MONROVIA – The Liberia Revenue Authority (LRA) is said to be obstructing Western Cluster, a major mining company in western Liberia, from having access to the LMC pier at the Freeport of Monrovia, from where it is supposed to ship iron ore. This is stalling the operations of the company which is just returning after the Ebola and coronavirus pandemic.
Western Cluster Liberia is one of the biggest concessions in that region. Western Liberia is considered one of the most impoverished regions in Liberia. Therefore, concessions in the area go a long way in providing jobs and improving the standard of living in the area.
The company signed a 25-year Mineral Development Agreement with the Government of Liberia in August 2011.
Under the agreement, the company is expected to mine up to 30 million tons of iron ore annually, comprised primarily of quartz, hematite, and magnetite, such weathering and replacement products as martite and limonite.
Western Cluster Limited, until the Ebola pandemic, reportedly made annual contributions of US$ 2.8 million for social and educational projects and launched a project to provide free medical services to residents in hard-to-reach villages in Bomi County.
However, the company pullout in 2014 due Ebola pandemic and subsequently, the coronavirus pandemic.
Speaking about the operations of Western Cluster Limited, former Bomi County Senator Sando Johnson said the company was giving Bomi and Grand Cape Mount Counties US$950,000 each year in social development funds and at the same time paying taxes to the government without exporting ore from Liberia up to the time Ebola pandemic started.
Bomi County Senator Edwin Snowe took the initiative to launch a negotiation for the return of the company to Liberia, looking at the job demands and the underdevelopment of the Bomi and Grand Cape Mount Counties.
A Liberian delegation was sent to India and negotiated the return of the company to Liberia. As part of the negotiations, the company was required to pay US$10 million as a complete settlement of its financial obligation for the period it was not operating in Liberia. This negotiated amount is 50 percent of its financial obligation to the Liberian government. However, due to the circumstances surrounding the suspension of its activities, the amount was slashed by half.
Beyond the agreements reached in the revised MOU, Western Cluster has agreed to provide US$3 million from the Freeport of Monrovia to St. Paul River Bridge and also another US$1.5 million from Bomi to St. Paul River Bridge, as demanded by the government.
According to the company, after reconditioning the road, it will continue to repair and maintain the roads for damages due to the transportation of its ore to the Freeport of Monrovia.
Despite these gestures agreed to, the revised MOU is yet to be signed by the Minister of Justice who is said to be holding off this signature due to the unresolved matter on the LMC pier.
LRA Takes LMC Pier
Western Cluster Limited’s use of the LMC pier for the shipment of its iron ore is enshrined in its Mineral Development Agreement.
The MDA, states that “The Company has priority use of the NOIC and LMC Iron Ore piers at the Port during exploration and production operating periods and any extensions thereof, subject to all applicable laws, the terms of the port lease, and rights of third parties relating to the Port, including the rights of APM Terminals Liberia, Ltd. ratified September 17, 2010, and APMT’s rights to use the LMC during the “construction phase” as set forth in Section 10.01 and Appendix 4 and 7.06 of the Freeport Concession Agreement…”
It is not clear why the Freeport of Monrovia would not relinquish the pier to the company, but FrontPageAfrica gathered that the LRA wants to construct an annex close to APM Terminals at the port.
Others believe that the LRA could be securing the pier for another company of interest. However, FrontPageAfrica has not been able to independently verify this information.
The Commissioner-General of the LRA, Mr. Thomas Doe Nah did not provide comments when contacted by FrontPageAfrica.
Commenting on the alleged refusal of Mr. Nah’s to relinquish the pier to the company, former Senator Johnson said the people of Bomi are being deprived through his action. “Allow these people to work so that our region would benefit,” he urged.
Former Johnson wondered why the LRA would not use any other part of the port except for the pier indicated in Western Cluster’s MDA.
“If the LRA’s argument is that they want to build an annex because they collect 40 percent of government revenue and there’s nothing else behind their decision, then there are so many other areas at the Freeport that they could use. It doesn’t have to be that identical pier,” the former Senator said.
He added, “You cannot disenfranchise us because we are not a vote-rich region, it’s unfair to us. We deserve to live.”
Also speaking on the matter, Bomi County Senator Edwin Snowe said there is growing tension in the county regarding the issue. He said he expressed to the LRA Commissioner General that he is shocked by his decision because the National Investment Commission and the Minister of State have been very supportive of Western Cluster’s resumption of mining activities in the county.
He further disclosed that Western Cluster had been very collaborative to all the demands that have been made by the government so far, despite their existing MDA.
According to Sen. Snowe, he was informed by Mr. Nah that the LRA and a private company have formed a private venture and are about to carry out construction at that LMC pier and that Western Cluster should find somewhere else.
He, however, said that he, the legislative caucus, former Senator Johnson, and other key stakeholders in the county has not given up on the process and that they are still carrying out consultations and engagements to ensure that the matter is resolved. He said they are yet to exhaust all of their options.
He said, from 2011 up to 2014, Western Cluster was paying the NPA US$1.2 million as renter of the pier though it was not shipping.