Liberia: House Probes Western Cluster Operations

.... As Senate invites the Finance Minister and others to answer questions regarding the US$5 million paid by the company to the government for 3 project counties.

The House of Representatives has unanimously agreed to implacably probe the Western Cluster’s operations in Liberia with many hinting that there would be a closure of the company’s activities if found culpable of wrongdoing.

The Joint Committee on Mines, Concession and Investment, Judiciary and Ways, Means, Finance and Development have been mandated to launch full-scale investigation and advise Plenary within two weeks.

The House’s decision comes amid persistent complaints from residents of Bomi County, Cape Mount, and Gbarpolu Counties on the alleged controversial resumption of Western Cluster operations in the western region of the country. 

Other issues are the failure of the company to fully implement the 2011 Mineral Development Agreement (MDA) which was signed between the government and the administration of former Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.

Western Cluster, which is owned by  Vedanta Resources PLC, resumed mining operations on the Bomi Hills mines — 11 years after acquiring the rights to the mine from Elenilto in a deal worth close to US$100 million.

This comes after Western Cluster signed an MoU with the administration of President George Weah as a means of realizing its 25-year mineral development agreement, to mine 30 million tons of iron ore annually.

The Western Cluster ore deposits lie mostly in Bomi Hills, Bea Mountain, and Mano River, in western Liberia which is known for its high poverty rate.

The Bomi Hills deposit was once owned by the former Liberia Mining Company (LMC), which ceased work in 1990. Similarly, this is the case of the Mano River deposit, which was once owned by the former National Iron Ore Company (NIOC), which also ceased operation in 1990. The Bea River deposit remains unmined.

Meanwhile, the Senate has requested its Secretary to cite the Ministers of Finance and Development Planning and Mines and Energy, as well as authorities of the National Investment Commission, to answer questions regarding the ‘Western Cluster' US$5 million paid to the government for 3 projected counties.

The Senate’s decision comes following an accusation from Bomi County Senator Edwin Melvin Snowe that the government has failed to pay his county share of US$5 million paid by the Western Cluster management to the project affect counties: Bomi, Grand Cape Mount, and Gbarpolu Counties as its social development package.

Snowe is pointing a direct accusing finger at the Minister of Finance and Development Planning, Samuel D. Tweah, Jr, for the prevailing crisis between the Western Cluster and the citizens of Bomi. 

According to arrangements, the MFDP is supposed to pay Bomi US$3.5 million from the total amount of US$5 million paid for the three counties.

“The money was paid to the government of Liberia and that, to date, our people have not received that money. This is a grave situation and failure of the Ministry to disburse the county’s money may lead to other situations that we all do not envisage,” Snowe said. “The situation is serious and none of them have spoken about it to say that they have received the money, which is causing us major embarrassment in that county, and we can no longer tolerate it.”

The Minister of Finance and his co-invitees are expected to appear on January 26, while the House probe, which was being triggered by a communication to plenary Samuel Kogar is expected to kick off this week. 

Kogar who represents the people of Nimba Court District #5 has sought the indulgence of the House to have the operations of the Western Cluster halted with immediate effect and an investigation be carried out against the backdrop of mounting public outcry.

“The citizens expressed some major concerns including the Company's failure to implement the MDA it signed in 2011, unilateral decision to renegotiate the new MOU deal without the citizen's input, employment, health, and education concerns along with infrastructural concerns, I found it prudent that there should be an immediate halt to the company's operations for a speedy investigation in this matter of national concern”, he asserted.

The Western cluster iron ore deposit was first acquired by Elenilto Minerals & Mining LLC, Delaware (Elenilto), who then established Western Cluster Liberia as a wholly-owned subsidiary before selling it to Sesa Goa, a subsidiary of Vedanta Resources PLC, in 2011 under the administration of the President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf without throwing a shovel.