Banner Image: Senator Prince Moye of Bong County. The DayLight/Facebook
By William Selmah
GBARNGA, Bong County – Senator Prince Moye recommended the illegal sacking of an employee of MNG Gold Liberia after he supported his rival in last year’s senatorial elections, an investigation by The DayLight has found.
Moye ordered the sacking of Lloyd Ngwayah as public relations officer (PRO) of the company, evoking a memorandum of understanding between citizens of Korkoyah and the company. The company, owned by Turkish billionaire Mehmet Nazif Gunal, had signed a mineral development agreement with Liberia in 2010 to mine gold, affecting communities in Bong, Bassa and Nimba. It agreed to employ locals.
“I am pleased to recommend… B. Utah Bahn, BSc in management and Mark Gbekan, diploma,” Moye said in a letter recommending Gbekan to replace Ngwayah, which the company implemented. “The Senator of Bong County may recommend two persons to be employed by the concessionaire as community liaison officer and public relations officer of the concessionaire.”
Moye wrote the letter on February 10, 2021, but Ngwayah, 38, was not told of his dismissal until April 17. He alleged he was verbally told he had been replaced. He received US$ 6,715 in severance and other benefits on the same day of his alleged verbal dismissal, more than two weeks into what would have been his fifth year at MNG Gold. “I hereby declare that I have no claims or whatsoever further claims against MNG Gold Liberia Incorporated or in the future arising out of my employment with the company,” his receipt to the company for the payment read.
But Moye misquoted the MoU, which was signed between Kokoyah District and MNG Gold in 2016. It did not say “the Senator” can recommend a replacement for the company’s PRO. It was specific about who could recommend.
“Honorable Tokpa J. Mulbah, Member of the House of Representatives, Electoral District No. One, Bong County, and Senator Henry Yallah, Chairman, Bong County Legislative Caucus, may each recommend a person to be employed by the concessionaire as two liaisons and public relations officers of the concessionaire,” it read.
Ngwayah has a good case against the lawmaker and the company for misinterpreting and misapplying the MoU, according to Alphonso Woiwor, an attorney-at-law with the Lavalah Supuwood Law Firm. “If Lloyd Ngwayah challenges Moye’s authority and takes the matter to court, he would be ordered reinstated and the company will be responsible to pay him for the time he has been down since his dismissal,” Woiwor told The DayLight.
MoU aside, Ngwayah’s dismissal is a violation of the Decent Work Act of 2015, which was enacted a year after his employment. Under the law, dismissal is only legal when “an employee is unable to carry out their function effectively due to the consumption of alcoholic drinks, narcotics, psychotropic substances or other like addictive substances in the working environment; an employee has breached the fundamental rights of another employee…” An employee can also be dismissed for being absent from work for more than 10 consecutive days or more than 20 days over a period of six months without good cause or explanation, among other reasons,” it says.
Other reasons include fighting on the job, issuing threats against fellow employees that make them feel unsafe, damaging institution’s facilities that cause them grave losses, being careless with assignments, among other offenses. Ngwayah was not liable for any of those things.
When the human resource manager at MNG Gold, Maron Siakor reached clarification, she referred me to the current PRO who had earlier referred me to her. When I informed her that I had already spoken with the new PRO, she became furious, threatening lawsuit against The DayLight if her name is ever mentioned in this story.
‘The Spirit and Intent of the MoU’
Moye’s ordering of Ngwayah’s sacking was politically motivated. It was a retaliation against the former MNG Gold employee for supporting a rival candidate during last year’s special senatorial elections, our investigation also showed. Ngwayah supported then-incumbent Yallah, Moye’s main competitor in the central county’s polls. It was Yallah who recommended Ngwayah to the PRO post in 2015. MNG Gold was still setting up its mine in the area. A youth leader at the time, he had successfully campaigned for Yallah in the 2011 general and presidential elections and remained so five years on.
“To move Kokoya forward and move Bong County forward, vote Henry W. Yallah, #8 on the ballot,” he posted on Facebook on November 30, exactly eight days to the elections. “Until the last vote is counted and reported by [the National Elections Commission], save your self-proclaimed results and dance,” he said in another post on December 9, as preliminary results put Moye in the lead. “This is an entire county result, not a district, he said in another.”
Moye eventually won the elections with 30,337 or 51.28 percent of total votes cast, compared to Yallah’s 25,247 votes or 32.9 percent. The race also included six other candidates: Adam Bill Corneh, Menipakei Dumoe, Mogana Flomo, Jr. Mohammed Nasser, Benedict Sagbeh and Dorothy Tooman. But that was the beginning of the end of Ngwayah’s MNG Gold sojourn, at least for now.
The PRO for MNG Gold is a huge job in Bongese politics and life, according to Obe Smith, a local journalist based in Gbarnga. “It forms nexus between the company and lawmakers on one hand, and the company and the district on the other,” Smith said.
Ngwayah enjoyed that. At times he served as a guest speaker at graduation ceremonies. For five years he communicated the company’s corporate social responsibilities’ plans and broke ground for projects’ implementations. It put him in direct contact with the electorates. In fact, he has launched his full-fledged political career, throwing his hat in the ring for the Bong County seat in the House of Representatives in the 2023 general and presidential elections.
Moye and supporters recognized the importance of the position, too, and did not hide his intention to get Ngwayah out. In a three-minute-thirty-second audio recording of one of his victory rallies, Moye can be heard justifying his aim to have Ngwayah replaced. “I will see whether the name Lloyd Ngwayah is so important to the investment of MNG Gold as compared to the MNG Gold operations itself,” Moye told jubilant supporters in Yolot, apparently responding to comments Ngwayah had made, challenging the lawmaker’s power to remove him. “Let that magic play. When it plays, then I know that real magic. But it can never be condoned because I’m led by the spirit and intent of the MoU.”
Ngwayah is not the first person to suffer a lawmaker-backed illegal dismissal at MNG Gold. Dua Karnga, a former liaison officer of the company, was similarly dismissed on the recommendation of Albert Hill, District 1 Representative. Hill used the same illegal clause in the controversial MoU. Karnga, notably, was among a horde of Moye’s supporters who petitioned him to ask the company to remove Ngwayah.
Moye did not respond to text messages for an interview on the saga. This reporter also called him several times but got no response. Two visits to his Capitol Building office did not also materialize.
The story has not ended, though. Ngwayah has written the Bong County Legislative Caucus on his illegal dismissal, requesting the group to look into the matter. “It’s our earnest expectations that Hon. Joseph P. Kolleh as chairman of the Bong County Legislative Caucus, the district representative Hon. Albert B. Hills and the rest of the caucus members will take these complaints and recommendations very [seriously] and take the necessary legislative and legal actions to ensure a just and lasting solution,” he said in a Facebook post, “which will be a legacy for their leadership.” Representative Joseph Papa Kolleh acknowledged receipt of the letter.
This story is a part of The DayLight’s Human Rights Reporting Series.