Top: Urban and Rural Services Inc. Current Campsite at the Kponneh Mountain in Todee District
By Esau J. Farr
TODEE – Representative Lawrence Morris of Montserrado District Number One, and County Superintendent Florence Brandy have signed an illegal memorandum of understanding authorizing a company to mine gold in the mineral-potential district of Todee.
Morris and Brandy signed the MoU on February 1, 2023, and approved the MoU between the three clans of Todee and Urban and Rural Services Inc. though the company did not have a license or a business registration.
Statutory Superintendent John Tucker, chiefs, and other local leaders signed the illegal document. A Chinese national Wn Xue Cheng signed for Urban and Rural Services Inc. The MoU is written on the official letterhead of the House of Representatives.
The document grants Urban and Rural Services the right to mine gold in the Kponneh Mountain for five years beginning February 2023 and ending 2028.
As part of the MoU, the company is expected to construct ten handpumps in the three clans within Todee during the first year of its operation.
The company also agreed to mend bridges in the area and recondition clinics annually for use by the locals. In addition, the company is expected to also install 50 solar lights in major towns.
“Whereas, Urban and Rural Services Inc. agrees that an amount of one thousand United States (US$1,000) dollars per annual must be used for the educational sector of Todee Statutory District to improve the learning condition of schools in the district,” the MoU says.
The document allotted L$100,000 to the district monthly, with 50 percent of that amount for the Ding Clan, which hosts the Kponneh Mountain.
For all of that, Urban will mine gold in the area from 2023 to 2028.
Owned by a Liberian businessman named Prince Nah Williams, Urban and Rural Services Inc. was founded in 2018, according to its article of incorporation at the Liberia Business Registry. It held six gold prospecting licenses in Todee, Lofa and River Cess, all of which have expired, according to records of the Ministry of Mines and Energy. The ministry’s records show Urban prospected for gold in Todee, but the two licenses it held for the area expired in 2019. All of its other licenses expired in 2021.
Mining without a license violates the Minerals and Mining Law while running an unregistered business breaks the Business Association Law. The former violation carries a US$10,000 fine, a 12-month prison term, or both.
Its work also violates the Environmental Protection and Management Law of Liberia due to the failure of the company to seek environmental approval. Mohammed Sirleaf, Urban’s liaison officer, said a team from Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) had visited Urban’s worksite and cautioned them. Violators of the law face up to 10 years of imprisonment, a US$25,000 fine, or both.
Sirleaf conceded its operations are illegal. He said they were in the process of acquiring the right to mine in Todee through the acquisition of a valid mining license.
“Recently, we had a guest from the Ministry of Mine and Energy—I think a Regional Agent—and he advised us to have a legal license to avoid future embarrassment with authorities,” Sirleaf said.
Some residents are aware of the illegality of the document.
Bendu Kotoe, a women’s leader in Ding Clan refused to sign it. “The mining license they are supposed to bring, we have not seen it yet. So, we don’t agree for them to work,” Kotoe said.
Paramount Kanakour regretted signing the document upon speaking to The DayLight. “For me, I am not aware of this and I am not in the mining sector. I don’t know the criteria for getting a mining license. So, if they are saying they don’t have the rightful documents, the government can take its course [of action],” he said.
“We have a committee set up to look into such matters,” he added.
When contacted, Brandy claimed she only attested to the illegal MoU. “I am not the one who signed the MoU. You are a journalist, do your investigation and see who all signed it and who attested to it,” Brandy told this paper in a telephone interview.
Contrary to her claim, Brandy actually signed the document. In fact, it was Representative Morris who attested to it.
Brandy also claimed the MoU was meant to only get Todee’s consent for Urban to operate in the area. However, DayLight’s visit to the area showed that the company has already started its operations. This reporter saw mining equipment paving roads in the area and mineworkers building a camp.
Moreover, Urban has already started paying host communities. Sirleaf said the company had already paid the L$100,000 for February, the beginning of the agreement. The Paramount Chief Kanakour confirmed the payment. The Land Rights Act recognizes rural communities’ right to consent to projects on their lands but does not require payment for that consent.
Representative Morris, in whose district Todee falls, said he attested to the document because he did not know Urban’s licenses had expired. Later in the interview, he said he had thought the MoU was for exploration, not for mining. His statement is not backed by facts, as the MoU clearly authorizes Urban to “carry out gold mining activities.”
On using the letterhead of the National Legislature for the MoU, Morris said he did that on purpose.
“We used my official legislative letterhead because I want to take responsibility for anything coming out of the MoU,” Rep. Morris said in the interview.
Funding for this story was provided by the Green Livelihood Alliance (GLA 2.0) through the Sustainable Development Institute (SDI). The DayLight maintained complete editorial independence over the story’s content.