Liberia: Bomi Senatorial Aspirant Describes Renegotiation of Wester Cluster Deal as “Wicked and Counterproductive”
In keeping with a popular mandate from thousands of citizens from western Liberia, Bomi County Senatorial aspirant Soko Adama Dorley has called for the cancellation of the controversial Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) signed by the Government of Liberia (GOL) for the resumption of the operations of Western Cluster Liberia Limited in the region.
By Obediah Johnson, [email protected]
It can be recalled that on Wednesday, June 8, 2022, Western Cluster broke grounds to recommence its operations in Bomi. The ground breaking ceremony came barely few days after the government signed the MOU with the company.
The MOU was signed following the failure of the company to implement the Mineral Development Agreement (MDA) it signed with the government in 2011 due to the outbreak of the Ebola virus and the drop in the price of iron ore on the world market.
It gives the company the right to operate at three iron ore deposits, including the Bomi Hills Mines, in Bomi, Grand Cape Mount, and Gbarpolu Counties.
Following the signing of the MOU and commencement of operations of the company, the citizens, especially those from Bomi County have been raising series of issues ranging from the unilateral decision taken by their caucus to renegotiate the deal without their input, construction of the roads, and disagreement over the trucking of the iron ore, amongst others.
In a statement issued in Monrovia on Tuesday, January 17, Mr. Dorley expressed grave concern over what he termed as “disturbing development” relative to the MOU signed between the Liberian Government and Western Cluster Limited (WCL). The company is a subsidiary of Vedanta Limited based in India.
“With profound emphasis, Hon. Dorley would like to remind all and sundry that the natural resources with which Bomi is endowed belong to the people of Bomi County. It is only fair and proper the resources extracted need to be managed and leveraged in a transparent and accountable manner.”
He noted that transparent and accountable resources governance will significantly spur socioeconomic transformation in Bomi and across the length and breadth of the entire Western region as well as the entire country.
He observed that despite the extraction of millions of dollars’ worth of resources from Bomi, the living conditions of the masses remain appalling.
Mr. Dorley added that “our hearts are still hurting from the callous and egregious manner in which Bomi County was ripped off its iron ore four decades ago, where billions of ores were mined and shipped out of the county, but the people and their county were left impoverished and wretched–with Bomi being one of the most undeveloped counties in Liberia and its people arguably the poorest”.
He recalled that from ‘Bomi Hills to Bomi Holes,” the wealth and resources of the country have become.
According to him, “those nefarious and evil acts of the past must stay in the past.”
“We the citizens of Bomi County will never permit the depravity of the past to prevail in Bomi again. The sons and daughters of Bomi will never sit supinely and timidly to permit the gambling and looting of our resources. Gone are the days when multinationals exploited our homeland and subjugated our people to the doldrums of extreme poverty and utter despair.”
“It is against this backdrop, Hon. Dorley along with well-meaning sons and daughters of Bomi County are decisively calling for the unconditional cancelation of April 12, 2022, Memorandum of Understanding between GOL and WCL.”
Deal is against the masses
Mr. Dorley maintained that without an iota of doubt, citizens of the county strongly believe that the current deal between WCL and the Liberian government is disastrous, disingenuous, and counterproductive.”
According to him, the renegotiation of the deal was fashioned against the people, rather than being in the interest of the people.
He emphasized that the deal represents the dark ages when Bomi and its citizens were defrauded and plunged into the abyss of wanton poverty, while the multinationals netted billions out of the rich ores extracted from the enriching soil of the Western region.
“Enough is enough! This socioeconomic debauchery must stop for once!”
Rejecting a bad deal
Mr. Dorley added that while the people of Bomi crave investment opportunities, they do so cautiously, that investments flowing into the county must generally be negotiated transparently with the citizens place at the front and center in concession agreements.
“Additionally, genuine effort must be made by the relevant authorities to ensure that the county and its people fairly benefit from resources extracted from its soil! Suffice it to say we the people of Bomi categorically reject such a bad deal and demand the deal returns to the negotiation table sooner than later.”
Considering this and in the quest to strike a fair balance that salvages the interest of the County and its people, Mr. Dorley, however, advanced several recommendations to remedy the excesses of the Western Cluster Deal.
He called for all parties to the conflict surrounding the deal to immediately revert to status quo ante or to a pre-MOU era and enforce the MDA.
He added that the trucking of iron ore from Bomi to Freeport must stop with immediate effect until the railway or other technical projects, that are required for operations, can be rehabilitated.
Mr. Dorley further called for an alternative mini shipping port to be constructed at Jormorbao, an ideal route that was already identified by former President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf.
“This concrete and sustainable move will certainly avert any potential health and environmental crisis that seems impending as a result of trucking iron ore by road. This is enshrined in the MDA section 9 of the (Public Safety and Environment).”
He said Western Cluster Liberia should construct a new hospital or fully finance the existing one, because their operations have increased the health burden of the citizens of the Western Region, especially Bomi County, and its health facilities.
This, he claimed is embedded within Section 10 of the MDA.
Mr. Dorley emphasized that Western Cluster Liberia should also pave roads and take other social corporate responsibilities seriously as enshrined in Section 6 of the MDA.
He said the company should also prioritize the gainful employment of citizens of Bomi County and the Liberian people in general.
“Going forward, the preference for foreigners over our people is a non-starter for any potential negotiation or dispute settlement. This is also in line with section 11.1 of the MDA that talks (Employment). We demand a full explanation of the US$40 Million signature fees that were signed by former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and former Speaker Alex Jenekai Tyler during the days of Elenilto.”
According to him, citizens of Bomi demand a comprehensive report of said amount.
He recalled that the disclosure of the amount was made by the county’s Senator Edwin Melvin Snowe when he appeared on Spoon TV on December 30, 2022,
Mr. Dorley called for Western Cluster to revert to Section 11.2 of the MDA which talks about the training of citizens from Bomi county and Liberia in particular to enable them to be qualified and capacitated to serve the company.
“We wonder that if the owners of the resources, already defrauded and made impoverished by past concession agreements, cannot be employed, then in whose interest was such an agreement negotiated? No doubt, we hold dear the firm conviction that the interest of our people and county MUST supersede all other interests.”
“With this faith, a better and brighter future for all our people is attainable, and peace, tranquility, and prosperity will blossom in the land of Bomi and by extension, the Western region.”
Sometimes ago, citizens of Bomi summoned their elected officials to provide more information on why a MOU was signed with the company to recommence its operations in the midst of a ratified MDA.
The meeting prompted the voluntary resignation of Senator Snowe as Chief Negotiator and a Representative of the county’s legislative caucus on the renegotiation of the deal.
Senator Snowe previously represented the company, along with the executive branch, represented by Mines and Energy Minister Gesler Murray for the renegotiation of the deal.
The controversial MOU
In the MOU signed, Western Cluster, which was indebted to the government in the tone of US$23million, has been mandated to pay the amount of US$10million to the government.
The company initially paid the amount of US$5million for the issuance of a Class A mining license by the government, through the Ministry of Mines and Energy following the signing of the MOU.
The document further called for payment of the remaining US$5million not later than 45 days from the date of the first shipment of iron ore by the company.
It also called for Western Cluster to provide the amount of US$3million as contribution for the rehabilitation of the corridor between the St. Paul Bridge and the Freeport of Monrovia.
The amount shall be payable by the company in two equal installments; and the leasing of the LMC and NIOC piers at the Freeport of Monrovia by the Western Cluster.
For the reconditioning of the road by filling potholes from the Bomi Hills Mines to the St. Paul River, the MOU mandates the company to pay contractor during repair to the extent of US$1.5 for road.
The Ministers of Mines and Energy, Finance and Development Planning, Justice and the Chairman of the National Investment Commission (NIC) Gesler Murray, Samuel Tweah, and Molewuleh B. Gray signed the MOU on behalf of the Liberian government, while Chetan Savant Head of Projects of Western Cluster signed on behalf of his company.
The MDA signed between the Government of Liberia and Western Cluster in 2011 mandates the company to provide the amount of US$2M as benefits to the affected communities.
The amount of US$200,000 annually is to also be provided for education to Bomi, Grand Cape Mount, and Gbarpolu Counties.
The company has been mandated to provide housing facilities, job training opportunities both locally and international, health care opportunities for employees in its concession areas.
According to the MDA, the company must also provide education opportunities for employees’ children between the ages of 5 to 21 years old by constructing a General School for them.
It was requested to truck iron ore from Bomi to the Freeport of Monrovia by putting in place all necessary security and environmental measures for a three year-period following the completion of its railway construction.
The MDA was signed by former Liberian Vice President Joseph Nyuma Boakai (who was the President of the Senate), Senate Secretary Nanborlor Singbeh, former House Speaker Alex Tyler and the Chief Clerk of the House of Representatives Mildred Sayon.
Western Cluster did not live up to the MDA signed and packed off Liberia following the outbreak of the Ebola Virus Disease (EVD).
The company surreptitiously returned following the signing of an overnight MOU without the full consent and acquiescence of the locals.