There is a growing school of thought that has expressed the view that best practice does not support the idea of having a player being the referee in a game simply because fairness and transparency will not reign in that game. If this maxim is something to go by in the current debacle related to which company or business entity, between the two, Kingho Mining Company Limited and ARISE IIP, should be given control of the Pepel Railway and Port, situated within the Port Loko District, Northern Sierra Leone, then obviously Kingho Mining Company Limited should not be considered as it is an iron ore mining company and controller of the Rail and Port used in transporting the mined ore amidst other mining companies operating in that axis, mining iron ore and other minerals.
Cognizance of the counter productiveness of such a bad practice may have prompted why senior officials from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), in the recent past, advised the Government of Sierra Leone to involve a private company in managing the Pepel Railway and Port in order to primarily enhance transparency and prevent potential under-declarations by Kingho.
This fear of under-declarations should not be disregarded because
Kingho’s Iron Ore mining concession, primarily located in the Tonkolili district, remains largely underutilized, despite the presence of high-grade deposits, according to industry experts.
It could be against such a backdrop why though in 2021, the Government leased the Pepel Railway and Port assets to Kingho, on January 10, 2023, it abruptly terminated the lease agreement with that company, opting instead to negotiate a lease agreement with ARISE Integrated Industrial Platforms(ARISE IIP) to develop, expand, and manage the Pepel Port and Railway. According to the agreement signed, ARISE IIP was expected to offer equal access to all mining companies wishing to use those assets.
However, by the end of January 2023 Kingho expressed willingness to work with a third-party company selected by the Government, as long as services were distributed fairly among all stakeholders.
As all these were going on, Government decided to change course and according to a narrative that was peddled Kingho threatened that if Government does not allow it to retain control of the Pepel Railway and Port they would fund the APC campaign in the June 2023 elections, a threat that was largely responsible for the Government to change its course.
While this was happening, the lease agreement already signed with ARISEIIP had gained momentum and unanimous Cabinet approval awaiting Parliamentary ratification but as a result of undisclosed reasons it was surreptitiously put on hold in Parliament.
Now, following claims that Kingho successfully blocked the ARISE lease agreement in Parliament, it is alleged that the Chinese Government started pressurizing the Government of Sierra Leone to reverse the termination of Kingho’s lease agreement. It is also muted in certain circles that diplomatic discussions on the matter took place between Chinese Vice President, Han Zheng and President Julius Maada Bio during a meeting on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York.
There is also another school of thought that has expressed the view of a perceived Government of Sierra Leone pro-Chinese stance maintaining that there are some senior U.S. diplomats in Washington that have accused the Bio administration of bias.
Also there are allegations of anti-competitive behavior by Kingho against bauxite mining company CTC Mining and iron ore miner Marampa Mines Limited said to be under investigation by State House.
In the meanwhile, the controversy surrounding Kingho’s control of the Pepel Railway and Port continues to soar, with mountain concerns about transparency and fairness. Most of the citizenry this medium sounded their views on the issue admonished that the Government of Sierra Leone must take a decision that will be in the best interests of the nation, the majority and not a selected many, not few as the equitable management of such a critical infrastructure is significant for the future of Sierra Leone’s mining industry.
They also stressed that Kingho cannot be an iron miner and at the same time the controller of the very Pepel Rail and Port used in the transportation of the mined iron ore for shipment out of the country, expressing doubts as to whether there will be fairness and transparency in their declarations to the Government and providing the conducive environment for equitable use of those facilities by other mining companies, reasons why a credible independent party like ARISE IIP, that already is a party in a lease agreement is very appropriate.