Liberia: Pres. Weah Presses Ahead with Stand-off with ArcelorMittal MDA Renegotiation￼
Monrovia – The fate of the third amendment to ArcelorMittal Mineral Development Agreement (MDA) continues to hang in the balance as President George Weah remains firm with his decision in backing the House of Representatives’ to call for the re-negotiation of the deal.
With President Weah trumpeting Amendment Three following a successful negotiation between AML and the Executive Branch back in September 2021, it appeared that the deal which would have seen the company invested US$800 million, was set to sail through the Legislature but after rigorous scrutiny, the House failed to convened a conference committee with the Liberian Senate and sent back the draft amendment to the President, recommending him to re-negotiate and address some contentious issues with in the agreement.
The deal called for the expansion of production at the Yekepa mine and the development of railways to increase transport and export capacity.
FrontPage Africa has gathered that despite behind-the-scene negotiations between the company and officials of the Liberian Government, the President is still pressing ahead for a re-negotiation amid his stand-off with ArcelorMittal, the country’s largest foreign investor.
President Weah sided with the House in accusing the multinational company, headed by Aditya Mittal, son of its founder Lakshmi Mittal, of dodging payments destined for the state purse, which considers itself wronged in the collection of royalties and other unpaid contributions.
Responding to the House’s request in May, he announced the authorization of the Inter-Ministerial Concession Committee (IMCC) to engage Arcelor Mittal for the resubmission of an amendment that will be in the interest of all parties.
The announcement was contained in a communication he sent to the House of Representatives through Speaker Bhofal Chambers.
He stated: “I have directed the members of the Inter-Ministerial Concession Committee (IMCC), established by law for this purpose to review and analyze the points made in your letter to further confer with you and then to report their findings to me for further actions. Thereafter, I shall authorize the IMCC to hold discussions with Arcelor Mittal for the resubmission of an amendment that fairly satisfies the needs of that company while also upholding the national interests of Liberia.”
But the Luxembourg-based global steel giant is still battling with Weah to agree with the terms in the deal.
Some points of contention is the lack of investment in the planned construction of an iron processing plant for an estimated US$600m and the rail infrastructure, for which AML is the operator and has negotiated exclusive rights in exchange for a commitment to invest.
While the Lower House of the Legislature is determined to ensure the deal is re-visited before ratification, the President is said to have no choice but to accept despite the situation has become a diplomatic issues behind the scenes.
There have been discussions between Jozephus Coenen, CEO of ArcelorMittal Liberia (AML), and Gesler E. Murray, Minister of Mines and Energy, in late May. Despite the tensions, production (around 5 million tonnes per year) has not been disrupted
The Minister of State for Presidential Affairs, Nathaniel F. McGill reportedly contacted the French embassy in Monrovia at the beginning of June in order to meet with French President Emmanuel Macron’s Africa adviser, Franck Paris.
According to report, the French head of state had secretly helped to bring Weah and Lakshmi Mittal together, with the two meeting at a French Hotel in Paris where the Liberian President took the opportunity to raise the issue of unpaid royalties to the state by AML.
In November 2021, Weah again spoke to the French President on the sidelines of a conference at UNESCO to ask him about his plans to renegotiate the $800m agreement and, more broadly, the terms of AML’s operations.
In that meeting, it was reported that President Weah called for the cancellation of the monopoly and revocation of the exclusivity on the railway, which is in a poor state. That was before the House blocked the ratification process of the agreement in March this year.
FPA has gathered that AML has called on the Minister of Finance, Samuel D. Tweah Jr, and the President Pro Tempore of the Senate, Albert Tugbe Chie for interventions. It also gets diplomatic backing. The European Union (EU) Ambassador, Laurent Delahousse, is viewed by Weah’s strategic advisers as an advocate for the steel group, which is a crucial contributor to Liberia’s economy. United States Ambassador Michael McCarthy has landed his support.