Yesterday’s editorial spoke of the flaws in early iron ore mining concessions agreements in Liberia, notably those of the Liberia Mining Company, LAMCO and the Bong Mining Company. For the reasons stated in that editorial, Liberia got little or nothing out of those agreements, and left the iron ore-producing communities underdeveloped and destitute, while the American and European owners of these enterprises walked away will billions of United States dollars
It is to the credit of the Ellen Johnson Sirleaf government that the new concessions agreements governing iron ore and other mining in Liberia today show marked improvement. For one thing, each concession is required pay taxes and royalties to government, enabling the GOL to exercise its sovereignty as a tax collector. Secondly, each of these concessions is now required to pay a Social Development Fund to the tone of over a million United States dollars.This money is supposed to go directly to the local communities, in the case of Arcelor Mittal, to Nimba, Bong and Grand Bassa Counties; in the case of China Union, to Bong County; and in the case of the Western Cluster, to Bomi, Grand Cape Mount and Gbarpolu counties.
The only problem here is the transparency and effectiveness in which these funds reach the local people, whose economic and social transformation the funds are designed to achieve.
We saw how in the case of several counties, especially Montserrado and River Cess, some lawmakers unashamedly threw both hands into the tilt and stole hundreds of thousands of these funds. We pray that the government has now found ways to fix that. We have repeatedly called on the President to remove the lawmakers from the County Development Funds, and make these funds the exclusive function of the Executive branch of government.
Last week another highly positive development in iron ore mining was announced. Arcelor Mittal was giving scholarships worth over US$200,000 to the Liberian students to study Geology, Mining and Mechanical Engineering and related fields, to empower them to return and serve in the mining sector.
This leads us to make three strong appeals: first, that these scholarships will be awarded strictly on a competitive and meritorious basis, NOT on the basis of “who knows you” or who is a relative or acquaintance of those responsible for choosing the beneficiaries. We hope, secondly, that the beneficiaries will be assigned to top-notch institutions of higher learning for their courses. Thirdly, we hope that all of the students take the fullest advantage of these great opportunities and return home ready and willing to serve their country in this vital mining sector that is expected to reap the country handsome profit to be used for national development.
The students must follow the example of the first few individuals to whom the administration of President W.V.S. Tubman awarded scholarships to study in the mining sector—Arthur Sherman, who studied Mining Engineering and returned to set up the Bureau of Mines and Geology, now Ministry of Lands, Mines and Energy; Joe Richards, who became the second head of that office; Cletus Wotorson, who studied Geology and Geophysics, Eugene Shannon, who studied Geology, Geochemistry and Petrology (the study of rocks), and Jonathan Mason, a mining engineer, all three of whom also headed the LME.
Today the Ministry is headed by a very young outstanding lawyer, Mr. Patrick Sendolo, who is on record a saying that while the Ministry is dominated by scientists, mostly in the mining, geology, cartographic, surveying, hydrological and related areas, the office is chiefly a BUSINESS environment. By that he means that it is very important that while its officials have tended to be scientists, they should possess and demonstrate GOOD BUSINESS SENSE, for they MUST be able to negotiate successfullywith the mining prospectors and entrepreneurs, most of whom are first, BUSINESS PEOPLE.
Even so, we hope that Minister Sendolo and his team at LME will continue its longstanding policy and practice of recruiting some of the brightest minds in our high schools and colleges and send them for training in these highly technical areas. At the same time, now that Minister Sendolo has recognized the immense BUSINESS potential of that Ministry, he and his team should ensure that the trainees, especially in the various mining fields, also become versed in the BUSINESS side of mining operations.
This will equip them with business sense and empower them to negotiate effectively on behalf of government. Business training will help them to travel far from the ill-fated negotiations of the 1940s, 50s and 60s that led the country astray and permitted the Europeans and Americans to walk away with billions of United States dollars reaped from our mines, leaving the country and its people outsmarted, cheated,impoverished and underdeveloped.