Liberia: Residents of Marshall Decry Surreptitious Sand Mining by Chinese Company
MARSHALL, Margibi – Over 2000 citizens in two communities in Marshall City, Margibi County have been alarmed over the surreptitious operations of a Chinese company engaged in large-scale mining activities along the coastal belt, with a caveat to the government, through their local authorities to desist from entering into any arrangement that does not prioritize their interest and wellbeing.
The communities are Fanti Town and Up Town in Marshall City.
The company identified as Liberia Minerals and Export Company, owned by a Chinese national Carol Chang, is engaged into the mining of what it described as “black sand” along the coastal belt.
Two heavy duty equipment, including dredges have been mounted along the belt, mining and separating the white sand from the black.
The shocking presence and operations of the company have sparked concerns in the communities barely three months after it commenced mining activities.
The locals are concerned that the company was established in the area without their full involvement even though they are the ones that would be greatly affected by erosion if preventive measures are not put in place.
They want the government, through authorities of the Ministry of Mines and Energy and their local leaders to clearly disclose preventive measures put in place to guarantee the safety of their lives and properties, and the social responsibilities of the company to the communities.
The citizens fear that their lives and properties would be threatened if the government fails to put in place measures to prevent or curtail erosion as a result of the ongoing mining.
Speaking in an interview with FrontPage Africa over the week end, one of the youth leaders of Fanti Town, Solomon Marshall claimed that the company’s operations would be detrimental to the locals if the right steps are not taken in a timely.
He disclosed that local leaders of the area have been engaging and inquiring from authorities of the company on relevant issues.
But up to present, Marshall added, that the company has not yet granted them an audience.
“Since the company started operations, we have not heard anything from them yet and they are still doing their work. The citizens are feeling bad about what they are doing. They are dredging and taking the sand and this will affect the community very, very badly. Our lives and properties are being threatened because; dredging will cause erosion into the communities.”
“We have been engaging them most of the time. They promised to sit with us, but up to now, they are still promising. Nothing yet for us to come, sit down and have a conclusion.”
Marshall claimed that residents are currently living in fear as a result of the shocking operations of the company.
He pointed out that residents sometimes ago engaged Marshall City Mayor Robert Williams, on the presence of the company in the city.
“The Mayor only told us that the people came from the Office of the President and there is nothing he can do about that. We, especially the youths are planning to put stop to their operations if they do not come to us to discuss from now to the end of this month.”
According to him, citizens of Marshall are also planning to meet their lawmakers on the operations of the company.
Marshall used this medium to urge residents of the two communities to collectively work together in a bid to ensure that they are not rob of their just benefits.
“Sea erosion occurred here few years ago and we don’t want it to happen again. But if this company continues mining, erosion will come back.”
Detoeh S. Wesseh resides in a compound just a stone throw from the coastal belt where the Liberia Minerals and Export Company operates.
He claimed that the company’s operation may wipe away his property if steps are not taken by government to prioritize the interest of its citizens over foreigners.
“I’m afraid of what they are doing on the beach. I learned sometimes ago, the sea erosion took place from the bay mouth. They are undermining the beach by getting sand from there and sea erosion may happen again.”
“I am asking the government to intervene into what’s going on in Marshall because, I am afraid. When I’m sleeping at night and the sea is roaming heavily, I’m so afraid for my life.”
Wesseh observed that the presence of the company in the area cannot be a “win-win situation” for everyone due to the failure of the relevant authorities of the Liberian government to properly inform the citizens and seek their interest.
“If a company comes in an area trying to operate, I think you will see the way they will engage the youth, elders and people in the area-you will know whether that the company and everyone will be successful. But as we speak, we don’t even know the name of the company even though we live here.”
“We’ve been to the site several times, but what they normally tell us is that, they are from government and it was the government that gave them the green light to operate here. I can’t tell whether it is owned by a government official; but there is a rumour that big hands are around the company.”
The company does not have a signboard portraying its name to the citizens or visitors.
Employees have reneged to state the name of the company. By doing so appears like a taboo for them at the entity.
However, an investigation conducted by FrontPage Africa established that the company is named Liberia Minerals and Export Company.
Wesseh further rallied the citizens to stand up against wrongs that are being done in their communities.
“This should be everybody’s business because when anything happens here, it’s not happening to my one. Everybody will be affected and so, everybody should join me for us to know who is actually behind this mining process going on in Marshall.”
He said the failure of the government to come in and address the concerns of the citizens would lead to persistent peaceful protests in the area.
When contacted via telephone, the General Manager of the Liberia Minerals and Export Madam Carole Chang claimed that her company and the citizens have reached an agreement to operate.
She named the heads of youth and women groups and the elders as some of those that were reached to by the company.
She claimed that the company has a Class B license from the Ministry of Mines and Energy.
When requested to see or have copies of the relevant documents, Madam Chang refused to do so.
“We get our legal documents from your government. You should go to the City Mayor; all of the documents we get are with him and the social agreement on what we will do for the community is also there. We have reached an agreement already and we’ve signed the MOU and I don’t think I have the time to tell you. If you want to know, you can go to the city corporation to find out.”
Madam Chang further claimed that the site being operated by her company is a “new area and no house is around there.”
But contrary to her assertions, FrontPage established that there is a compound hosting a huge mansion just a stone throw away from the operational site of the company.
She pointed out that the areas previously dredged by the company while in search of “black sand” were backfilled to avoid erosion.
She denied reports that her company has a link with some former and current officials of the CDC led-government.
When quizzed who are the incorporators of the company, Madam Chang stated: “I don’t think I should tell you because that is confidential.”
She, however, disclosed that her company will very shortly meet with citizens of the area as part of efforts to commence the fulfillment of the MOU signed.
For his part, Marshall City Mayor Robert Williams stated that the requisite authorities of the Liberian government have given authority to the company to fully operate in the area. Following the authorization, he disclosed these later notified his office.
Mayor Williams added that though he requested copies of their legal documents, the company has failed to have them submitted.
“That portion of the land the company is using is the government portion and the company obtained their license and permit from the requisite institutions which gives them the right to operate. I only saw the company’s documents and they carried back. I asked them for copies but up to now, they have not brought copies to me.”
He pointed out that a Memorandum of Understanding has been signed
He stressed that while it is true that the company is claiming to have obtained the land space from the government, community dwellers will be the ones greatly affected.
Mayor Williams emphasized that as a result of this, the company “needs to do something for the communities.”
“We only have a Memorandum of Understanding between the community and the company and negotiation started for more than a year now. And anytime the company comes, we will call the youths, elders and governor to interact and met with them. The citizens are not telling you the truth. The company agreed to make some money available for scholarships to help build the minds of other young people.”
He disclosed that the company also committed to provide funds for the renovation of the city hall, medicines for the hospital, and construction of hand pumps, among others in the communities.
He said the MOU signed with the company runs for a two-year period, noting that, “the citizens are fully aware about everything that we did.”
Mayor Williams didn’t commit to providing a copy of the MOU signed on grounds that he was out of his office. Though he promised to send the document electronically, he failed to do so up to present.
He named the Youth Chair, Governor, the Chair of the City Council and Chairpersons of various communities within the area as signatories to the MOU.