Disclose the Details of the Proposed Bao Chico Iron Ore Concession Agreement, Mr. President!

President George Manneh Weah

According to sources, currently before the Legislature is a proposed bill from the Executive seeking ratification for an iron ore mining concession agreement.

Further, according to sources, the proposed concessionaire is said to be owned by a subsidiary of a Chinese state-owned construction conglomerate.  Nothing much, it appears, is known about this company aside from its connection to the China Henan International Cooperation Group (CHICO) a Chinese road construction firm currently doing business in Liberia.

From what the Daily Observer has gathered, this company has been involved in mining exploration in Bomi County for some time now. A former official (name withheld) of what was then the Ministry of Lands and Mines, told the Observer that the iron ore deposits this Chinese company seeks to exploit are more likely than not, a part of what is referred to as the Western Cluster.

According to the former official, the Western Cluster was concession out to Elenilto, a fly-by-night company formerly involved in buying and exporting scrap metal during the Ellen Johnson Sirleaf administration. As to whether the Elenilto still holds the concession agreement for the Western Cluster remains unclear. However, it is known that in 2011, Sesa Goa signed what is referred to as definitive share purchase and operation agreement with Elenito Minerals and Mining LLC Delaware, under which Sesa Goa agreed to acquire 51% of the outstanding common shares of Western Cluster Liberia (WCL) in return for a cash payment of US$90 million.

The WCL is a subsidiary fully owned by Elenito that won the bid for the development of the Western Cluster during the reign of President Sirleaf. But to the disappointment of the public, there was not sufficient due diligence done to ascertain whether Elenito, a scrap dealer, had the requisite pedigree. But the agreement was passed anyway. It can be recalled that former Representative Dusty Wolokolie wrote to President Sirleaf, urging her not to sign the agreement until sufficient due diligence had been done. He also wrote his colleagues a similar letter of concern.

But the agreement was passed anyway, amidst suspicion that legislators received BROWN ENVELOPES from the Executive to pass the bill.  Elenito, a broke scrap dealing company had suddenly become owner of a concession which they sold for US$90 million, not having invested a dime!

Since President Sirleaf left office, nothing much has been heard about Sesa Goa’s further involvement in the exploitation of the Western Cluster. According to Porter GeoConsultancy, “the Western Cluster iron ore deposits of Mano River, Bea Mountain, and Bomi Hills are distributed along the old railway from Mano River in the north to Monrovia on the coast, in western Liberia. 

The Mano River deposit is located immediately SE of the river of the same name, which forms the border between Liberia and Sierra Leone and is approximately 120 km NNW of Monrovia (#Location: 6° 49' 05"N, 10° 07' 34"W), while Bea Mountain is 20 km to the SSE. Bomi Hills is a further 30 km to the SSE (#Location: 6° 53' 53"N, 10° 49' 27"W), and 70 km north of Monrovia.

The Mano River deposit is developed on the seven high hills adjacent to the Mano River, which are form a string of peaks along the ridge of underlying, resistive banded magnetite iron formation. The iron formation has been deformed into a tight, axial-plane faulted, 'S-shaped', synform-antiform pair.  The mineralized iron formation has a width of up to 1 km, and occupies ~16 km of the ~30 km in the district. The mapped iron formation is compressed within an area of ~5 x 12 km and strikes ~NE-SW, with tight closures. 

The enclosing country rocks are predominantly felsic gneisses. The orebodies are composed of magnetite and goethite and contain up to 56% Fe, derived from the desilicification and lateritisation of the magnetite iron formation (Abdulla, UN, 1970).  This was the former National Iron Ore Company (NIOC) mine that was worked until 1990.

The Bea River deposit corresponds to a pronounced ridge of banded magnetite iron formation that extends over an east-west trending interval of ~22 km, within granite gneiss country rock, several km north of the contact with broadband of mafic gneisses. This resource had not been mined in 2012.

The Bomi Hills deposit consists of a chain of magnetite banded iron formation ridges, with a composite strike length of ~18 km. The Mineralisation comprises massive, coarse-grained magnetite containing ~20% hematite, and averaging 62 to 66% FeTotal. The amount of hematite decreases with depth and the gain size increases. This was the former Liberia Mining Company (LMC) mine that was worked until 1990.

And now enters Bao Chico, a Chinese government company seeking to acquire concession rights to mine iron ore in Liberia. As noted earlier, this company has been doing exploration in Bomi County.  This is giving rise to public suspicion that mining operations will be carried out in the Western Cluster, which is owned jointly by Elenito and Sesa Goa. This is a matter that needs clarification for the benefit of the public.

Liberia, according to sources, was shortchanged by the actions of its legislators who approved the 2011 Elenilto concession agreement that bore no tangible benefits for the Liberian nation and people. Are our legislators going to repeat the mistakes of the past in this instance? So far, the details of the proposed concession agreement are shrouded in secrecy, not having been made public.

It is incumbent, therefore, on our legislators to share with the public the details of this proposed bill from the Executive which, according to President Weah, holds much promise for the Liberian nation and people. Recalling history, the same story was told by President Sirleaf about Elenilto and see what she bequeathed to the posterity of this nation -- 66 bogus and flawed concession agreements. But if she did it and got away, why not President Weah?

Our legislators cannot afford to fail the Liberian people this time. They must demand and insist on due diligence and, most of all, make public the details of the concession agreement. Above all, they should bear in mind that a day of reckoning is sure to come.