Liberia: Reject the Mittal Steel Amended Agreement

From the look of things, the Legislature appears set to approve the controversial extension of the Mittal Steel Agreement, despite public protest and calls from Project Affected Communities (PACs) to reject the terms of the Agreement.

This is because the communities in which the company operates complain that ArcelorMittal Liberia (AML) has reneged on its contractual responsibilities and obligations to them.  

But more to that, under this amended agreement, the Yekepa-Buchanan railway has effectively been ceded to AML, which is bad for the country.

At the heart of this new agreement is control over the Yekepa-Buchanan railway and the port of Buchanan including facilities in the port. Mittal Steel, for all intent and purpose, appears bent on usurping Liberia’s sovereign rights over key facilities which will effectively deny Liberia of significant revenue.

And judging from President Weah’s comments it appears that the matter is already sealed. But at what cost, we ask?  This is what President Weah had to say: “We are delighted to have reached this important agreement with ArcelorMittal Liberia, our long-term partner in the development of the mining sector in Liberia. This agreement demonstrates to the world that Liberia welcomes foreign direct investment and is a key emerging destination for capital. It further supports the Government’s ’Pro Poor’ agenda, which is underpinned by the importance of creating jobs to lift Liberian citizens out of poverty. The further investment by ArcelorMittal in Liberia bears testament to the company’s confidence in the future of this country. We are confident that our constructive working relationship will go from strength to strength.”

From all indications, President Weah has chosen to ignore the cries of the Liberian people to reject the agreement because it undermines our sovereignty and control over key and prized national assets. More to that, Mittal Steel has not only consistently reneged on some of its contractual obligations and responsibilities, as alleged by its affected communities, it has paid very little in taxes.

According to the Liberia Extractive Industry Transparency Initiative (LEITI) 2016/17 report, Mittal Steel paid the amount of US$220.000 in taxes to the Liberian government. In 2017/2018 it paid US$131,930 in taxes.

Over the same period, Mittal Steel produced 1,306,052 and 3,186,254 tons of iron ore, while prices stood at US$46 and US$86 per ton respectively.

This clearly suggests that Liberia has been shortchanged by Mittal Steel since its inception, despite the lofty promises about benefits accruing to Liberia. The company has reneged on some of its contractual responsibilities and obligations with impunity. Its errant behavior prompted a lawsuit against it filed by former Grand Bassa Senator, Gbehzongar Findley, on behalf of the people of Grand Bassa. Similar errant behavior in Nimba angered the people and resulted in protest action led by Poro Zoes, which shut down rail traffic for a period.

There are also voices of protest from the people of Bong County as well, against such errant behavior. But Senators have chosen deliberately to ignore such concerns. As a matter of fact, they kept the agreement away from the public and did not subject it to public vetting. Such conduct has not only aroused public suspicion but has given rise to allegations of bribery. 

Additionally, according to sources, ArcelorMittal is doing all it can to prevent or undermine efforts by mining consortiums HPX and Ivanhoe Liberia to actualize their operations, exporting iron ore from Guinea making use of the railway from which Liberia stands to benefit immensely if it maintains sovereign control over the Yekepa-Buchanan railway. 

The endgame for ArcelorMittal is to frustrate and even strangulate other iron ore investments in the subregion by its control of the crucial Yekepa-Buchanan railway which could leave HPX, Solway Mining and others with no choice but to concede, either by significantly lowering the price of their ore for AML, or an outright takeover by AML. 

This newspaper, the Daily Observer, has consistently warned officials of this government to refrain from pushing the people into a state of desperation.  This is because, from experience, there will more likely than not be pushback and some may take forms which could serve to effectively undermine the legitimacy and authority of this government.

The House of Representatives is urged to reject the agreement and the Daily Observer enjoins civil society, especially the Consortium of Independent Liberian Media Outlets that have called for transparency and are currently pursuing action under the scope of the Freedom of Information (FoI) Law. 

The public is aware that big money is at play here. Below are comments allegedly attributed to Vasilis Frank Timis, a Romanian born, Australian businessman and former convict. He is said to be a shady character who, by hook or crook, managed to arrange a sweetheart deal awarding him virtual control over most of Sierra Leone’s iron ore industry for over 90 years. This was during the reign of former President Ernest Bai Koroma.

“Put together a government whose functionaries are hell-bent on making money for self and associates at all costs, add a minister who is ready to sell his own soul to the devil for money from whatever quarter, add a President who sees nothing wrong in being unable to separate his private and government coffers and into this mix put a parliament made up of bleating goats ready to sing any song that lines their pockets and finally coat the mixture with a nest of vipers passing off as journalists whose pockets have ever-yawning chasms. And Presto, you have the right combination. Corruption that beggars belief!!!”

Remember the story of Big Boy 1 and Big Boy 2?