When the Liberian Swedish American Mining Company (LAMCO) ended its operations in Liberia, it ceded control of its assets to the Liberian Government through the Liberia Mining Company (LIMINCO).
Those assets included the railway line from Yekepa to Buchanan and the port of Buchanan. It was from the port of Buchanan that iron ore was exported from Liberia during the civil war.
Such exports and mining activities were brought to a halt following the capture of Buchanan by troops of the West African Peacekeeping Force (ECOMOG) in early 1993. The port remained inoperable until Charles Taylor was elected President in 1997.
However, mining operations did not resume, although the Port of Buchanan had resumed operations, shipping mainly logs. In 1999, renewed hostilities flared and and soon developed into full blown civil war that ended in 2003 with the signing of a peace agreement, dubbed the Accra Comprehensive Peace Agreement and the installation of a transitional government in 2004, chaired by Liberian businessman Gyude Bryant.
During the administration of Gyude Bryant a Mineral Development Agreement was signed with ArcelorMittal for exploitation and export of iron ore from Yekepa, concession area of the former LAMCO and LIMINCO.
Under the terms of that agreement, control of the Yekepa-Buchanan railway and port facilities at Buchanan were transferred to Mittal Steel (now ArcelorMittal Liberia). However when President Sirleaf assumed the presidency in 2006, the Mineral Development Agreement was renegotiated with Mittal Steel.
On December 28, 2006, the amended contract was signed while the Mineral Development Agreement was passed into law by the Legislature the following year in May 2007.
In the amended agreement, the Yekepa-Buchanan railway and the port of Buchanan were returned to national ownership. Also, Mittal Steel increased her investment package to US$1.5bn while the extensive or very generous tax holiday granted to her (Mittal Steel) was revoked.
Under the terms of the then amended agreement, Mittal Steel committed itself to provide about US$73m over a period of 25 years, which constitutes the life span of the agreement. This amount was intended to support socio-economic activities annually in the counties of Nimba, Bong and Grand Bassa through the County Social Development Fund.
According to the MDA, ArcelorMittal is obliged to provide approximately US$73 million over the 25 year span of the agreement to support socio-economic development in Liberia via the County Social Development Fund (CSDF) – US$3 million on an annual basis to three counties most affected by company’s operations: Nimba, Bong and Grand Bassa.
Recently, on September 15, 2021, citizens and elders of Nimba and Grand Bassa Counties have raised strong objections to the proposed amended concession agreement which President Weah has sent to the Legislature for ratification. They maintain that ArcelorMittal Liberia has reneged on commitments agreed to in the amended agreement signed during the Sirleaf Presidency.
The aggrieved Nimba citizens maintain any amendments to the agreement should be informed by ArcelorMittal’s compliance with the terms and conditions spelt out in the 2005 amended agreement.
Some conditions include the rehabilitation and construction of community infrastructure, the provision of quality healthcare delivery systems, quality education, the provision of alternative livelihoods and the 25-50 percent transition of management to Liberians, amongst others. The Nimba citizens have also expressed opposition to the extension of the agreement by another 25 years.
Further, according to them, with only 8 years left on the agreement, ArcelorMittal in 17 years has not lived up fully to the terms of the 2005 agreement.
In a similar move, former Grand Bassa Senator Gbehzohngar Findley has filed a lawsuit against ArcelorMittal for its failure to abide by terms stated in the 2005 amended agreement. So far the details of the proposed amendment(s) have not been made public. However, in 2006, transparency watchdog Global Witness undertook a critical review of the 2005 amended agreement and made observations.
To what extent those observations have been addressed remains unclear. It also remains unclear whether portions of the original agreement have indeed been reinserted into that forwarded to the Senate for ratification as is being speculated. In a 2006 publication titled “Heavy Mittal”, the Director of Global Witness, Patrick Alley, commenting on the original agreement, stated the following:
“This MDA places the hard-won rights of Liberian citizens at risk, with no real guarantees of the economic benefits it can expect in return. Mittal has a duty as the world's biggest steel company and a self-professed good corporate citizen to lead by example rather than utilise virtually every opportunity to maximize its profit at the expense of Liberia”.
The Agreement was amended during the Sirleaf presidency. However, certain obnoxious provisions of the original contract were retained including a commitment to non-disclosure and inspection only upon prior notice, amongst others. It is alleged that in the proposed amendment, the Yekepa-Buchanan railway and the Buchanan Port have been returned to the ownership of ArcelorMittal.
In the wake of expressed public concerns about the failure of ArcelorMittal to abide by its commitments, the company has announced an additional investment of US$800 million in return for an extension of the contract by another 25 years, making it a total of 50 years under the virtual yoke of ArcelorMittal now unveiled as a predatory investor.
Although ArcelorMittal executives have promised huge benefits to Liberia, the failure of the company to abide by spelt out commitments in the agreement suggests that the so-called promised benefits could very well prove to be a mirage. In 17 years of its operation, ArcelorMittal, according to sources, has paid a paltry US$24 million to Liberia.
This newspaper enjoins issues with the peoples of Nimba and Grand Bassa Counties and supports their call for greater transparency and accountability. We also call on the government of Liberia to make public the details of the proposed amended contract with the government of Liberia. We also call on our legislators to do the right thing this time by subjecting the proposed amended agreement to rigorous due diligence checks and opening the same for public scrutiny. The Liberian people expect and deserve nothing less.