Residents of Meinpea-Mahn Administrative District and Lee-Wehyeepea Mahn, Nimba County, are organizing themselves to converge under an umbrella and prevail upon the government for benefits from Arcelor Mittal’s social development funds that goes to the County.
The organization is championed by residents from Zahn Chiefdom, who had earlier begun the initiative by coming together under “Zahnloleawon,” which has the same objective of advocating for social development funds and implementing other development projects.
Eric Myers, one of the prominent sons of the chiefdom, emphasized at a large gathering in Duoo Town on April 7, that it is not an easy task for a government to listen to a single person in an advocacy.
“When it is a group, the government can easily listen to address the issue quickly, but when it involves a single person, it is likely that the leader will think such a person is seeking to satisfy a personal desire,” Myers said.
He said when they are properly organized and have put in place accountability and transparency, they can easily seek government’s assistance.
During the Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf administration, Nimba County received US$1.5 million annually in social development funds as a result of mining operations by Arcelor Mittal in the Tokadi Mountains.
Of this amount, affected communities, including those chiefdoms where the mining is carried out and those areas where the railroad passes, are to benefit.
The County District 8 Representative Larry P. Younquoi told this newspaper earlier that about US$30,000 is expected to go to his district for distribution among towns and villages affected by the mining operations. But this amount, including those for other affected areas, is yet to become a reality as more and more priority is being given to the purchase of vehicles for county officials.
It can be recalled that in an exclusive interview with Younquoi and other prominent citizens, it was disclosed that County authorities, with the consent of the Nimba Legislative Caucus, used an unspecified amount of social development funds to purchase vehicles for the Superintendent, Development Superintendent, County Inspector, and the Assistant Superintendent for Fiscal Affairs.
Amidst the denial of affected communities of their just benefits from the social development fund, Arcelor Mittal, in line with the Mineral Development Agreement (MDA) that allows it to mine for 25 years, continues to transport its ore in the Leewehyeepea and meinpea Mahn belts.
The brownish, dusty ore wastes along the rail track is said to be polluting water sources for local farmers, who rely on streams and creeks for drinking water.
This environmental circumstance makes it imperative for those living in the affect areas where the railroad passes to be entitled to social development funds the company provides to the County.
In the mass citizen meeting in Duoo over the weekend, the citizens exchanged views of their district’s underdevelopment and attribute it to the district not being able to receive its social development funds.
According to J. Nelson Korquoi of Gipo Town, though money that should have come to affected communities had been made available, said money had been shared among County officials through dubious means.
Korquoi, who displayed a volume of audit report covering 2012 and 2013, said there are signatories, believed to be office staffs of officials, who received money as service providers.
The audit report published by the General Auditing Commission (GAC) named in part individuals to whom payments were made dubiously for services; something Korquoi said leaves no doubt that few individuals are benefiting from the social development funds instead of the masses.
James Gatei, another citizen, said that they are embracing the organization with skepticism because the chiefdom was once organized, but the organizers misapplied the money generated for development at the time.
Annie Gblah, another resident, said the previous Zahnledo organization deceived them, thereby setting the pace for mistrust. “We hope this one will bring the needed proceeds and not be like Zahnledo,” she said.
One of the organizers, Peter Dolo, emphasized that they intend to enlarge the organization to cover the entire District 8 in Nimba, and they are taking three stages, including Awareness, Organization and Action (AOA) in getting it together.