This newspaper’s attention is drawn to a story carried in its Wednesday, February 27, 2019 edition under the headline, “US$372.67M in Loans, Concession Agreements Under House Review”.
According to the story, the House of Representatives is currently reviewing a number of concession and loan agreements worth US$372.67 million sent by President George Weah to members of that body for their consideration. President Weah in submitting the agreements emphasized that the agreements are in support of the government’s Pro Poor Agenda for Prosperity and Development (PAPD).
Of particular and troubling concern to this newspaper is the concession agreement between the Liberian government and the Hummingbird Resources in which Senate President Pro Tempore, Albert Chie is said to own a 10 percent share . It can be recalled that President Weah in 2018 had vetoed the Hummingbird Resources concession agreement on grounds that it bore no promise for Liberia.
Meanwhile, according to information sourced from the company’s documents, “the Group currently holds 14 exploration licenses for all minerals except iron ore, covering over 7,000 square kilometers in total, which constitutes a significant proportion of eastern Liberia containing the Birimian sequence”.
“In addition, the Group holds one iron ore exploration license covering 155 square kilometers, which is located in northern Liberia close to BHP Billiton’s Mount Kitoma iron ore exploration project, as well as Arcelor-Mittal’s Yekepa project containing the Mount Nimba iron ore mine.”
When asked by the Daily Observer in June 2018, about his alleged 10 percent stake in Hummingbird Resources, the Senate President Pro Tempore declared, “It would have been a very good thing. As a matter of fact I am planning to open re-open my geological consultancy and practice as a professional geologist like lawyers and doctors who are also in the Legislature”.
The President Pro Tempore continued, “Hummingbird is a publicly traded company on the London Stock Exchange. You can easily get the names of shareholders, the quantity of shares and when they were acquired. There is no need to speculate”, he said.
It can be recalled that this newspaper in its July 6, 2018 edition reported that in November 2016, the Senate Joint Committee on Lands, Mines, Energy, Natural Resources & Environment; Judiciary, Claims, Human Rights & Petitions and Investment & Concessions, recommended to the plenary of the Senate to postpone ratification process of the proposed Mineral Development Agreement between the Hummingbird Resources (Liberia) Inc., pending some explanations from the Executive.
In the findings of the committee, during the formulation of the MDA, there should have been a provision setting aside a production lot(s) over the areas in Sinoe, where the gold has been discovered or the company given a maximum of one year to declare production areas.
This newspaper is indeed troubled by the fact that the President Pro Tempore of the Liberian Senate, Albert Chie is said to hold a 10 percent shareholding in the Hummingbird Resources and it is by and through his influence the sweetheart deal was initially secured and sent by the President for ratification. However based on the findings of the joint committee the President vetoed the bill.
Originally proposed to operate in Sinoe county, the Hummingbird has now extended its plans to include Sinoe County, River Gee County, Grand Kru and Maryland counties primarily because the mineral Columbite-tantalite known as Coltan gold has been discovered in those counties.
Columbite-tantalite — coltan for short — is a dull metallic ore found in major quantities in the eastern areas of Congo. When refined, coltan becomes metallic tantalum, a heat-resistant powder that can hold a high electrical charge. These properties make it a vital element in creating capacitors, the electronic elements that control current flow inside miniature circuit boards.
Tantalum capacitors are used in almost all cell phones, laptops, pagers and many other electronic devices. The recent technology boom caused the price of coltan to skyrocket to as much as $400 a kilogram at one point, as companies such as Nokia and Sony struggled to meet demand.
And what do the people of those southeastern counties and Liberians in general stand to benefit from the virtual mortgage of their resources to a company that was reportedly broke until it acquired a “sweetheart deal with the Malian government to exploit its gold resources at Yankanfolia?
In the previous agreement, as of July 2015 and 2016 respectively, when submitted to the Senate, the company was to pay the government a US$1.5 million signature fee once the Agreement was ratified by the Legislature, and another US$1.5 million on the granting of the mining license.
Hummingbird on an annual basis commencing on the first anniversary of the effective date of the Agreement, will contribute an amount to the Social Development Fund (SDF) for the affected communities, which means those areas in which the company will do its mining. The SDF during years one and two will be US$100,000; years three and four, US$150,000; years five to 10, US$200,000; and years 11 onward, US$250,000 throughout the 25-year Agreement.
By all standards, this is tantamount to a sellout of the interests of the Liberian people especially people of southeastern Liberia who remain amongst the poorest of the poor in Liberia. Thus for a pittance and for the personal benefit of Senator Albert Chie, the Liberian people stand to be fleeced by a fly-by-night company.
The fact that the agreement was supposedly ratified when the Legislature was or should have been on recess raises a lot of suspicion in the public that money must have changed hands somewhere in between that made it possible for Hummingbird Resources to land such a worthless concession agreement that bears no promise for the peoples of the Southeast and Liberia on a whole.
Once again the Liberian people, it appears, have being betrayed, this time not by the Iron Lady but by associates of the King himself. And it is indeed a sad story.