Liberia: Have They not Heard of the Maxim that Says “Truth Crushed to the Earth Shall Rise Again”?

the case of Mittal Steel

ArcelorMittal Liberia (AML) the iron ore and steel conglomerate has from all indications stepped its campaign of misinformation by feeding false narratives to the public all in an image building attempt to wipe clean her slate of broken promises, unbridled greed and errant corporate behavior.

An example of this is the press release published in the Hot Pepper and other newspapers accusing the Daily Observer of blackmail and of misrepresenting the facts in its editorials.

This is indeed a cheap shot intended to smear the image of the Daily Observer, whose hard-earned reputation was gained by its unflinching commitment to the truth, accurate, fair and balanced reporting over the years.

Mittal Steel’s media team, which includes in its ranks a slew of ex-officials of the past Sirleaf government, has at no time ever contacted the Daily Observer, but has instead circulated what it claims was a letter of concern addressed to the Daily Observer.

The Daily Observer notes that twenty-four hours after the release of the purported letter to the press, it had still not received a copy. This prompted phone calls to ArcelorMittal Liberia’s communications manager, Mr. Winston Daryoue who claimed not to know why the Observer did not receive a copy of the letter. 

A call was also placed to Mr. Elias Shoniyin, who did not answer but did return the call. Shoniyin is a former long-serving Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs under President Sirleaf and now communications consultant to ArcelorMittalLiberia (AML).  He admitted having approved the so-called final draft of the letter but does not recall seeing the word “blackmail” in the letter, nor had he seen the copy of the letter obtained by the Daily Observer from another media outlet.

Last week the Daily Observer, in its December 8 editorial headlined, “We Hope Not, Not This Time for Heaven’s Sake!, noted that Mittal Steel had launched a media blitz in an attempt to counter several media reports highlighting concerns by local communities in Nimba, Bong and Grand Bassa Counties about what those communities have termed as its irresponsible corporate behavior.

The communities maintained that Mittal Steel has reneged on its contractual obligations and commitments to their respective communities, which are enshrined in the 2010 amended agreement.

On reflection, the original 2004 agreement between the Liberian government and Mittal Steel was so lopsided that international watchdogs, especially Global Witness, likened the powers granted to Mittal under the agreement to that of a state within a state.

For example, according to Global Witness, the original agreement gave Mittal Steel complete control over the railway and port infrastructure, two major and prized national assets. It also gave Mittal Steel complete freedom to set the price of iron ore.    

Additionally, the agreement had a stabilization clause that superseded Liberian law on income tax, royalties and other payments due to the government. These are but a few examples of flaws that Global Witness highlighted in its observations on the 2004 agreement amended in 2008.

But as Global Witness noted, the 2008 amended agreement still contained provisions considered contrary to best practices. For example, the Confidentiality clause remained unchanged and, according to sources, the current agreement, as well as the proposed draft amended agreement, maintains the Confidentiality Clause.

The Daily Observer has consistently brought to public attention the need to subject concession agreements to rigid public scrutiny in the best interest of the country. This is why it has unfailingly reported and commented on the Mittal Steel Agreement. The Daily Observer has made no secret of the fact that it is outrightly opposed to predatory concession agreements from which the country stands to benefit little or nothing.

A case in point is the Mittal Steel concession agreement signed between the Government of Liberia and ArcelorMittal Liberia (AML) in 2004. Since 2004, the agreement has undergone several amendments, some of which have addressed some critical issues of concern although not exhaustively.

Additionally, the Daily Observer has every color of right to hold an opinion and express that opinion in an unfettered manner. This is in keeping with Article 15 of the Constitution.

In keeping with this constitutional provision, the Daily Observer has expressed its opinion on what its believes are Mittal Steel’s undeclared intent concerning ownership and control of those key and prized national assets, the Yekepa-Buchanan railway and Buchanan port infrastructure. More to this, the Daily Observer remains unimpressed for obvious reasons by whatever praises showered on ArcelorMittal by the Liberia Revenue Authority (LRA) for being the highest taxpayer. 

However, this claim is contradicted by the 2017/2018 Liberia Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative report, which clearly states that Mittal Steel paid US$220,728 and US$131,930 in 2016/2017 and 2017/2018 respectively. Further, Mittal Steel has reneged on its contractual obligations and commitments contained in the amended 2010 agreement.

Under that agreement, Mittal Steel was to pay a total of US$3 million annually to Nimba, Bong, and Grand Bassa Counties. In the newly proposed amendment, Mittal Steel seeks to reduce the payment to US$1.5 million total Nimba (US$900,000), Bong (US$300,000), and Grand Bassa (US$300,000).

On yesterday, December 15, the railway line in Nimba was reportedly attacked by unknown individuals and set on fire according to news reports aired on OK FM. This is clearly an ominous development arising out of the general feeling of ill will towards Mittal Steel, owing to its errant corporate behavior.  

These are hard facts that stare us in the face. Mittal Steel will do itself well by checkmating what appears analogous to and indistinguishable from greedy and predatory corporate behavior. Above all, Mittal Steel need not be reminded that those days are gone when 64 out of 66 concession agreements signed into law were all bogus. And this is what is haunting us today.

Some of those very PR consultants were once key players in the government that signed all those bogus agreements into law. By a strange twist of fate, they now find themselves defending the indefensible in vain and futile attempts to “crush truth to the earth”.

Have they not heard of the maxim that says: “Truth Crushed to the Earth Shall Rise Again”?