Sierra Leone President Ernest Bai Koroma said on Thursday he will boost tax revenues from the mining sector if he is elected to a second term in next month's elections, as part of a plan to combat poverty in the West African state.
Koroma will face off against opposition rival and former junta leader Julius Maada Bio in the November 17 polls, seen as a barometer of progress in the country as it continues to rebuild from a civil war that ended a decade ago.
"I promised an agenda for change and I delivered it. Now I am here promising an agenda for prosperity and by god almighty I will deliver," Koroma told hundreds of supporters in the capital during the launch of his campaign platform.
Sierra Leone remains one of the world's poorest and least developed countries after a devastating 1991-2002 civil war, and relies heavily on its burgeoning resource sector to fund its recovery and ease rampant poverty.
The run-up to the poll has so far been mostly peaceful.
A copy of Koroma's campaign manifesto obtained by Reuters said he would aim to impose "optimal taxation on mineral assets" to boost state revenues, and would set up a sovereign wealth fund to manage some portion of the proceeds.
The proposed sovereign wealth fund would "support economic infrastructure, agricultural productivity, human capacity development as well as poverty reduction," the manifesto said, without providing details.
The document added that Koroma would seek to limit mining prospecting licenses to three years, and raise local hiring content in firms operating in the country.
Koroma, a former insurance broker who has been in power since 2007, is seen as the favourite against Bio, a former junta leader who has said he would review all the country's mining contracts due to concerns they do not provide a fair share of revenue to the state.
Sierra Leone produces iron ore, gold and diamonds. Companies that operate in Sierra Leone include iron ore producers African Minerals and London Mining, gold miner Amara Mining Plc, and diamond miner Koidu.
Koroma's government had come under fire for setting a low tax rate of 6 percent for London Mining -- far below the 37.5 percent level stipulated in Sierra Leone's mining laws -- though the contract has since been revised.
Koroma's manifesto also promised reforms of the farming sector, including "phasing out subsistence agriculture" and promoting industrial farming in order to boost domestic food production for local and export markets.
Though it has the potential to be a major agricultural exporter, Sierra Leone depends heavily on imported foods, particularly for staples like rice.
The manifesto added the government had plans for China to build a new international airport north of Freetown to replace the current airport, which is separated from the capital by a wide estuary.
An opposition official said he had not yet seen Koroma's manifesto, but criticised his administration for signing mining accords that "were not in the best interests of Sierra Leone or the Sierra Leonean people."
(Reporting by Simon Akam; Writing by Richard Valdmanis; editing by Ron Askew)