fruits of cooperation between China and Sierra Leone are everywhere to be seen, and the Sierra Leonean people are truly benefiting from this cooperation. China has never pursued one-sided interest in her cooperation with Sierra Leone and in Africa. To accuse China of “neo-colonialism” as is done by the report is calling the black white.

 Calabash: Any other comments on the report?

Spokesperson: There are many other untrue elements in the IGR report. For the sake of saving our precious time, we denounce them in general rather than go into details. Facts speak louder than words. We are convinced that the Sierra Leonean Government and people will by no means be misled by the report made by IGR, and that China-Sierra Leone friendly cooperation will by no means be detracted by such nuisances under the pretext of freedom of speech.

The Chinese side will continue to work with the Sierra Leonean side closely to push forward the friendly cooperation and bring more benefits to both countries and peoples. We wish that all sides, including IGR and its sponsors, would take more concrete actions to help Sierra Leone develop, rather than point their fingers at, try to find faults with, and launch moral trials on those genuine partners who are offering support to and cooperating with Sierra Leone.


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