Liberia: Finance Ministry Owes Grand Bassa County Over US$3M Mittel Steel’s Social Development Funds
Monrovia – The Ministry of Finance and Development Planning has not remitted social development funds paid by ArcelorMittal to Grand Bassa County for over three years, thereby stalling the implementations of several development projects in the county, FrontPageAfrica has gathered.
Report by Alpha Daffae Senkpeni, [email protected]
The total amount owed the county has been put at more than US$3 million dollars, according to the chairman of the county legislative caucus, Representative Thomas Goshua.
School, bridges, clinics, and roads projects, as well as scholarships programs, have all been stalled in the county.
The situation is raising serious concern in the county especially in the port city of Buchanan, where some activists are contending that the central government is ignoring the development needs of the county by diverting funds paid by steel company ArcelorMittal Liberia as part of its corporate social responsibility.
According to the 2006 amended Mineral Development Agreement signed between the company and the Liberian government, ArcelorMittal is obligated to contribute US$3 million a year as county social development fund to Nimba, Bong, and Grand Bassa Counties.
Grand Bassa gets $1 million; Bong County US$500,000 and Nimba gets the lion share of US$1.5 million.
The company, with the consensus of the government of Ellen Johnson Sirleaf in 2015, began paying half of the SDF to the counties. That decision was reached after the price of iron ore slumped on the world market and the company said it was struggling to keep its operations in the country afloat. And the government justified that it was an attempt to minimize the steel company liabilities so as to avert the risk of job loss for Liberians.
It’s over three years since the company began paying US$536,000 to central government for Grand Bassa, but officials of the county say there has been no remittance to the county.
“The county has not received any money whatsoever for almost three years now – including money to implement development projects that were decided during the last county sitting that I presided over, but up to now we have not received a dime,” Representative Goshua told FPA on Wednesday.
“This is making us ugly because it’s making our people think that we do not know what we are doing. This is stalling development and affecting our work.”
Goshua stressed that the county legislative caucus and several other county caucuses scheduled a meeting with officials of the MFDP on Thursday, June 20 to hold talks around the delays in the disbursement of SDF.
Details of that meeting is unknown, but the government has inherently complained about the challenges in generating funds or the limitations of support he national budget.
In Grand Bassa County, activists are becoming very concerned; some are planning to launch a protest against the local government as a means of exerting pressure on the central government to remit the money.
Barley Togba heads the Grass Root Agency for Social Justice (GRASS) based in Buchanan. The group monitors the county social development funds as well as governance and management of the county resources.
Togba is concerned about the decision to allow Mittal halved the county’s SDF, but he’s more worried that the government has reneged on disbursement to the county.
“The Government cannot take the people of Grand Bassa County money and hold onto it and think everything is well. So the government is under obligation to even provide the county development funds to the people of Grand Bassa,” he said during an interview with FPA.
“People in the county now know about the SDF and they know the hurt that is being inflicted by this government because it is holding on their funds… absolutely everything is at a standstill for the past two years.”
He added that absent the SDF, locals are struggling because economic activities have shrunk – affecting local businesses and depreciating the purchasing power of locals.
According to Mittal Steel, it has spent over US$2 billion on corporate social activities over the past 10 years in the country; however, Tokpa contends that all that doesn’t matter now when the company has failed to live up to its responsibility.
“So, why would they want to owe a county like Grand Bassa or even cut short the SDF and pay half especially with the kind of investment they have in the country,” said Togba, who was development superintendent of Grand Bassa County for six years.
“If you owe the county because the price of iron ore drops then if the price of iron ore on the world market increases, are we going to benefit from that increment? Because when you are in trouble we all suffer from your problem so if your profit improves, are we going to share in it?”
County Superintendent Janjay Baikpah has ignored inquiries from FPA about efforts his administration is making to ensure the funds are remitted.
Meanwhile, Hon Goshua says lawmakers of counties that are beneficiaries of SDFs from concession companies across the country are garnering consolidated consensus to ensure the budget law is amended.
They want the SDF paid directly into the counties’ escrow account instead of the money going to the central government before being remitted to the counties.
“We make the law so this is what we are going for and we think it will give the county some financial independence in order to implement development projects for the SDF that will impact our people,” said Hon. Goshua.