Is Due Diligence Too Much to Ask of Our Legislators?

Headless Leadership (Senators Numene Bartekwa (L) and Simeon Taylor of Grand Kru and Grand Cape Mount Counties.)




Considered against the backdrop of declaration of support for the controversial but secret Bao-Chico concession agreement by  Senators Numene Bartekwa and Simeon Taylor of Grand Kru and Grand Cape Mount Counties, respectively, the public is constrained to ask just what is in this agreement for Liberia and the people of Gbarpolu County.

This question is necessary in view of ongoing public concerns about the amended ArcelorMittal Liberia (Mittal Steel) agreement, given its (Mittal Steel) default in meeting commitments and obligations under the previous agreement. Only recently, former Grand Bassa Senator Gbehzohngar Findley, purportedly acting on behalf of the people of Grand Bassa County, filed a lawsuit against Mittal Steel for its failure to honor its legal commitments and obligations under the Concession Agreement.

In the same breath, the people of Nimba County have asked their legislators to reject the extension of the Mittal Steel Agreement because of the company’s failure to live up to its legal obligations and commitments.   The proposed amended agreement is currently before the Senate, seeking ratification. However, the public insists that the agreement be made public for proper vetting.

One prime issue of concern is the confidentiality clause in the agreement which the Government of Liberia has apparently chosen to maintain in the proposed amended agreement. Questions have been asked time and again: why is a confidentiality clause necessary and what is it that Mittal Steel as well as government officials seek to keep away from the public?

No answers have yet been forthcoming. Perhaps the search for answers to such burning questions of national concern was one of several or the main trigger that served to propel several media houses to file a request under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) demanding public access to concession agreements.

So far, it remains unclear whether this request is going to be met. However, signs suggest that the matter is not going away, at least not now. The fact that two senators have openly expressed backing for the “Kukujumuku” Bao-Chico iron ore concession agreement while the public has yet to access the agreement strongly suggests, according to a rights activist (name withheld) that this is a “Kro Kro Gee” arrangement involving top officials and that is the reason why, according to him, only a few select individuals are in the know of it (Kukujumuku).

It is principally for this reason that media houses, acting on expressed public concerns, filed the FOIA . If legislators are supposed to be representing the people, then why should matters that concern their welfare be kept secret and undisclosed to them? Legislators ought to be reminded that they are servants and not masters of the people.

In the not distant future, we expect a situation wherein local communities will begin taking legal action (Class Action Suits)  against legislators who signed bad concession agreements with the view of having illegally acquired assets seized. 

To accomplish this, the lawmakers’ respective voting records will be checked to determine whether their votes were influenced by the receipt of “brown envelopes”. In such cases, communities can also seek redress from the concessionaires through Class Action Suits in foreign -- including US -- jurisdictions.

Concessionaires should also be placed on notice to the effect that gone are the days when Liberians stood idly by, unconcerned either out of ignorance or apathy, when predatory concession agreements were signed purportedly in the interest of the people. To the best of publicly available information the Government of the People's Republic of China is said to be heavily linked to the Bao-Chico concession agreement.

China has often been accused of ignoring human rights concerns in countries in which they do business, preferring to treat such matters as non-interference in internal affairs. However, there are concerns that the agreement may contain provisions obnoxious to the interests of the people of Gbarpolu and Liberia.

Moreover, there are issues concerning the transport of the ore to Monrovia which remain unclear. Is Bao-Chico going to rehabilitate the old railway line from Mano River to Monrovia or is the ore going to be carted to Monrovia aboard trucks as some sources suggest? What then are or would be the environmental implications? 

By the way, to the best of publicly available information, no environmental impact assessment has been made of the proposed new mining project and neither has the volume of ore to be extracted been publicly disclosed.

For the record, this newspaper views the People's Republic of China as a valuable partner in Liberia’s development efforts and should be open to Chinese investments. However, we cannot fail to express outright opposition to any concession agreements between Liberia and China that are non-transparent, predatory in nature and militates against the strategic interests of the nation and its people.

Recalling history, the Liberian people were promised huge benefits when the concession agreement involved Bethlehem Steel for the commercial exploitation of very high grade iron ore (90% Fe content) in Bomi County.

Despite the millions of dollars earned in profit, Liberia, especially the people of Bomi, received little or nothing in benefits, leaving Bomi Holes, huge excavation pits which have since become filled with water (Blue Lake) as a stark reminder of its predatory presence and irresponsible corporate behavior.

Using these examples as a guide to action, media houses and the public at large seek to know the details of the Bao-Chico concession agreement. Members of the Legislature are under obligation to open, for public vetting, the Bao-Chico concession agreement in order to determine whether or not the mining agreement contains provisions that are detrimental to the interests of Liberia, especially to mining communities.

In view of this, we call on Senators Bartekwa and Taylor to make the agreement available for public vetting, since they believe that the Bao-Chico concession agreement is in the best interests of Liberia. We also call on legislators to withhold ratification of that document until sufficient due diligence is done. This is not too much to ask, or is it?