December 21, 2017 By Mohamed Massaquoi
Natural Resources Governance and Economic Justice in Sierra Leone(NARGEJ) has held their General Assembly on the theme ‘Human Rights Approach to Natural Resource Governance’ at the District Council Hall in Magburaka, in the Tonkolili district.
The assembly brought together civil society activists from across the country.
In his opening address, co-lead of NARGEJ, Abu Brima said the assembly was to take stock of its membership and move the network forward.
He said NAREGEJ was established as a result of economic model wrapped around the extractive model and that the model was geared towards bringing development.
“Economic model legalises destruction of communities, create displacement of communities. Extractive of all sorts is not meant for poor people but those with money, corrupt government officials,” he said.
Mr. Brima charged that natural resources continue to improve the lives of politicians while communities continue to live in abject poverty.
“This is what NARGEJ hopes to change and the reason the network was formed. Communities within mining enclaves continue to be abused and that for the past six years since the formation of the network, negotiations have not been done in engaging government in this direction. We are here today to reflect on those issues and look at the human rights violations taking place within mining communities,” he said.
He asked that since the establishment of NARGEJ “how many policies have we implemented that respect the rights of communities? Are we relevant in what we do? How relevant is our work within the mining sector? How many times have we engaged mining companies that continue to destroy our environment?
“The NARGEJ platform was formed based on the human rights principles because as we all know violations remain a common place within mining communities and these are issues we will be deliberating on for the next three years.
“We need to reflect and pay special attention to the needs of communities and their daily struggles and how we as a platform could push and position ourselves within the sector,” he said.
Edward B. Koroma, co-lead at NaRGEJ, said the network is a group of individuals representing many Civil Society Organisations that have agreed to form an alliance around issues relating to natural resources in order to ensure that the said resources are exploited in ways that protect the country’s economic, ecological and scenic values by strengthening community organisations and building their capacity to take collective actions as well as engaging multi-national companies, and national and regional actors for policy, social and environmental change.
The Network seeks to build a national movement aimed at responsible natural resource governance, human rights and social justice.
He observed that Sierra Leone is a small country with a population of about seven million and that it is endowed with rich and diversified natural resources, including bauxite, diamonds, gold, iron ore, rutile, plus rich fertile agricultural lands that produce cash crops such as cocoa, coffee, palm oil etc.
“However, it is very sad to note that monies generated from these resources have not been judiciously used for economic development and pro-poor growth. In the midst of all this, past and present governments continue to sign faulty mining agreements that are not in the best interest of the nation,” he expressed.
Government, he said, has also given tax exemptions to mining companies which have cost the nation huge amount of money that could have been used to finance national developmental activities and provide basic social services.
“As such, more than half of the country’s population, especially those in mining communities, continue to wallow in abject poverty, not knowing where their next meal will come from.”
He said civil society as partners in national development and the voice of the voiceless has over the years engaged government and mining companies to craft a path in addressing the challenges.
“However, if we are to achieve our goals and make meaningful impact in our interventions as NaRGEJ, we must strategically reposition ourselves with utmost commitment and dedication.”
Mr. Koroma said it is in that spirit that “we will be together for the next three days to chat the way forward for the growth and development of NaRGEJ and to ensure that our interventions achieve the desired impact.”