Representative Clarence Massaquoi (Lofa County Electoral District #3), has expressed government’s preparedness to revisit agreements done with concession companies in the country in an effort to curb “the too many suspected discrepancies between the agreements and the existing realities.”
“We did not bring investors to keep our people at a disadvantage position, because it does not make sense to protect investors at the expense of the very people we took an oath to work for,” Rep. Massaquoi said during a Truth Breakfast Radio morning talk show on Monday, January 21, 2019.
Massaquoi, who is serving as the head of a special concession review committee, said at this time it should be known to companies that have been in the country for several years that now is time for Liberians to be managers of their businesses rather than they alone being at the forefront all the time.
“Our economy is struggling currently. Our people are going to bed with some frustration. The effects of some of the concession agreements that we have passed or entered into are intended to bring economic relief to our people, but if the case is different, it means there is a need for us to review what we signed onto and correct what is happening at the various concession areas,” he said.
Concerning how the special concession review committee came about, the Lofa lawmaker said he wrote a letter to the office of the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Bhofal Chambers calling his attention to the need for the plenary to look into the need to revisit the agreements between the government of either former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf or the present leadership of President George Weah.
Although he did not name his fellow committee members, Massaquoi said there are Legislators of integrity who have been chosen to serve and being a Lawmaker at the Lower House for seven years now, he is sufficiently informed about all the deals the government, through the Legislature and the Executive, entered into with investors.
“There are quality people on that committee and I can assure the Liberian people that nothing less than quality service will be done,” he assured.
He said the reason of the review is not to undo what the previous government did but to verify as to whether the concession companies are living up to the task they promised when they got the opportunity to do business with the government.
The Unity Party Lawmaker said during the two tenures of President Ellen Sirleaf the then ruling Unity Party (UP) entered into good agreements with the investment partners and going forward there are re-visitations of the deals in order to make things right.
He noted that the government is continuity and as such it behooves the 54th National Legislature to continue providing the Legislative oversight on businesses that the government entered into with investors.
When he was asked as to whether he was cognizant that the economy may suffer more trouble in case some companies are asked to cease operations he responded:
“Aware of the fact that the government has waived tens of millions of United States dollars in taxes to concession companies in the effort to allow them to operate smoothly, more so with their promises to employ more Liberians and produce certain simple but basic things that we are still importing;
“I have come to tell the Liberian people that in the wisdom of the Legislature, in its wisdom I think it will be good to have companies who are ready to deliver on their promises rather than perpetually allowing those who don’t mean well for the country to continue their operations here,” he said in an unapologetic voice.
Massaquoi said his committee has already written the Bureau of Concessions (BOC), the Liberia Revenue Authority (LRA) and the National Investment Commission (NIC) to send in their reports on the compliance of each of the companies operating in the country so as to help his team in its job.
“The NIC will give us a list of all the investors and investments in the country while the LRA will give us their report on the compliance of companies when it comes to what they promised they were going to do,” he said.
He added that the Bureau of Concessions will state within its report as to whether a company is in complete violation of the concession laws of the country.
“I can boast that we have good laws but our challenge as a country is the implementation of the laws to their fullness. Our work is not meant to scare investors but it has to be established that the country is also not robbed of its benefits,” he said.
According to Massaquoi, of the sixty-eight concession agreements said to have been entered into by the government and investors under the administration of former President Sirleaf, a little over twenty have reached the Legislature for ratification while the majority of them got into the business through thresholds standards.
“It is very difficult to erase public perception in any political setting but I tell you the truth, we had direct control over a little number of all the concessions,” he said.
The UP Lawmaker said he did not mean in any way that the Executive branch of the past government did anything wrong but according to the Legislature, concessions that are valued below US$10 million were not subject to ratification by the Legislature.
He lamented on what he called high unemployment rate in the country and said the exercise by his committee could change the story in some way.
“Look at what happened at the Buchanan Renewable Energy (BRE) then. Imagine the challenging cases with the Liberia Agriculture Company (LAC), the Firestone Rubber company, the then BHP Billiton. Many of our people are now out of jobs because of bad labor practices,” he said.