Sierra Leone's Trade and Industry Minister has, on behalf of the government of Sierra Leone, signed an agreement with FIRST STEP and Shamshi Private Ltd for the development of a steel manufacturing and semi-captive power plant. The agreement is worth US$180 million.
The signing ceremony, which took place in Boston Massachusetts, United States of America, attracted a number of Sierra Leoneans who showered praises on the President Ernest Bai Koroma-led government "for ensuring Sierra Leone becomes the first West African nation to embark on such a capital intensive program that will not only lessen unemployment rate, but reduce poverty as well".
Trade and Industry Minister, Dr. Richard Konteh, said the steel manufacturing and semi-captive power plant will be established in Port Loko district, northern Sierra Leone. "Already, government and the investors have identified the portion of land that will be suitable for the project, and hopefully, work will start after the completion of the necessary due process," the minister said.
FIRST STEP president and chief executive officer, Richard Schroeder, said he was extremely excited to be embarking on this new initiative. "The company will manufacture steel reinforcing bars (re-bar) that are essential to infrastructure development - buildings, roads, bridges etc.," he said. "It will also generate 30 megawatts of power using three sources - 16 megawatts from waste heat, 4 megawatts from waste char, and 10 megawatts of thermal power."
Schroeder recalled two years ago when FIRST STEP was just a concept being discussed around conference tables in World Hope International (WHI) and said: "Today, we have a unique and expertly crafted agreement with the government of Sierra Leone that creates a legal framework under which we have established the FIRST STEP Special Economic Zone (SEZ)."
In February 2010, the agreement was unanimously ratified by the Sierra Leone Parliament. Schroeder said he was honoured by the opportunity to lead FIRST STEP and was proud of the accomplishments they have made so far.
"However, I am also humbled by just how dependent our success has been on the goodwill, trust, and support that so many people have extended to us. FIRST STEP is organized as a for-profit corporation with WHI currently holding 75% of FIRST STEP's equity and a private social venture capitalist holding the remaining 25%. Under the FIRST STEP agreement with the government of Sierra Leone, any dividends that WHI earns on its equity holdings [in the company] must be reinvested into humanitarian efforts in Sierra Leone," he explained.