Liberia: Too Much Uncertainty with ArcelorMittal Liberia Revised MDA

It has been well over 45 calendar days (that is, 31 working days) since a consortium of independent news media organizations made a formal request to the Government of Liberia, through the Ministry of Mines and Energy, with notifications to several other entities including the Ministry of Justice, National Investment Commission, Bureau of Concessions and both Houses of the National Legislature for release of ArcelorMittal’s Revised Mineral Development Agreement (MDA) that is now before the National Legislature for consideration into law.  ArcelorMittal is proposing a 25-year extension of its current 2005 concession agreement and has stated that it intends to expand its investment by USD$800 million over the proposed 25-year extension.

On October 19, 2021, the Consortium of media organizations, including the Daily Observer requested that the Government of Liberia make available the agreement for adequate public scrutiny and, in particular, sought clarity on ten specific questions, among them; the results of an Environmental Impact Assessment on the proposed new agreement and the independent reviews and or regulatory assessments of AML’s performance under its current MDA.  The GOL has not responded and the statutory time for responding has elapsed without any comment.  

The Senate was poised to rush through the passage of the agreement but was forced to subject itself to a procedural delay emanating from the House of Representatives, that the MDA should first originate in the House before it can be considered by the Senate for joint ratification.  The Bodies have appeared to resolve their differences and the matter is proceeding through the House Ways and Means Committee, and the Committee on Lands, Mines, and Energy.

This process is supposed to entail a series of expert analyses, and it remains to be seen if the Legislature will hold public hearings for stakeholder engagement and review by industry and sector expert witnesses, including labor and financial experts, economists, environmentalists, geologists, and other experts who can adequately advise the Senate and the House on the best way forward.

ArcelorMittal has not been without its share of controversy.  A lawsuit has been filed by the Former Senator of Grand Bassa County and the Former Minister of Foreign Affairs, Hon. Gbehzongar Findley, joined by other litigants, to halt the MDA, while citizen groups in Nimba have protested AML for failing to meet its many commitments under its current MDA and for a lack of expected returns to the Communities from the current concession.  Now that the Company finds itself once again before the Legislature to extend its MDA, many are asking the Government and the Legislature to ensure that the process is transparent and that all the key concerns from citizens and various groups recently expressed in the media be addressed.

Meanwhile, for its part, ArcelorMittal continues to mount a vigorous public relations campaign, and insists that it has met its responsibilities under the current MDA as touted on the airwaves, what it sees as its accomplishments in meeting many promises and corporate social responsibilities that impact communities.  That is essentially why an open and transparent process that provides the public an opportunity to fully analyze the current and proposed MDA with experts is important and essential.

In July 2009, Liberia passed the Liberia Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (LEITI).  This law is intended to ensure that Liberia joins the rest of the world in ensuring global best practices of transparency in the extractive industries.  The failure of the Government to release the MDA under the Freedom of Information Act runs completely contrary to the spirit and intent of both LEITI and the FOI Act, and it would be a bad precedent to pass this MDA into law without adequate stakeholders engagement by our lawmakers, according to several industry analysts. 

This is a major cause for concern, given that elements in both the Executive and the Legislative branches appear hell-bent on allowing Liberia to be shortchanged by such a monopolistic agreement -- one that we could be tied to until the middle of the 21st Century! 

This is not the first, second or even fiftieth rodeo in the last 15 years. Under the watch of the Ellen Johnson Sirleaf administration, a whopping 64 out of 66 concession agreements signed into law were fraudulent, according to the Moore-Stephens Report, which was never contested by her government. So the Liberian people have not only seen but are living with the effects of flawed long-term agreements, which have only served to be the source of protests, and other forms of unrest, that have often resulted in millions of dollars worth of property damage, shameful public relations for all parties involved, and a bad reputation for Liberia's investment potential. 

And for what? 

Call it fake news or speculation if you like. Yet, it is not far-fetched to see that there is something the Weah administration is not saying to the people of Liberia. There must have been certain promises made in exchange for a certain dollar value for the Government to want to entrench a self-serving concessionaire on the people of Liberia for another 25 years. 

It would be a crying shame for the Government of Liberia to, in this day and age, concede and monopolize valuable sovereign assets to a company that has a 16-year history in this country, marred by one unfulfilled promise after another, one protest by an affected community after another, one uncertainty after another. 

The red flags are too much. These are more than just geological issues. It does not take a geologist to see that Liberia cannot afford to endorse the ArcelorMittal revised MDA without answering all the points of uncertainty and apparent secrecy. 

But the mere fact that the Government has ignored our Freedom Of Information request, which has now elapsed the 30 days prescribed by law, suggests that this government intends to break the law in grand style.