The Local Non-governmental organization, Committee for Peace and Development Advocacy (COPDA) based in Yekepa, Nimba County has cautioned the leadership and members of the Community Development Management Committee (CDMC) in areas affected by ArcelorMittal Liberia’s mining activity to persist and be proactive in their advocacy.
The Community Development Management Committee comprises women of Nine (9) affected communities within ArcelorMittal operation areas in Nimba County.
The one-day capacity and refresher workshop is to sharpen the knowledge of members of the CDMC to persist on a positive par in their advocacy.
Speaking at the opening of the training, COPDA Executive Director, Ted Brooks, said people who achieve goals in advocacy are those that are consistent and proactive and never give up easily.
He said with the many challenges facing communities around the company’s operation areas in Nimba County, only persistent engagement with responsible stakeholders can help to solve some of the problems.
Although ArcelorMittal remits 1.5Million United Dollars into the account of national government annually as social development funds, those CDMC women complain that not much impact it makes on residents of those communities in the affected areas.
The nine communities that make up the CDMC are Zolowee, Gbapa, Makinto, Sehyi-Geh, Bolo, Lugbeyee, Camp-4, Liagbala and Bonlah.
Mr. Brooks lauded the women for choosing to speak for their people in ensuring that AML makes changes in their communities in line with the Mineral Development Agreement (MDA).
The world giant steel company entered into a 25-year Mineral Agreement with the Liberian government in 2005 to mine Iron Ore from the Nimba grid formerly operated by the Liberian-American-Swedish Mining Company (LAMCO).
A son of Gbapa town, Edmund Saye Gbah who facilitated the workshop, stressed the need for inclusive decisions on the use of the development fund in affected communities.
Mr. Gbah wants women who are direct victims of some of the major circumstances in the affected communities to participate as delegates in district sitting in order to have their own say in some of those major decisions.
He, at the same time, urged those women advocating in the district not to relent until the right things to be done, adding that they should not wait for district or county sitting but should start their engagement two to three months prior to the sitting if their voices must be considered.
Mr. Gbah praised the women’s engagement with ArcelorMittal Liberia, but informed them that the company does not make any decision on the use of the Social Development funds for affected but decided during the county sitting.
“The only thing is that AML guides the process because she is the company that suffers damages when wrong decisions are made at those sittings, but the company does not influence any decision,” said Mr. Gbah. “The affected community’s money has always been used by the citizens with a decision deriving from the district and county sittings,” he added.
For his part, the Executive Director of the local advocacy group Nimba Education Guide, A-Gobac Selekpoh, informed the women to be persistent and consistent in their advocacy and engagement, adding that advocacy in this manner usually produces lasting and tangible results.
Selekpoh claimed that the benefit of advocacy is to see an improvement in the livelihood of the community residents and not the individual.
He said most advocacies have failed over the years due to greed and personal interest, something he described as the downfall of most advocates.
“We don’t want you to be like other people. A decent advocate will never seek his own interest but the interest and greater good of the whole community,” Selekpoh noted.
The Nimba Education Guide Executive Director encouraged the women not to allow challenges to narrow their advocacy, emphasizing that until they achieve their objectives, they should not rejoice yet.
The mines affected community women want ArcelorMittal and central government to ensure that the living condition of people living within the company’s operation areas in the county is transformed through the provision of jobs and the restoration of basic social services such as safe drinking water and paved roads.
They also want the local county authority to include them as delegates for districts and county sittings to enable them present their plights for redress.
They claimed that despite frantic efforts that they have made, they are yet to be afforded the opportunity to participate in any county sitting.
Meanwhile, the Mines affected community women say companies operating in the extractive industry sector of the country sometimes renege on implementing their corporate social responsibilities in line with their respective Mineral Development Agreements (MDA).
The Head of the Community Development Management Committee Madam Helen Weanquoi said affected communities around the concession areas of world giant steel company continue to lament over poor living condition despite the fabulous $1.5 million coming to the county for social development.
ArcelorMittal paid a fee of 1.5 Million United States Dollars annually to the Liberian government in Social Development Funds, and out of that amount, 20% is solely set aside for projects to be initiated in communities directly affected by the mining company operation.
Madam Weanquoi expressed disappointment that with the National government in charge of the funds, the affected communities hardly access the money due to bureaucracies and inconsistences on the part of institutions responsible to release the funding.
“The act is stalling development activities within the mines affected communities,” the CDMC Chairperson said.