Liberia: Snowe Bows Out of Controversial Western Cluster MDA Negotiation
Mounting pressure from citizens of Bomi County and other Liberians has constrained Senator Edwin Melvin Snowe to relinquish his role(s) in the renegotiation of the controversial Western Cluster deal, which has been beset by a wave of negative reviews recently.
The Senator, who positioned himself as the chief negotiator for the county, steps aside from negotiation with the company following immense public pressure which has since led to the company’s fate hanging in the balance
The citizens complained that the deal is not in the interest of the county, having brought no benefits — be it jobs or development projects. They have expressed disappointment that he could not prioritize their interest despite being top ranking member of the Liberian government negotiation team that has been engaging the company to resume operations in Bomi, Grand Cape, and Gbarpolu counties.
Snowe has been accused and publicly condemned for his role(s) in the signing of the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) that rearranged the financial obligations Western Cluster Mining Company had with the government and people of Liberia under a Mineral Development Agreement signed in 2011. Many, including the former Deputy Minister of Information, Eugene Fahngon, have also accused the lawmaker of profiteering from the process.
But the enraged lawmaker has maintained that he has done no wrong and that his only crime is to ensure that the company resumes operations and provides jobs for citizens of Bomi or relinquish the MDA signed with the government for 25 years for the purpose of mining iron ore. Snowe traveled to India for several days, where he said he did all he could to persuade the hierarchy of the company to return to Liberia.
Despite his clarity and pronouncement of innocence of any clandestine activity against the welfare of the people of Bomi and Liberia, Snowe continues to receive a barrage of criticism from Liberians both at home and in the Diaspora.
He could no longer take it during a town hall meeting with citizens of Bomi County on Wednesday, when he symbolically washed his hands of anything concerning Western Cluster. He told the audience that his reputation is being damaged by citizens of the county and other members of the public for his role in the renegotiation of the deal.
Senator Snowe told the Bomi County Legislative Caucus, through its chairman, Senator Morris Saytumah, that he no longer wanted anything to do with the Western Cluster Deal, relinquishing his post as the Bomi Legislative Caucus’ chief negotiator.
He said what he is experiencing is unjustified damage to his character and reputation, all because he decided to work in the interest of his constituency, for the citizens to get a better livelihood through the resumption of the Western Cluster iron ore mining operations.
“When we started this Western Cluster thing, you asked me to represent the Caucus in ensuring that company comes back and does its best for our people. From all indications, our people are not happy. I am advising you, Mr. Chairman, let the caucus meet, let’s take the necessary action for our people to be protected. But going forward, the assignment that you gave me, as member of the Caucus, to represent the Caucus in these discussions, I hereby relinquish that assignment as from today. I don’t want to have anything to do with Western Cluster. Find somebody from the Caucus and the County to move forward with the Western Cluster situation.
“Moving forward, anything in the past, clarification, explanation that you want, I am prepared to give. But as of today’s date, I don’t want to have anything that has to do with Western Cluster. I have been called a criminal. My family is crying; my children are calling me. I am a human being. I am somebody’s son too. If what I did was wrong, I apologize to the people of Bomi County. But God is my judge, and I know my heart. Thank you. I am out of this whole process,” Snowe said as he relinquished his assignment to Senator Morris Seytumah of Bomi County.
Many believe his resignation could bring a sigh of relief to citizens and residents of the western region of the country who have demanded the cancellation of the MOU as it does not benefit them.
The citizens said at the town hall meeting that the Western Cluster deal was plastered with deceit by their Representatives and Senators and presented to them.
It can be recalled that on Wednesday, June 8, 2022, Western Cluster broke ground to recommence its operations in Bomi. The ground breaking ceremony came barely a few days after the government signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the company in Nimba County, instead of the counties that are affected by the company’s operations.
The MOU was signed following the failure of the 2010 MDA the company signed with the government to operate at three iron ore deposits, including the Bomi Hills Mines, in Bomi, Grand Cape Mount, and Gbarpolu Counties.
In a resolution under the banner of the Bomi County United Concerned Citizens, constituents claimed that authorities at Western Cluster and the County Legislative Caucus had miserably failed to provide the necessary information on the operations of the company and what they stood to benefit as a county and people.
The aggrieved citizens, including Paramount, Clan, and Town Chiefs, as well as Youth Leaders, affixed their signatures to the resolution following the climax of a mass meeting held in Klay Town on January 7.
Sen. Snowe, in an Okay FM interview on Thursday, said that he accepted to represent the county’s legislative caucus to negotiate for the company’s return due to the need for the county to work along with the government in a bid to activate something that will boom economic activities and “provide employment opportunities for hundreds of citizens of Bomi.”
“After my nomination by the caucus, I started to engage the Executive to ensure that the company either relinquished or resumed its operations. And the Executive was extremely magnanimous to ensure that citizens of the county benefit from the deal.”
According to him, authorities of the company during the meeting expressed concerns over their inability to settle the US$23 million owed the Liberian government in taxes prior to the outbreak of the Ebola virus disease.
He noted that the company justified that it had previously notified the government about the shutting down of its operations due to the epidemic and wondered why the Liberian government was still billing it (company) even though it was not engaged in mining activities.
Senator Snowe disclosed that he informed the government and authorities of Western Cluster that though the company shut down its operations and notified the government, it still has a “social contract with the three counties” in keeping with the Mineral Development Agreement (MDA) signed with the government in 2011.
He added that the company was requested to fulfill the social agreement with citizens of its operational areas in the amount of US$10 million.
After a long conversation, according to Snowe, Western Cluster said: “We can pay US$5 million now, and when we begin our operation after the first shipment, we will pay the balance of US$5 million.”
“When the MOU was signed,” Snowe said, “my interest and only interest was to make sure my region and my county was taken care of. So, of course, they paid the US$5M to the government of Liberia about four months ago, and the government has acknowledged receipt of the money.
“The government has said to the counties that the Ministry of Internal Affairs should make the request as per the law, and this money will be paid to the three counties.”