Don’t Allow Friendship to Turn Into Cat-Shit Oo!

Flashback: Chinese President Xi Jinping met with Liberian President George Weah on Saturday ahead of the 2018 Beijing Summit of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC).

-- A warning shot to Presidents George Weah and Xi Jinping

Recalling history, President George Weah and his 62-man delegation visited the People's Republic of China to attend the Forum on China and Africa which convened in the Chinese capital, Beijing. 

During that visit, President George Weah was reported to have held bilateral meetings with his Chinese counterpart. Those meetings according to sources were intended to seek development assistance from China. Following those meetings, the Liberian Government announced that the Chinese Government promised Liberia US$54 million cash assistance.

The Liberian Government also announced a mineral swapping deal to allow the Chinese Government to mine minerals in the country for US$2.5 billion worth of development. 

Since then nothing much has been heard about the promised US$54 million cash assistance. To the best of publicly available information, there has been no public disclosure about how this money was expended granted it was indeed received.  Nothing much also has been heard of or about the swapping deal in which the Chinese government is supposed to award Liberia US$2.5 billion in exchange for the right to mine minerals in Liberia.

The proposed location where the minerals occur is not and has not been disclosed neither has there been any disclosure about the type of minerals proposed to be mined and the number of years it would require to mine those minerals.

Recently, there have been media reports of mineral exploration activities being undertaken by Chinese state owned construction giant, Chico, in concert with BAO, another group said to have close links to the Government of China.

As to whether such mineral exploration activities have been carried out within the context of the proposed BAO-Chico concession agreement remains unclear. The proposed concession agreement has not been open to allow public vetting so far. It is said to be one of several concession agreements including that of Mittal Steel awaiting ratification.

And although they are on official break, the legislature has resumed duties in order to address pressing outstanding matters amongst which are the Mittal Steel and Bao-Chico concession agreements.

Of concern to the public is the proposed mineral swapping deal between the governments of China and Liberia. There is a need for the public to be informed about the details of this mineral swapping deal. This means that our legislators should place the matter on the agenda for discussion particularly in view of recent disclosures about Gbarpolu county playing host to proposed mining operations by the Bao-Chico.

While government officials have declared the proposed agreement holds great promise for the people of Gbarpolu, it remains unknown just what such a promise includes. More to that it is unclear whether this proposed Bao-Chico agreement is restricted only to the exploitation of iron ore deposits or other minerals.

Further to that are questions surrounding the promised US$2.5 billion development assistance package and what it includes. But the public has the inherent right to such information. 

Does the proposed infrastructure development package, for instance, include facilities intended merely to facilitate the extraction and transport of mineral ore to the Freeport of Monrovia from where it can be shipped?  No one knows for sure except maybe for a select but unscrupulous few who the public suspects to have vested interests. This newspaper acknowledges that China has been an important development partner to Liberia. Such partnerships can and should be strengthened.

 However, it is important to underscore that such partnerships be mutually and equally beneficial to both sides. This is recognition of the fact that for too long, the Liberian people have been victims of poor decision-making by our national leaders. Much too often, Liberian government officials from the top down have been unwitting accomplices to lopsided concession agreements that feather their nests but bear no promise for the people nor have delivered to them any tangible benefits.  

During the presidency of Madame Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, for example, 64 out of 66 concession agreements passed into law were declared bogus by the Moore-Stephens audit report.  Strangely, her government never did and has never since challenged the validity of that report. As the public rightfully suspects, this was made possible through the payment of outright bribes to legislators.

For example, during the initial period following   President Sirleaf’s assumption of office in 2006, Mittal Steel presented a brand new Mitsubishi pickup to each legislator.  This was ostensibly to influence the terms of the concession agreement, one of which provisions includes the obnoxious non-disclosure clause clearly intended to hide things from the public.

That non-disclosure clause is still retained today despite calls to have it removed during the review process of the newly amended Mittal Steel agreement. This is against the backdrop of a proposed US$800 million package with huge promise benefits to the people. The problem is Mittal Steel like most other concessionaires around the country have promised but failed to deliver on their promises and the government has in most instances appeared impotent to hold them to their promises. 

Such disposition has left local communities to their own devices in finding ways to address their concerns. The legal suit filed by the peoples of Grand Bassa against Mittal Steel, the intervention of the Poro Society in Nimba putting a halt to the transport of ore from Yekepa to Monrovia are clear examples of what can happen when the government fails to act to protect the interests of the people.  

With this in mind, we once again appeal to the government of Liberia, especially President Weah, to release the details of the Bao-Chico agreement as well as details of the mineral swapping for development deal arranged with the People's Republic of China.

It is neither in the interest of Liberia nor the People's Republic of China to, as the Liberian people say “allow friendship to turn into foul smelling cat-shit” repulsive to all sides.

This is a warning shot to Presidents George Weah and Xi Jinping.