Nimba Youth Group Rises Demand for Social Development Fund Arrears

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Kartoe of One Nimba Youth group reading a press statement

A youth group under the banner, “One Nimba Movement,” has called on the CDC-led government to make available about US$5 million, which is owed Nimba County, and not to count on the $1.55 million recently remitted to the county’s coffers as an achievement.

“The money paid is fairly due to the people of Nimba County as stipulated in Article 14 of the Mineral Development Agreement between ArcelorMittal and the Government of Liberia, and its presentation by the government as if it were a gift from the government is laughable.   The One Nimba Movement is concerned that out of arrears of approximately $6.8 million United States Dollars, only $1.55 million could be remitted without the solid commitment of how the balance can be settled,” Bob Yeenuah Kartoe, a member of the group, said on July 13, 2020, at a press conference in Monrovia.

Since the George Weah Administration took over in 2018, the US$1.5 million stipulated in the Mineral Development Agreement (MDA) to go to Nimba has not been paid until in recent days when Nimba Electoral District #5 Representative Samuel Kogar raised the red flag and promised to take action against the government.

Before Representative Korgar’s comment, Nimba County District #8 Representative Larry P. Younquoi had raised concern that Mittal should pay the balance US$750,000 that the government in 2017 said the company was unable to pay because of economic turbulence it was facing.

The latest comments complementing Representative Korgar’s advocacy come with a suspicion that ArcelorMittal and the government may be in a cohort to deny beneficiaries of the social development fund of what is due them.

As quickly as the US$1.55 million was remitted following the lawmaker’s threat, the youth movement has taken to the stage, saying,  “Moreover, the unprecedented and suspicious manner in which negligible portions of the arrears owed Nimba, Bong, and Grand Bassa counties were paid for the very first time in pretty close to three years since the ascendancy of the Weah government gives ample reasons to suspect that there is a coordinated conspiracy on the part of the Government of Liberia and ArcelorMittal Liberia to rob these counties of their fair entitlement, especially at a time when 20% of the SDF is said to be questionably withheld,” Kartoe said.

According to the group, giving the money owed Nimba will complement the government’s effort in fostering development as it carries out development in other parts of the country.  The group observed that the county’s building machines are down and turning into scraps, and if the money owed the county is available, the issue of roads, education for the youths, and other essential developments will be carried out speedily and will still be credited to the government.

Except for the recent derailment of the railroad that has halted the transportation of ore, ArcelorMittal had been carrying iron ore from Mount Tokadeh daily.  Seeing the movement of ore from Liberia, especially Nimba County, the youth group of the county said, “The uninterrupted deferments in the payments of the money, while the iron ore is rapidly depleting, does not demonstrate good intent on the part of the government.  The refusal to pay on time and in full the SDF to these counties gives more reasons to assume that marginalization of counties outside of the South-eastern region is a classical exhibition by the Weah-led government; this act on the part of the Weah government is not only wicked and insensitive but is also objectionable, unthinkable and unacceptable,” the group’s statement emphasized.

Another controversial issue recently causing a public outcry in Nimba County involves the stockpile of scraps turned over to the county by the administration of Ellen Johnson Sirleaf to be sold for development.  According to One Nimba Movement, the amount of US$169,925, along with L$58.5 million, has been deposited into the county’s account by North Star and Sethi Brothers, buyers of the scraps.

With the unfolding events, the group reiterated that the Nimba Legislative Caucus and other stakeholders, pressurize the government to pay the balance SDF; review and renegotiate the Mineral Development Agreement in keeping with the five-year revision plan that has not been done for two periods; request the General Auditing Commission (GAC) to conduct an audit of operations of the County Social Development Fund, or CSDF, and Nimba Legislative Caucus to proceed with the next county council sitting.

ArcelorMittal Liberia has encountered some hindrances from people in its operational area of Nimba County since commencing active operation around 2011.  It may be recalled that in 2014 the company’s facilities were attacked and burned by some angry residents and workers on an allegation that the company failed to pay for their crops in the operational area and that it wrongfully dismissed some employees, actions that lawmakers, including Representative Jeremiah Koung of District #1, condemned with vehemence.

It was recently reported that some redundant workers are planning to block the railway should there occur a reduction in the cases of coronavirus.  The redundant workers claim that Mittal owes them severance benefits and salary arrears, and it went on to sideline them in employment contrary to the Labor law.  ArcelorMittal has since acknowledged this and promised to settle up with the redundant workers.

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