Julius Mattai in Conflict of Interest Spotlight

By Alvin Lansana Kargbo

It has been maintained that the Minister of Mines and Mineral Resources, Julius Mattai, has come under the spotlight as the main brain behind the recent award of the Rail and Port contract to Kingho due to the advice that he gave to the Government which influenced the Cabinet’s decision on the 25th October, 2023 to do so.

This came out glaringly during a Press Conference convened by the Ministry of Information and Civic Education on the 27th October, 2023 at Radisson Blu geared towards briefing journalists and Civil Society activists on the rationale behind  the Government of Sierra Leone’s decision to award the management and operation of the infrastructure of the railway and Pepel Port to Kingho Railway and Port Company Limited as against ARISE IIP ,that had shown a keen interest in also managing the aforementioned facilities, the Minister of Mines and Mineral Resources.

Julius Mattai, vividly and explicitly informed journalists that after carrying out thorough and extensive evaluation it was realized that Kingho was more competent to do so in that direction also emphasizing that in the past the company invested heavily in rehabilitated the facilities after Government took over the assets.

Though the Mines Minister was indeed rational in his presentation, however, he was somehow disrespectful when he mentioned that members of the Fourth Estate were rather reckless in the way and manner in which they reported issues related to the build up of the award of the Rail and Port contract and not particularly taking into cognizance that the decision was to be made actually in the best interest of the country.

In his words, he stated that it sometimes saddens him when reading newspapers and sees the way people, meaning journalists who disseminate news items, are slightly reckless in reporting certain issues but cleverly tried to distance himself by saying he is not blaming anybody stressing that as citizens we have a responsibility or a job to do as the country is struggling financially.

He underscored that the country is not realizing much from its mineral resources adding that the issue under discussion should be given context in order to see why the right decision should be made noting that we need to develop the country to ensure that the economy works.

He continued that he heard that there were some people who went on a ‘pilgrimage’ to either Gabon or Benin, here and there thanking those who went adding that he too went on a pilgrimage to ensure that the right decision is to be taken in the best interest of the country.

Highlighting that he is not present to sing the praises of Kingho he stressed how the company spent a colossal amount of money on rehabilitating the rail apart from another spent on protecting the rail facilities from vandalization.

In his attempt to justify how Kingho has the required expertise on managing and operating railways he also maintained that the type of rail that is situated at Pepel is not suitable for the running of passenger trains and it will be suicidal if used for that purpose.

The response of the Minister, Julius Mattai, to a question posed during the Press Conference as to whether it could not be deemed as a conflict of interest for his privately owned company, INTERGEMS, to provide consultancy services for mining companies did not really sit well with journalists present as was evident from the side comments that emanated.

Some expressed dissatisfaction that though the Minister pointed out that at no given time had his company done any work for Kingho, maintaining that they concentrate on environmental impact assessments for mining companies which go through EPA, however, to some being the Proprietor of the Consultancy firm, INTERGEMS, could rather put him at a vantage position to favourably assess those companies and influence decisions doubting whether in such a kind of situation transparency and fairness could really take place.

According to a prominent Social Commentator, the Minister of Mines and Mineral Resources, in justifying the reason why Kingho was favoured over ARISE IIP, manifested a Public Relations stunt or spectacular act for  Kingho which he cleverly presented as a fair decision arrived at based on expertise assessment which was made and on which he advised the Government.

There is a School of thought which believes that Julius Mattai is a man that is full of controversies since his days as NMA boss. He is said to have allegedly spearheaded the approval of the Pepel Rail and Port facility to the Chinese company, Kingho, and by extension prevented a development oriented companies from creating an avenue for the Government to benefit from much revenue that should have accrued.

He is said to have used every available means to undo the lease agreement between the Government of Sierra Leone and ARISE IIP for the development and management of the Pepel Rail and Port championing the cause of the Chinese company Kingho to take over the management of the Pepel Port and Rail.


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