Bomi Citizens Petition Supreme Court to Halt Western Cluster’s Operations
— But will Justice-In-Chamber Gbeisaye adhere to their demand?
Citizens of Bomi County have petitioned the Supreme Court to place a stay order on the operations of Western Cluster Liberia Limited, the company that has been given the go-ahead by the Liberian government to mine the Western Cluster iron ore deposits located in Bomi Hills, Bea Mountain, and Mano River.
The petition for the writ, according to an unimpeachable source at the Supreme Court, is filed before Associate Justice Yamie Quiqui Gbeisaye, current Justice-in-Chamber.
The request from the people of Bomi is backed by Chapter III of the 1986 Constitution, which provides for the protection of fundamental rights of the people, with special emphasis on equality, right to life and liberty etc.
But merely providing these fundamental rights is not sufficient. It is essential that these rights are protected and enforced as well — and to do so, the Constitution, under Article 21, provides the right to any person whose rights, under this category, has or are being violated, to approach the Supreme Court.
At the same time, the two articles give the right to the highest courts of the country to issue writs in order to enforce Fundamental Rights.
It is against these backdrops that the citizens of Bomi, under the auspices of the Bomi County United Concerned Citizens, have requested the Supreme Court issue the writ of prohibition against the implementation of the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) entered into and between the government and the Western Cluster.
The question remains to be answered as to whether Justice Gbeisaye will decline to issue the stay order (writ of prohibition).
However, if Justice Gbeisaye agrees not to issue the writ, the Bomi Concerned Citizens can still file the request to the full Bench of the Supreme Court.
The suit comes a few days after the parent company of Western Cluster Liberia has expressed its readiness to operate within the framework of its mineral development agreement (MDA) as well as any other rules and regulations as may be required by the country.
Western Cluster Liberia, which is owned by Vedanta Resources PLC, an Indian multibillion-dollar corporation, has been under pressure of late to honor the terms of its 25-year contract for the mineral-rich Bomi Hills mines, which the company ignored but resumed operation through a contentious MoU signed with the government in 2022.
The MoU, which has been beset by a wave of negative reviews, saw the company's debt of US$23.5 million canceled by the administration of President George Weah for US$10 million — something that angered locals in the concession areas who are now threatening strike actions.
Western Cluster ceased mining operations in 2011, returning nearly 12 years later, claiming that certain supervening circumstances forced it to suspend operations that year after acquiring the full rights to the Bomi Hills mine from Elenilto in a deal worth close to US$100 million.
But this time, Western Cluster and its parent company are assuring Liberians that they are ready to comply with and abide by all applicable laws, which control or cover its mining operations, especially the Decent Work Act so that maximum opportunity will be given to Liberians for training and employment.
But Bomi Concerned Citizens are arguing that the MoU failed to provide them detailed information about the company's operation, as well as citizens’ participation in the plan of the company’s operations in the county.
Western Cluster is expected to mine 30 million tons of iron ore annually from its Bomi Hills mine, which is also rich in quartz, hematite, magnetite, and other minerals.
Vedanta Resources is an Indian diversified mining company headquartered in London, United Kingdom, and the largest mining and non-ferrous metals company in India and has mining operations in Australia and Zambia and oil and gas operations in three countries.
The company began operation last year via its Sesa Goa iron ore business and has since emerged as one of the largest and most sustainable iron ore producers in Western Africa. It will focus strongly on innovation, green technologies, socio-economic upliftment of communities at large, and most importantly community development initiatives.
It has mining concessions rights to the Bomi, Bea, and Mano mines situated in Western Liberia, a region that is notorious for its high poverty rate. According to Vedanta, mining operations will commence from the Bomi mine which is very well connected to the Freeport of Monrovia from where it can cater to any international markets.
The Western cluster iron ore deposit was first acquired by Elenilto Minerals & Mining LLC, Delaware (Elenilto), who then established Western Cluster Liberia as a wholly-owned subsidiary before selling it to Sesa Goa, a subsidiary of Vedanta Resources PLC, in 2011 under the administration of the President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf without throwing a shovel.
The Western Cluster ore deposits lie in Bomi Hills, Bea Mountain, and Mano River, in the country's western region, which is known for its high poverty rate. The Bomi Hills deposit was once owned by the former Liberia Mining Company (LMC), which ceased work in 1990.
Similarly, this is the case of the Mano River deposit, which was once owned by the former National Iron Ore Company (NIOC), which also ceased operation in 1990. The Bea River deposit remains unmined.