‘Impossible to Make Wologisi Non-biddable’

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With the quantum of information and data on Wologizi available in 2010 when the PPCC Law was amended, it would have been practically impossible to declare it “a non-biddable” mining area, PPCC Chairman Willie Belleh has said.

In a detailed response to the Global Witness inquiries in April 2016 (before the report was published) about his alleged participation in bribery and loop-holing the PPCC law, Mr. Belleh said that the need for amending the PPCC Law at the time was to update and expand the available information and data on the Wologizi Mountain through additional exploration.

The Global Witness report implicated him and several government officials in a bribery scandal involving the UK-based Sable Mining Company and the Sherman & Sherman Law Firm, intended to secure a Wologizi concession agreement in favor of the mining company.

“Within this context, it is my understanding that between January and September 2010, twelve (12) international mining companies, including Sable Mining, had expressed interest to the Minister of Mines for an exploration license for Wologizi,” he said, adding “like I said, with the quantum of information and data on Wologizi it would have been practically impossible to declare it “a non-biddable” mining area.”

Though he obliged to respond to an earlier Global Witness inquiry about his involvement in the corruption saga, he said it didn’t save his name from the scathing report.

Mr. Belleh is accused in the report of receiving a payment of US$10,000 to help in the process of tampering with the PPCC Law in order to give advantage to Sable Mining Company for the exploration of the coveted Wologizi Mountain in Lofa.

The report said the country’s new Procurement Act passed on September 16, 2010, is replete with the new provisions Sable wanted. Article 75 allowed the mining minister to declare a mining concession as a ‘non-bidding area’ — that is, one that could be handed out without a tender.

Global Witness did not go into detail as to how the ‘non-bidding area’ provisions worked in favor of Sable Mining.

Belleh, however, categorically rebutted the Global Witness allegation.

“It is my understanding that inclusion of the provisions on mineral rights in the amended PPCC Law was ‘ad interim’ pending the enactment of a revised Mining Law, the draft of which is currently (2016) being vetted by stakeholders.”

He said that the specific provisions referred to by Global Witness were introduced by the Mining Sector for situations where there would not be adequately, quantifiable information and data to inform a meaningful bidding process.

“At the time, this was considered as international best practice and, accordingly, was never in contestation in any of the review sessions that I co-chaired. An issue of lesser significance, however, was where to place the provision: in the law or in a regulation? The Liberian stakeholders settled for placing it in the law so that it could not be easily changed by either the Minister of Mines or the Chairman of the PPCC,” he explained.

Article 75, Subsection 3 (a) and (b) of the PPCC Law explain the concept of a non-bidding area:

“(a) A ‘Non-Bidding Area’ is established as to specified Minerals when (i) the Minister responsible for Mines determines, based on a reasoned recommendation of the Geological Survey Department of Liberia (or success or institution), that the available information as to the existence of such Minerals in such area indicates that there are insufficient quantities and/or qualities of such Minerals in such area to support meaningful bidding for the granting of Prospecting or Exploration Licenses for such Minerals in such area and (ii) such determination has been approved by
the IMCC excluding the representation from the sector entity.

(b) A Non-Bidding Area may in the discretion of the Minister responsible for Mines be limited to the grant of Prospecting Licenses valid only for future Eligible Class B Mining Licenses, Eligible Class C Mining Licenses and Eligible Quarry Licenses (or any of them, alone or in combination), and may exclude Exploration Licenses and Class A Mining Licenses…”

Items (c) thru (f) explain the different types of mining licenses a company may apply for under the law.

Then item (g) puts a term-limit on a non-bidding area: “A Non-Bidding Area approved as provided in clause (a) of this subsection (3) will cease to be a Non-Bidding Area two years after the effective date of such approval unless there is a new determination by the Minister as required by such clause (a) and a new approval described in such a clause (a) prior to the end of such two-year period.”

“This provision of the law must be put in proper context,” Belleh told Global Witness. “It is important to clarify that under the provision, the declaration of non-biddable mining areas are not the sole discretion of the Minister of Mines. There are checks and balances embedded in the law. The declaration of a ‘non-biddable area’ by the Minister of Mines must be based on: (1) a reasoned recommendation of the Geological Survey Department of Liberia, that available information as to quantities and/or qualities of specified minerals in the given area are insufficient to support meaningful bidding, and (2) that such determination by the Minister must be approved by the Inter-Ministerial Concession Committee (IMCC), excluding the representative of the Minister of Mines.

“Without a procedure for determining non-biddable areas, the licensing of unknown deposits would be impossible,” he said.

“The absence of the provision had made it impossible for the Ministry of Mines, heretofore, to issue exploration licenses, which are generally issued for the purpose of exploring unknown territories. Thus, the inclusion of this provision in the revised PPC Act was never meant to be in the interest of Sable Mining, or any other mining corporation for that matter, but to provide a reasonable framework for the management of the sector.

“The granting of mining licenses in Liberia is the responsibility of the Minister of Mines under the supervision of the Inter-Ministerial Concession Committee (IMCC). The PPCC, as the regulatory institution, is not involved in the issuance of mining licenses. The Commission’s role is to ensure that the licensing process is in compliance with the legal framework laid out in the PPC Act and applicable regulations.”

Belleh insisted that, “Under the law, a license for a non-biddable area is given out on a “first-to-file basis”. Given the information available of those that expressed interest in Wologizi by September 2010, Sable Mining was not the first to file its interest in Wologizi. So even with this provision in the law, Sable Mining would not and could not have benefited from it.”

The full text of PPCC Chairman Belleh’s response to Global Witness inquiries is published on page 7 of today’s edition.

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