By Jemuel Davis
Citizens in the affected communities of the ArcelorMittal operational area have called on the government of Liberia through the Nimba County legislative caucus to reconsider the recent Mineral Development Agreement (MDA).
Those affected communities are; Seyi, Yarmien, and Zor. The new MDA agreement between the government of Liberia and ArcelorMittal when signed by lawmakers will expand the company’s operations for another 25 years.
According to citizens interviewed by The Stage Media, since the company started its operation in the county, the ‘Action Plan of 2013,’ has not been implemented.
The citizens said they are yet to receive those benefits that were listed in the MDA while ArcelorMittal keeps carrying on its operations in the county.
Those benefits include; provision of safe drinking water, rehabilitation, and construction of community infrastructures, provision of quality healthcare delivery systems, the provision of alternative livelihoods, provision of quality education, 25-50% transition of Management to Liberians, among others.
Speaking to TSM, Mr. James O. S. Kabia, an aggrieved citizen in the affected community said, the company has refused to implement the earlier MDA since it was signed in 2013.
Mr. Kabia said dwellers in the affected community are yet to get safe drinking water, road connectivity, and the renovation of some communities within the Yekepa belt, provision of scholarships for students, employment among others that was agreed upon in the MDA.
He further called on all Nimba Lawmakers not to sign the 800 million MDA that was recently signed by the chief executives of the company and the government of Liberia.
Daughters of the Mountains, a women group in Nimba county has also called on the government of Liberia through the county’s caucus to turn down the agreement signed.
According to Daughters of the Mountains chairperson, Madam Sondah Geapea Wilson, the recent 800 million agreements signed were not done in the interest of the affected community.
‘’If the government of Liberia and Nimba Lawmakers will accept this MDA that means the future generation of the county will go through intense suffering when the God-giving mineral is depleted,’’ Madam Wilson said.
She, however, called on the company to arrange a roundtable discussion with the three affected communities to discuss a way forward because they are the direct victims of the company’s mining activities.
The decision to expand the MDA has sparked up tension at the company’s operational site that led to the affected communities putting out the traditional Poro master to ensure that their concerns are addressed by both the government and ArcelorMittal.
Another aggrieved group of citizens recently presented 11 counts to the Nimba County Legislative Caucus, the caucus also opposed the agreement.
Mr. Amstrong Gobac Selekpo, head of the aggrieved citizens said they also oppose the grant of mineral extraction above the current limit of five million tons per annum.
When TSM contacted Samuel Kogar, Nimba County District # 5 lawmaker for inquiry, he said the citizen’s petition has been received by Rep. Prince Tokpah and is awaiting discussion by the county caucus for redress.
Rep. Kogar called on the citizens to remain peaceful in addressing their plight as all efforts will be made to engage the company’s authority for redress.
It may be recalled on Monday, September 10, 2021, the government of Liberia and AML agreed to amend the Mineral Development Agreement MDA to enable it to meet up with the present day’s realities.
In the midst of the public outcry from citizens, ArcelorMittal has listed accomplishments in Liberia since its 15 years of existence on the Liberian soil informing local media that the company has spent $1.7 million on scholarship programs that have seen 29 candidates attend universities outside Liberia.
According to Liberia News Agency ArcelorMittal in 2017, reopened the Yekepa Vocational and Technical Center (VTC) spending 7 million to refurbish this state-of-the-art training facility as well as committing 40 million USD for the pavement of the Ganta-Yekepa
Meanwhile, The United States Ambassador to Liberia, Michael McCarthy, endorsed the ArcelorMittal Mineral Development Agreement (MDA).
“We were encouraged by the September 10 signing of the amended ArcelorMittal Mineral Agreement, because we understand this will bring Liberia more than $800 million in foreign direct investment, hundreds of millions more in government revenue, and significant expansion of mining sector jobs, temporary and long-term.”
The U.S. Diplomat continued: “This agreement was under negotiation for quite some time, and the senate must now do their own review, but the progress so far sends a signal to investors that deals can get done in Liberia.”
But the Ambassador also urged the Liberian Senate, who would approve the agreement to see the potential benefits for Liberia, were the rail asset to be shared, not monopolized by ArcelorMittal.
“We also hope that the agreement, if approved by the Senate, will open the door for Liberians to become a future regional exporter of ore from Guinea.”
Apart from the rail use clause in the revised agreement, it seems, according to Amb. McCarthy, the revised ArcelorMittal mineral development agreement is in the best interest of the people and, as such, the lawmakers should work with the local people on signing the agreement.
“But I don’t see it particularly as a tension, I think that is a healthy tension because community organizers are always trying to get more for their communities, politicians want to get more for their communities, the company wants to save more money. Those are all healthy,” he said.
He continues: “I will say that the executive is elected by the people, Legislature is also elected by the people and specifically the Senators and Representatives from those areas are represented by their people. So, if I were a congressman or senator and want to be re-elected, I will work to make sure that I got the best thing possible for my constituents while I am still encouraging investment.”