President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has vowed that perpetrators of the violent protest at the ArcelorMittal facilities will have their day in court, and justice will be done.
“Because of the precedence this could set, because of the national security implications especially in the area where this occurred, and given our recent past, the State will be decisive in its response,” the Liberian leader emphasized. She added, “We will send a message to deter any such occurrence again, either in Nimba or anywhere else in the country.”
The incident, which took place, last week caused substantial damage to the operations of the company.
Some insiders have said that the situation may have a trickledown effect on the company’s value and rating on the global stock exchange, though the company’s authorities and government are still awaiting an assessment to determine the full extent of the damage.
According to the Executive Mansion, President Sirleaf made the strong statement when she briefed Liberia’s development partners on the violent protest in Yekepa, Nimba.
The meeting was attended by the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL), diplomatic missions accredited near Monrovia and international non-governmental organizations. It took place Tuesday, July 8, in the C. Cecil Dennis Hall of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, where the President has her office.
The violence at the ArcelorMittal facilities in Yekepa, Nimba County left several police officers wounded, saw the holding of employees and contractors – national and expatriates – hostage for up to 20 hours, and millions of dollars, worth of property looted and destroyed.
An attack on Liberia’s Economic Future
President Sirleaf also described the Yekepa incident as an attack on the country’s economic future. The President told her audience that the incident was neither a protest nor simply an attack on a private company; rather it was an attack on Liberia’s economic future. She admitted that the scale of the damage to ArcelorMittal and their contractors’ equipment is substantial and that government is waiting for the numbers.
“Beyond the physical destruction, the loss to the country will even be greater in terms of lost productivity,” the Liberian leader admitted, pointing out that in view of the recent budget shortfalls, this ugly incident will have serious negative consequences for the country’s revenue.
The Liberian leader called on the partners to support the government as the Ministry of Justice begins to take appropriate actions against the perpetrators of the violent protest. “We expect you to support us in this. It was in partnership with you that we could successfully celebrate ten years of peace last year. This is a threat to what we have achieved. It is an attack on the future of that peace and the future of our country,” President Sirleaf said to the partners.
ArcelorMittal’s executive president, Bill Scotting, at a joint press conference with Minister of Lands, Mines and Energy, Patrick Sendolo, said that the company is working in collaboration with the Liberian government to ensure that the appropriate things are done.
He said though the incident is a setback to the company’s operations, but the full length of the damage will be determined when the full assessment of the damage is completed.
Minister Sendolo indicated that the incident should be of grave concern to every Liberian cause ArcelorMittal is one of the highest contributors of revenue to the Liberian budget, so if the company is affected, it means that the national coffer is also affected.
He strongly condemned the actions of the perpetrators, indicating that the company was anticipating scaling up its employment opportunity to 3,000 by 2015, which is far beyond what it currently has. He said from what he saw from visual assessment at the site, though full report will be given at the end of the assessment, the damage is not less than US$2M
Before the briefing with partners, the Liberian leader chaired a Special Cabinet Meeting in which she expressed satisfaction at the manner in which the Liberia National Police (LNP) brought the violent protest at the ArcelorMittal facilities under control.
She thanked the LNP for resisting all of the temptations and for restoring calm without human casualty from the agitators; though they shot at the police leaving several of them (police) wounded.
Police Director Chris Massaquoi, who briefed the Cabinet, announced that at least 47 suspects have been arrested and are now being processed to proceed to court.
Director Massaquoi made a number of recommendations, which he said, if implemented will deal with similar situations anywhere in the country. He named an increase in the security presence in the Yekepa area; that those using the media, especially broadcast medium (radio), to incite the public against government in the name of freedom of speech be arrested and prosecuted; and an investigation be conducted on the Poro Society (bush school) as to their role in the violent disturbance.
The bush school, according to Director Massaquoi, is serving as a hindrance to retrieving looted properties as they are serving as hideouts for the perpetrators and their looted goods.