With the mass exodus of Sierra Leonean diamond miners into Liberia, New Democrat has gathered that over 75 per cent of Liberia's diamonds being extracted in the western region are being exported to neighboring Sierra Leone, causing Liberia to lose millions of dollars in revenue.
According to local diamond brokers, briefing a high powered government delegation led by Lands and Mines Minister Patrick Sendolo on a tour of Liberia's diamond mining sites, too many diamonds are being illegally exported to Sierra Leone.
Mr. Joseph Stewart, a diamond broker and mining agent, blamed the situation on the relaxation of Liberia's law on diamond and the lack of support to Liberian mining agents and brokers.
Speaking at the Weado diamond mining site in Kingstone, Grand Cape Mount County, Stewart said Sierra Leonean mining agents who abandoned their mining sites in their homeland to seek lucrative business ventures in Liberia were financing most diamond mining activities in Grand Cape Mount County, through fellow countrymen (Sierra Leonean laborers). He disclosed that the Sierra Leoneans were also taking advantage of the lack of support to their Liberian counterparts and the porous nature of the borders.
Mr. Stewart made the revelation Friday during Minister Sendolo's tour of the area to assess artisanal mining activities.
There have been reports that several Sierra Leonean diamond mining agents have fled their homes because of the lost cost of the precious jewels in their country to hustle for Liberian diamonds which are more costly. The Sierra Leonean diamond miners have also reportedly taken advantage of the relaxation of Liberian laws to exploit diamonds in Liberia.
"One of the major problems we have here is that most of our diamonds is going to Sierra Leone," Stewart said. "Many of our brothers here prefer selling their diamonds in Sierra Leone because Liberian mining agents and diamond brokers are not being supported by the government," Stewart said.
According to him, there were "over 200 illegal diamond smuggling entry points throughout this region. Our borders are very porous and, this, too, is causing problems for us," Stewart told the government delegation. "The Sierra Leoneans are stealing the diamond through the gigging process. They're very good at that."
In order to remedy the situation, Mr. Stewart called on the government to set up a task force at various diamond sites to monitor the flow of diamonds in the area, and urged the government to help local miners with modern equipment to help minimize illicit mining activities.
Responding, Minister Sendolo thanked the local miners for their information, and assured them that government would do its best to safeguard the country's resources from being exploited.
"We've heard most of the complaints about those things that are causing us to lose our resources. We would ensure that Government takes the appropriate actions to prevent these things from happening," he said.
In order to prevent the illegal trade of Liberian diamonds, Minister Sendolo called for a cross-border cooperation between Liberia and Sierra Leone.
If the two countries were to ensure cross-border cooperation, he said illegal diamond trade would be prevented along the borders and bilateral cooperation would improve.
Liberia and Sierra Leone share common borders on several fronts including Lofa, Gbarpolu and Grand Cape Mount Counties, and that both countries have had long traditional ties for centuries.
The two countries also share common cultures, including tribes and traditions, factors which make it easy for interminable cross border activities.
After touring Gangama and Bomborhun Mano River crossing points, including Big Rock, Weado and Mano River Congo mining sites, Minister Sendolo stated what has been gathered from his observation.
"Definitely, if this thing must work, we must ensure that there's complete cross border cooperation between the two countries because the diamond trade in this region has changed dramatically from what it used to be. Unlike the past, most people engaged in diamond business here come from across the border," Minister Sendolo told New Democrat Friday at the Weado Mining site.
His visit stemmed from reports that the country was losing millions of dollars from its Kimberly sector, with many of the blames being shifted on illicit miners.
"I am happy that things are coming up," he pointed out. "It would put us (The Government of Liberia) in a better position to engage our partners in this business. This will also help us address the challenges at hand. This is exactly what we have come to inquire here."
The tour of Grand Cape Mount County is part of several nationwide expeditions being undertaken by Minister Sendolo to assess mining activities in an attempt to tackle illegal sale of Liberian diamond.