The Senate Chamber was the scene of uproar and walkout on Thursday, February 28, after the secretary of the Senate read a report from the Senate Committee on Lands, Mines, Energy, Natural Resources and Environment, in which the ratification (or re-ratification) of the Mineral Development Agreement between Liberia and the Hummingbird Resources (Liberia) Incorporated was recommended, voted on and passed.
Maryland County Senator Gbleh-bo Brown and his colleague from Margibi County Senator Oscar Cooper, as well as senators from Bomi and Nimba Counties, Sando Johnson and Prince Johnson, respectively, were visibly outraged over the unusual, somewhat surreptitious urge to vote to ratify the agreement for the second time, which was originally submitted to the Legislature in February 2016 by former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.
The decision by the Senate came eight months after the agreement was earlier ratified in June 2018. But it was vetoed by President George Weah in 2018 and sent back to the Legislature for clarity on several constitutional concerns and irregularities.
In a communication dated July 3, 2018, President Weah said that his decision to veto the Hummingbird agreement was made by virtue of the authority vested in him under Article 35 of the Liberian Constitution.
In the President’s communication, he added, “in view of my disapproval of this Act as provided for in Article 35 of the Liberian Constitution, I herewith return to your honorable body the said Act. However, I look forward to working with the Legislature in future…”
He informed lawmakers that the Act sent to his office was reviewed by the Special Presidential Concessions Review Committee and that it was derived at the overall conclusion that while the agreement is appreciably conscious of the need for a fair business arrangement, few critical aspects need reconsideration in order to bring a protracted benefit with mutual balance for each of the comparing parties.
In its current form at the time, President Weah said the agreement needs modification to include the authentication of the document.
He said the transmittal instruments from the Legislature to the office of the President, scheduled for Senate engrossed Bill #1, “has a big error, which he noted cannot be corrected by the office of the President; instead of the year 2018, the Bill bears 2017, which era I cannot account for.”
Additionally, the President observed the omission of several dates, which omissions my his office is not authorized to correct, and without such corrections, he cannot affix his signature. He further observed that pages 14 and 15 Annex 3 are unsigned.
“As it appears on its face, the agreement was concluded since July 9, 2015, the situation which obtained in 2015 is not the same today as it was in 2018; therefore, given the time lapse this certainly warrants a review to ensure that provisions in the agreement are responsive to current and future situations, “President Weah reminded the senators.
Another area of concern as stated in President Weah’s veto communication is a section which vests authority in the Minister of Lands, Mines and Energy, to extend the land area for exploration.
“This sovereign authority ought to be vested in an agent, vesting same in one agent is potentially an unlawful act, including the pursuit of personal gains; a realistic anti-corruption mechanism would avoid such gross investment of authority for a hard gotten commodity such as land,” the document observed.
President Weah said that it was prudent “to adjust this provision to ensure that expansion is subject to and authorized by the appropriate authority. ”
The President also took exception to the amounts Hummingbird paid periodically in the name of Community Development Funds (CDF) from year one to 11 of its operational period.
“These periodic payments are commendable but are not appreciable in amounts for such an undertaking of this nature; the amounts should be substantial to ensure that communities are impacted as a support to the government’s pro-poor policy.”
In the area of other social responsibility concerns, President Weah said that the Mineral Development Agreement (MDA) obligates the proposed concessionaire to provide medical, school and other assistance to the communities to be affected, noticing that those provisions are not specific.
“As a mining concession, it is important to delve into the details of such responsibilities so that any doubt regarding standards of assistance such as construction works, can be readily implemented,” the document said.
According to the new ratification, the exploration area is approximately 2,355 square kilometers, lying in Sinoe, Grand Kru, River Gee and Maryland counties and obtained four exploration licenses that have been lumped together as one MDA.
Term of the agreement, according to the ratified agreement, is 25 years plus possible additional extension based on performance and the value of the remaining mineral deposit.
As per the ratification document, the company shall make the following annual contribution into a fund established for the development of each community affected by operations as provided for in the Community Development Agreement, which says: Sinoe County, US$100,000; Grand Kru County, US$100,000. River Gee, US$50,000. and Maryland County, US$50,000 respectively.
The ratified report has been forwarded to the House of Representatives for concurrent ratification.