- Sierra Leone's rutile (titanium oxide) mines, once the biggest industry in the country, have reopened after being closed for a decade due to rebel destructions. The Freetown government hopes that the mines again will turn the country's "largest employer and biggest tax-payer," as they were before destructions in 1995.
Authorities have given great importance to the reestablishment of this industry, including the securing of investments for the Sierra Rutile Mines company. The company therefore of course could count on the presence of Sierra Leonean President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah at the opening ceremony. President Kabbah flew by helicopter to the mines in the south to re-launch the start of operations and refurbishment of the mines.
According to the Freetown government, the mines will restart operations under a new management with new shareholders. Minister of Mineral Resources, Mohamed Swarray Deen, informed that 75 percent of the company is now owned by MIL Investment, which is wholly owned by one man, Jean Raymond Boulle.
At the ceremony, Minister Deen expressed confidence that "the company will regain its past glory," but advised the management to perform in accordance with international standards and best practice. Prior to the 25 January 1995 rebel attack on the mine, the Sierra Rutile Mining Company was Sierra Leone's largest employer and biggest tax-payer to government.
According to President Kabbah, the mine company thus was providing government with around US$ 9.4 million annually in taxes and about 50 percent of foreign exchange earnings. Sierra Rutile Limited at that time had a workforce of 1,800 people. Before 1995, the mine stood for 25 percent of the world's production of rutile and it is estimated that the company's rutile depostits are worth more than US$3 billion.
This "past glory" had caused the government to help the company's new management to seek funds abroad to secure a reopening of the rutile mines. The European Union (EU) and a US government agency, the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC), had provided a total of US$ 55 million in grants and loans to represent the government's contribution to the capital of the renewed company. The other shareholders would contribute a further US$ 14 million to the project.
According to Sierra Leone's Chief Executive Officer of the Mines, Maxwell McGarvie, the rutile mining company would need about eight to nine months from now to restart full operations. By that time, the company would have employed up to 900 hundred workers, "90 percent of whom will be Sierra Leoneans," Mr McGarvie said.
Minister Deen urged the company to give priority to former employees and advertise positions where necessary. The Mineral Resources Minister further congratulated the communities affected by the operations of the mines for their "long patience".
The reopening of the rutile mines were just one step in revitalising Sierra Leone's formerly strong mining sector, President Kabbah revealed at the ceremony. Government had formulated policies to attract investment in the sector, especially for industrial minerals, such as rutile, bauxite and iron ore. President Kabbah also disclosed that within the next few months, the former SIEROMCO Bauxite Mines were to reopen.
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