It has been more than five weeks since the President of Liberia George Manneh Weah and the CEO of ArcelorMittal, Lakshmi Mittal, signed a revised Mineral Development Agreement (MDA) on Friday, September 10, extending the company’s concession in Liberia for an extra 25 years. Since the agreement, valued at US$800 million, was signed and forwarded to the Legislature for ratification, there has been a rather disturbing silence from the Government of Liberia concerning the details of the revised and extended concession agreement.
No doubt, calls for full disclosure have been made since the signing of the agreement. However, the Government of Liberia seems to be playing deaf to these requests. Many persons in Civil Society, Academia and within the industry are concerned that the MDA has not been disclosed for public debate and now the National Legislature is taking up the issue when the public is unaware of the details of the Agreement.
As a result, a consortium of seven Liberian media institutions are filing a Freedom of Information (FOI) request, demanding full disclosure of the details of the revised MDA and believes that the process should be more transparent. The media institutions, comprising mostly newspapers and a couple of online-only news outlets, include The Inquirer, New Dawn, New Republic, News Public Trust, The Heritage, The Daylight and the Daily Observer.
As the National Legislature resumes official business today, October 18, one of its key assignments before it finally adjourns on December 18, 2021, is to fulfill the wish of President Weah to pass the agreement into law but the public has not been given an opportunity to see what is in the new agreement that will impact the country for 25 years.
However, ArcelorMittal has come under intense criticism lately, by communities affected by its concession, for not living up to its promises in the existing agreement that was signed with the Ellen Johnson Sirleaf administration in 2006 after an initial agreement signed with the Interim Government headed by the Late Gyude Bryant in 2005. Complaints from some in the media over the years have ranged from lack of employment opportunities as promised to other shortcomings with regards to interventions in education and healthcare for those communities most impacted, which are prescribed in the agreement under the concessionaire’s corporate social responsibility.
ArcelorMittal Liberia, in its own defense, has laid out an elaborate list of positive developments and initiatives that it has implemented over the years and is currently running a major public relations campaign in the media touting its efforts ahead of the debate over its MDA.
Yet, the affected communities say such developments only serve the company's own bottom line and are virtually pointless if promises enshrined in the MDA are not fulfilled. And with a revised agreement on the table, the communities are calling the Government of Liberia, through the House and Senate Committees on Concessions, to halt any movement on the agreement until proper due diligence can be performed with the involvement of all stakeholders.
It is not lost on these concession-affected communities and the Liberian public in general that, under the Weah Administration, certain bills that are of interest to the President tend to be granted swift passage through both chambers of the Legislature without adequate scrutiny. Another MDA signed between the Government of Liberia and Chinese conglomerate CHICO-Bao, has been forwarded by the President to the Legislature for their endorsement, simply because "the President says he likes the deal". Requests for full disclosure regarding the Chinese MDA have been ignored to the extent that the public does not know where the Chinese company aims to conduct its mining activities.
The consortium of Liberian media outlets are therefore requesting disclosures of ten very critical issues as part of their FOI request in the form of unanswered questions -- why the revised ArcelorMittal Liberia agreement should be halted until full disclosure is made.
The Freedom of Information Request is being filed with the Ministry of Mines and Energy, which is the sectoral leader on the ArcelorMittal agreement, with copies sent to the Speaker of the House of Representatives, The President Pro Tempore of the Senate, The Ministry of Justice, The National Investment Commission and the National Bureau of Concessions. Both NIC and NBC were part of the negotiations for the revised MDA and MOJ has to legally attest to all major Government contracts and concessions.
The FOI request aims to make the agreement available to the wider public for scrutiny by independent sectoral experts, civil society, affected communities and other stakeholders.
The ten unanswered questions are as follows for which the Consortium seeks release of the revised MDA are:
What is the Economic Impact Assessment of the MDA?
What is the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) as it relates to the expanded investments and the extent to which all issues are addressed?
What is the Estimated income to the Government over the life of the concession?
The request also calls for details on what effect the MDA could have on other potential investors (if any) in sectors impacted by the MDA, to assess full impact on Liberia's private sector growth. Are there any provisions therein for the benefit of Liberian businesses?
A key point of contention that calls for full disclosure involves agreements around the use or expansion of all public infrastructure such as ports, rails, utilities and any other public facilities, and any limitations or sole exclusivity granted in the MDA to ArcelorMittal. On this point, ArcelorMittal Liberia in the past has held the position that it should retain control of the Yekepa to Buchannan rail and certain port infrastructure the company has developed, even though those infrastructure are sovereign assets of the Republic of Liberia. Many industry analysts disagree with this position and argue instead that public infrastructure should never be under the exclusive control of any one company but should be under the control of the Government.
The FOI request also calls for details regarding the estimated 7,000 direct and indirect jobs to be created as stipulated in the Government's press release of September 10, 2021. Including plans for Liberians assuming roles in the management structure.
Speaking of jobs, among other benefits, the request also aims to understand the potential impact on the surrounding and affected communities and their socio-economic development. Affected communities in ArcelorMittal's existing concession areas feel disenchanted that the company has allegedly not lived up to its proposed corporate social responsibilities according to the MDA. This includes job opportunities specifically for residents of the affected communities.
The request calls for disclosure of all GOL performance reviews to date (if any) of the existing concession for compliance and any justifications for the extension.
What are the Government of Liberia's plans, as reported in its September 10, 2021 press release, pertaining to planned expenditures and use of the USD $65 million, agreed to as pre-payment of fees and as signing bonus, the FOI request aims to know.
Finally (for now) the FOI request calls for full disclosure of all proposed monitoring mechanisms to ensure that parties comply with the MDA for the benefit of the Liberian people.
Liberia signed on as a member state of the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative in July 2009, with the passage of a law establishing the Liberia Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (LEITI) to ensure revenue and contract transparency in the extractive sectors. The LEITI's mandate, according to the law, is to assist in ensuring that all benefits due the Government and people of Liberia on account of the exploitation and/or extraction of the country’s minerals and other resources are (1) verifiably paid or provided; (2) duly accounted for; and (3) prudently utilized for the benefits of all Liberians and on the basis of equity and sustainability. A key part of the LEITI's mandate is to promote the public disclosure of contracts and concessions bearing relationship with the extraction of forest and mineral resources.
The FOI Request has been filed and can be accessed here.