Liberia: Justice Gbeisaye Halts Western Cluster's Operations


— With the restraining order, it means that the fate of the execution of the Western Cluster and the government's MoU is now in the hands of Gbeisaye.

Associate Justice Yamie Gbeisaye has ordered a temporary halt to the mining operations of Western Cluster Liberia  as a result of a writ  prohibition filed by some citizens of Bomi County.

The petition requested the Chamber Justice to suspend the MoU, which allowed Western Cluster to resume mining operation on its Bomi Hills, Bea Mountain, and Mano River mines in Western Liberia.

It was filed by the Bomi County United Concerned Citizens in line with Chapter III of the 1986 Constitution, which provides for the protection of fundamental rights of the people, with special emphasis on equality, right to life and liberty etc. 

With the restraining order, it means that the fate of the execution of the Western Cluster and the government's MoU is now in the hands of Gbeisaye. Hearing into the case is expected on February 14 with a ruling later.

The Bomi County United Concerned Citizens' writ, among other things, argued that Western Cluster MoU with the government  failed to provide detailed information about the company's operation, as well as citizens’ participation in the company’s  operations.

The suit comes after the parent company of Western Cluster Liberia had expressed its readiness to operate within the framework of its mineral development agreement (MDA) as well as any other rules and regulations as may be required by the country.

The MoU, the government had argued, is seen as key towards boosting domestic economic activities in the county. But Bomi citizens consider the MoU as a scam, considering that the government had failed to make copies available despite public pressure.

Western Cluster, which is owned by Vedanta Resources PLC, an Indian multibillion-dollar corporation, has been under pressure of late to honor the terms of its 25-year contract for the mineral-rich Bomi Hills mines, which the company ignored but resumed operation through a contentious MoU signed with the government in 2022.

The MoU, which has been beset by a wave of negative reviews, saw the company's debt of US$23.5 million canceled by the administration of President George Weah for US$10 million, which angered locals in the concession areas who are now threatening strike actions.

Western Cluster ceased mining operations in 2011, returning nearly 12 years later, claiming that certain supervening circumstances forced it to suspend operations that year after acquiring the full rights to the Bomi Hills mine from Elenilto in a deal worth close to US$100 million.

But this time, Western Cluster and its parent company are assuring Liberians that they are ready to comply with and abide by all applicable laws, which control or cover its mining operations, especially the Decent Work Act so that maximum opportunity will be given to Liberians for training and employment.

Western Cluster is expected to mine 30 million tons of iron ore annually from its Bomi Hills mine, which is also rich in quartz, hematite, magnetite, and other minerals.

However, even the Liberian Senate has been jittery over the operation of the company in that region, especially with the use of the MoU as the legal instrument of operation.

The senate said recently that it would seek legal direction from its lawyers to place a temporary stay order on the operations of Western Cluster in the country.

“The Senate will discuss and consult its lawyers regarding the move,” Senate President Pro-Tempore Albert Chie said during one of the senate’s sessions last month. After consulting our lawyers, the Senate will request a temporary stop order on the activities of the Western Cluster.”

The decision will be taken through the oversight responsibility of the senate, Chie said following the appearances of Finance Minister Samuel D. Tweah, Justice Minister Cllr. Frank Musah Dean, and the Minister of Mines and Energy, Gesler Murray.

Vedanta Resources is an Indian diversified mining company headquartered in London, United Kingdom, and the largest mining and non-ferrous metals company in India and has mining operations in Australia and Zambia and oil and gas operations in three countries.

The company began operation last year via its Sesa Goa iron ore business and has since emerged as one of the largest and most sustainable iron ore producers in Western Africa. It will focus strongly on innovation, green technologies, socio-economic upliftment of communities at large, and most importantly community development initiatives.

It has mining concessions rights to the Bomi, Bea, and Mano mines situated in Western Liberia, a region that is notorious for its high poverty rate. 

According to Vedanta, mining operations will commence from the Bomi mine which is very well connected to the Freeport of Monrovia from where it can cater to any international markets.

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.