By JOHN GBORKOR KAMARA
The iron ore miner, Leone Rock Metal Group is seeking to enhance its public image in Sierra Leone, where it says little is known about its development activities due to underreporting.
An official for Leone Rock, which is the parent company of one of the leading iron ore miners in the country, Kingho Mining Company, said they intended to change this situation by opening up more to the public by making information easily accessible to the media.
One of the company’s most recently hired local staff, Robert Salia Kamara, is championing this crusade. Kamara told journalists that the company has, for example, spent Twenty-eight Billion Old Leone (NLe 28million) in the last three years in communities where it operates, which have all gone virtually unnoticed.
“It is our responsibility to protect the corporate image of the company, but if we do not create the platform for the media to get accurate information about the company, we wouldn’t be doing justice to the media,” Kamara, who is the Community Affairs Manager for the company, said at a press briefing with a select group of 30 journalists drawn mainly from the northern region and the capital, Freetown.
Leone Rock, formerly known as Kingho Investment Company, is part of the Kingho Group, China’s largest private coal mining company.
Headquartered in Beijing, Kingho has operations in China itself, Hong Kong, Mozambique, and Sierra Leone. The company entered the Sierra Leone space in 2010, where it operates through its subsidiaries – Kingho Mining Company and Kingho Port and Rail Company. It expanded its operations when it took over the Tonkolili Mines following the liquidation of another Chinese miner, Shandong Streel.
Leone Rock was at the center of weeks of public debate recently over a hot competition for control of Sierra Leone’s Railway and Ports systems. The company which previously operated the railway systems, eventually won the bid to continue, albeit in controversial circumstances. It’s rival in the bid, the industrial developer, ARISE, is reported to be considering legal action against the Sierra Leone government for alleged breach of contract.
Kamara told journalists that Leone Rock was grateful for the decision to award it the contract for the port and rail systems.
The briefing held on Monday in Magburaka, the district headquarters of Tonkolili, was meant to acquaint journalists with the activities of the company and to create a platform for the media practitioners, particularly those in the northern region, to have direct contact and knowledge about the company’s operations, said Kamara, stressing that their goal is to ensure that the correct information about the company and its operations are out in the public domain.
“When the media has information from the right source, it will spread accurate information,” he said.
Monday’s briefing was Kamara’s first engagement with the media in the region since taking up the job as Community Affairs Manager (II), just under three months ago. Among those who attended the briefing was the district representative of the Office of National Security, Jonathan Kemokai, who echoed the same concerns and hailed the move by the company to reach out to the people and the media.
Mr Kemokai said the reason for the gap in communication was the lack of “proper channel” of communication on how journalists could be informed about the developments undertaken by the company and how such information is retrieved from management.
Kamara acknowledged that journalists in the region had been less informed on the activities of the company partly because most of its press conferences were held in Freetown. He however promised that henceforth, he would ensure that the media is kept abreast with information on the day-to-day activities of the company.
“The media plays a great role to advise us and to put people on their toes. Given this importance of the media, when I took over as Community Affairs Manager (II) at Leone Rock, I thought it fit to engage the media,” he said.
Leone Rock concession in Tonkolili spans five chiefdoms: Dansogoia, Simiria, Samaiah, Kafe and Tanneh, all in Tonkolili, an area renowned for its endowment with one of the world’s largest iron ore reserves.
But presently, the company’s mining activities are center in only three communities – Bumbuna, Mabonto and Bendugu.
The railway and the port operations are located and managed in Pepel Town in neighbouring Port Loko District. The company transports ore from its mines through this over 190km rail track to the Port of Pepel, from where it’s shipped abroad.
Leone Rock, in April this year, announced plans to expand its operations in the Mano River Union with planned investments in Guinea and Liberia, citing new opportunities in a number of commodities that included Iron Ore, Bauxite, and other base metals.