Banner Image: Iron Ores on their way to the Port of Buchanan. The DayLight/James Harding Giahyue
By Varney Kamara
PAYNESVILLE – Aggrieved citizens from Nimba County Monday criticized the extension of ArcelorMittal’s mineral development agreement (MDA) on grounds that they did not participate in its negotiation.
Last week, ArcelorMittal Liberia (AML), the world’s largest steel company, signed a US$800 million investment agreement with the Liberian government. The deal, which takes the company’s operational period to 2046, will also see an increase in annual shipment from 5 million to 15 million tons. It agreed to provide 4,000 new jobs, the government announced after the signing.
“We categorically reject and unequivocally denounce, object to and resist any extension of the MDA with AML until AML can demonstrate and prove its compliance with the current terms and conditions of the MDA,” their 12-count resolution read. They cited the Land Rights Act of 2018, which recognizes communities’ rights to land and provides for their participation in the government’s issuance of mining licenses.
“We are here to oppose the expansion and extension of this agreement” Mamee Gongbah, a Nimba youth representative said in a press conference in Paynesville. “You cannot be talking about the expansion and extension of new [mineral development agreement] when you still have our people drinking from the St. Johnson River.”
The aggrieved citizens also raised issues with ArcelorMittal’s alleged violations of its previous agreement. They said Liberians had not made up 50 percent of the company’s senior staff, which should be the case within 10 years of its operations, according to the agreement. They said the company had not delivered on promises it made to build communities’ infrastructures, including handpumps, schools and clinics.
They demanded their lawmakers to back their decision to denounce the new agreement and urged the Legislature to reject the passage of the deal. Prince Tokpah, the representative of Nimba County District No.2, received the resolution and promised to deliver it to the caucus and House Speaker Bhofal Chambers.
“We reserve the right to go to court if our concerns are not addressed” Sonda Geepea Wilson, the group’s legal consultant, told The DayLight.
The statement came hours after Gbezongar Findley, former President Pro-Tempore of the Liberian Senate, filed a lawsuit against ArcelorMittal at the Second Judiciary Circuit in Grand Bassa County.
ArcelorMittal said it would respond to the allegations.
Last month, citizens of Grand Bassa County also criticized the company for breaching several clauses of its previous agreement relating to affected communities there.
ArcelorMittal said the group’s accusations were “misrepresentation of the facts” in a statement at the time.
ArcelorMittal exports its iron ore via a railroad that passes Bong County to the Port of Buchanan in the county’s capital. The company pays Nimba, Bassa and Bong—the three counties affected by its operations—US$3 million in social development funds. Nimba receives US$1.5 million, Bassa US$1 million and Bong US$500,000.
Liberia’s largest taxpayer, ArcelorMittal signed a US$2.6 billion agreement with Liberia in 2006 for 25 years. The agreement was the country’s first foreign direct investment following years of devastating civil conflict, which left its economy in shambles.