..... And Make Public the Details of the Solway Mining Inc., mineral development agreement
Coming fast on the heels of expressed opposition to the amended Mittal Steel Agreement by people of Nimba and Grand Bassa Counties for failing to honor its contractual obligations to those counties, are reports of a new concession agreement in the making.
This proposed agreement is between the Liberian government and a company simply known as Solway Mining Inc. Until the recent visit to Yekepa by members of the Nimba Legislative Caucus to ascertain conditions following complaints by citizens of that county, Solway Mining Inc. would have probably remained under the radar of public attention.
In what critics have called a public relations stunt, the visit to Yekepa was apparently overshadowed by the activities of local supporters of Solway sporting T-shirts bearing the inscription ‘Solway Mining Inc’, singing praise songs in honor of this mysterious company.
According to sources, in October 2019, Solway Mining Inc. was granted a three (3) year Mineral Exploration License (MEL) by the government of Liberia through the Ministry of Mines and Energy.
The proposed exploration area is located about seven (7) miles northeast of provincial capital Sanniquellie. The exploration area is located in close proximity to not only the ArcelorMittal Liberia concession area, but also to the East Nimba Nature Reserve which plays host to several endangered species of flora and fauna and is said to encompass large tracts of the nature reserve.
ArcelorMittal Liberia also claims part of the nature reserve as belonging to its concession area and is claiming the right under the amended agreement to dispose of or extract freely, without cost, timber and other resources in the concession area lying within the nature reserve.
But there are questions about Solway Mining Inc., which have not been answered for the public benefit. Just what are the terms of this proposed Mineral Development Agreement with Solway, who are the shareholders of this company, for instance, and what is its history of involvement in mining operations, are questions whose answers should not be shrouded in secrecy.
Aside from the above, there are also unanswered questions about the results of the environmental impact assessment granted that it has been done. Additionally, how does Solway propose to transport the ore from the mining site to the port of Buchanan?
This is important because there are concerns that under the terms of the newly amended ArcelorMittal Liberia Agreement, the port of Buchanan and the Yekepa-Buchanan railway have been ceded to the exclusive control of ArcelorMittal.
The Port and railway were ceded to ArcelorMittal in the initial Mineral Development Agreement signed under Transitional Chairman Gyude Bryant. But the agreement was subsequently amended during the Sirleaf presidency returning the rail and port to the ownership and control of the Liberian government.
And this matter has since been a very contentious issue. It can be recalled that a few months prior to the military overthrow of Guinea President Alpha Conde, a high powered Guinean delegation had visited Liberia to conclude arrangements concerning the use of the rail and port facilities to export iron from Guinea through Liberia.
And it appeared highly suspicious that almost in the immediate aftermath of the Guinean military coup, ArcelorMittal Liberia (Mittal Steel) announced that it had negotiated an agreement with the government of Liberia to make an additional investment US$800 m in its project under which it promised jobs and a big boost to the Liberian economy.
But in the meanwhile, ArcelorMittal found itself facing lawsuits filed by former Grand Bassa Senator Gbehzohngar Findley for reneging on contractual obligations and commitments to the people of Grand Bassa.
In similar stead, ArcelorMittal also found itself facing charges of the people of Nimba, accusing the company of failure to honor its contractual responsibilities and calling for Legislators from Nimba to reject the Amended Agreement, which has still not been open to the public.
The proposed Solway Mineral Development Agreement is the latest in the number of concessionaires whose concession agreements remain shrouded in secrecy. The Chinese owned Bao-Chico Mining concession is another of those concession agreements whose details, for unexplained but suspicious reasons, have been and are being shielded from public scrutiny.
As things stand, operationalization of the mining deal struck with the Conde government appears to have come to a grinding halt. It further remains unclear whether the deal has been scuttled altogether in view of the newly amended Mittal Steel Agreement or has been refashioned into something new.
Like the Bao-Chico concession which has heavy Chinese involvement, the Simandou operation in Guinea is also believed to have heavy Chinese involvement. It is also suspected that the Solway Mining is linked to Chinese interests. Just how those interests could likely converge or collide has been a subject of speculation since the coup in neighboring Guinea.
Whatever the case, the Liberian government has the obligation to keep the citizenry informed of such developments. Legislators are failing to exercise their constitutional responsibilities, duties and obligations to the people.
It is the Legislature which, under the Constitution, has the duty to approve all concession agreements between the Liberian government and concessionaires/investors. This is because they are considered representatives of the people.
But instead of representing the interests of the people, Legislators on many occasions have failed to truly represent their people and have instead opted to take bribes to accommodate vested interests, according to a civil society activist.
If those concession agreements, including the latest proposed Soway Mineral Development Agreement, are open for public scrutiny, the public will be able to make informed decisions, on which basis legislators can act to approve or disapprove the concession agreements.
In order to allay public fears about being shortchanged, our legislators must make public the details of the concession agreements. Legislators are further urged to insist on the removal of non-disclosure provisions from the ArcelorMittal agreement and all other concession agreements with similar non-disclosure clauses.