By Simon Akam
FREETOWN (Reuters) - Sierra Leone's main opposition party plans to introduce a raft of reforms to the mining and oil sectors if it wins elections next month, according to its election program released on Saturday.
The Sierra Leone People's Party's (SLPP) presidential candidate, former junta leader Julius Maada Bio, hopes to dislodge incumbent Ernest Bai Koroma's All People's Congress government in the November 17 poll.
The SLPP's manifesto proposes a review of all existing mining and oil deals as well as the law that governs the mining sector, according to a copy obtained by Reuters.
"It is now glaringly obvious that the APC government is raping the Sierra Leone mining industry," the manifesto said, referring to President Koroma's ruling All People's Congress Party, which came to power in 2007.
"Such rape is wide-ranging but primarily borders on signing fiscal agreements that are not in line with best practices and undermine our national taxation laws," it said.
Sierra Leone has abundant natural resources including iron ore, diamonds, gold, bauxite and the titanium ore rutile. Oil was found offshore in 2009 but it remains unclear if commercial quantities are present.
Ten years though after the end of its bloody civil war, which left some 50,000 dead, Sierra Leone remains one of the world's poorest countries.
The mining law the SLPP proposes to review was drawn up in 2009 with donor support.
"We are saying for the first time we will review everything about mining in Sierra Leone to make sure it accords with international best practice," the party's national secretary general Banja Tejan-Sie told Reuters.
The SLPP manifesto launch comes two days after the ruling party presented its own document, which promised to increase revenue from mining.
The government has scored points for infrastructure projects but attracted condemnation for signing mining deals that did not conform to the law.
In particular an agreement with British iron ore firm London Mining specified a tax rate of 6 percent rather than the 37.5 percent stipulated by statute, though that deal has since been renegotiated.
The opposition's manifesto also proposes to make all mining contracts public.
President Koroma's spokesman Unisa Sesay was dismissive of the opposition's plans on Saturday.
"When you are not in government there is a lot of talk you talk," he told Reuters. "When you are in government you have to contend with where to get the resources."
Sesay said the APC government had renegotiated some deals and was "exploring new ways for getting even more resources from mining activities".
The opposition SLPP said in its manifesto it would allocate 10 percent of the country's budget to agriculture to help the west African state become self-sufficient in rice and cassava.
Though it has the potential to be a major agricultural exporter Sierra Leone is currently dependent on imported foodstuffs, in particular staple rice.
(Editing by Bate Felix and Andrew Roche)
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