Outrage as Sierra Leone Sells Rainforest for Chinese Harbor

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Sierra Leone has agreed to sell 250 acres of rainforest to China in a $55 million deal so that China can build a fishing harbor.

“With the new shift in government policy for the development of the fisheries sector, the Chinese government has given a grant of US$55m to build this platform,” Sierra Leone Minister of Fisheries and Marine Resources Emma Kowa-Jalloh said in a press release.

But the deal has been met with a fair amount of friction.

The Guardian reports that the Institute for Legal Research and Advocacy for Justice (ILRAJ) and Namati Sierra Leone have written a letter to the government. The groups demand to see the environmental and social impact assessment studies in the letter, citing the 2013 Right to Access Information Act.

The report maintains that Black Johnson Beach, which borders Western Area Peninsular National Park, is the most fitting place for construction “in terms of bathymetry, social safeguards (minimum resettlement costs) and environmental issues.

“The press release was very vague. It left us wondering how we arrived here and how we are only hearing about this now. We have a right to know more,” ILRAJ’s attorney Basita Michael says.

However, Kowa-Jalloh said the Ministry of Finance had set aside a compensation package of 13.76 billion leones (around $1.34 million) for landowners. He insists that the sale was to “ensure the regular supply of fish” to the local market.”

The region is home to several endangered species, including the duiker antelope and pangolins. The waters are teeming with sardines, barracuda and grouper. Local fishermen produce 70% of the fish for the domestic market.

Robert Besseling, CEO of political risk consultancy Pangea-Risk, told CNBC that the government’s reluctance to be transparent about the deal could jeopardize the deal.

“Firstly, there is a lack of transparency over the Sierra Leonean government’s land equity and Chinese cash grant deal, which is raising concerns over potential corruption and could subject it to parliamentary probing,” he said. “Secondly, any forced displacement of residents around the project site might be rendered unconstitutional based on current land rights provisions.”

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