Liberian Senate Expresses Regret Over Substituting Western Cluster Mineral Development Agreement with An MOU

Liberian Senate Expresses Regret Over Substituting Western Cluster Mineral Development Agreement with An MOU

That MoU gives the company the right to operate at three iron ore deposits, including the Bomi Hills Mines, in Bomi, Grand Cape Mount, and Gbarpolu Counties.

Monrovia — Several members of the Liberian Senate have alarmed and termed as a “fiasco” the dismal operations of Western Cluster Liberia Limited (WCL) in the country, which is leading to the loss of lives, destruction of public infrastructures and the depletion of the country’s resources to enrich foreigners.

By Obediah Johnson,

It can be recalled, on Wednesday, June 8, 2022, Western Cluster Liberia Limited, a subsidiary of Sesa Goa, a Vedanta group company, broke grounds to recommence its operations in Bomi.  

The ground-breaking ceremony came barely a few days after the Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC)-led government of ex-President George Manneh Weah signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the company. 

The MOU was signed following the failure of the company to implement the Mineral Development Agreement (MDA) it signed with the government in 2011 due to the outbreak of the Ebola Virus and the Coronavirus pandemic. 

That MoU gives the company the right to operate at three iron ore deposits, including the Bomi Hills Mines, in Bomi, Grand Cape Mount, and Gbarpolu Counties.

But debating a report from a Joint Committee on Public Works and Rural Development, Lands, Mines, Energy and Natural Resources and Environment, Judiciary, Claims and Petition, many of the senators expressed concerns over the decision taken by the government, through the Ministry of Public Works, to lift the ban placed on the Road User Permit of the company.

They observed that WCL has proven “beyond all reasonable doubts” that it is incapacitated to implement the agreement it signed with the government.

According to them, the company has been “dragging” to construct a railway and a port in Grand Cape Mount County for the transporting of iron ores, but is ceaselessly using the roads to do so.

In its report, the committee observed that the MPW restored the road user permit of the company without the conduct of an environmental impact assessment that is critical to remedy environmental consequences and mitigating the effects or safety hazard the trucking of iron ore, through the populated Montserrado and other counties pose to citizens.

It noted that Public Works Minister Roland Giddings failed to independently put in place mechanisms to get the actual tons of iron ore Western Cluster is transporting on the road corridor, but relied on the information provided by the company.

The committee quoted Senator Edwin Melvin Snowe of Bomi County as saying that the company is transporting 100 truckloads of iron ore per day, amounting to 3,000 tons.

The committee reported that the Public Works Minister has not been monitoring the movement of the trucks from 7PM to 6AM.

It recommended that the Senate Committee on Public Works and Senators from western Liberia continuously monitor the transporting of iron ore activities of the company from the Bomi-Monrovia corridor through their legislative oversight to ensure full compliance.

It called for the construction of the railway and a port facility in western Liberia by WCL in keeping with the MDA signed with the government.

The MDA mandates the company to construct the facilities before September 2025.

The committee, however, called on the executive branch of the Liberian government to commence the revision of the MDA it signed with the company.

US$3M Unaccounted for?

Debating the report, Montserrado County Senator Abraham Darius Dillon raised concerns over previous money Western Cluster reportedly paid to the Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC) led-government for the reconditioning of the Bomi-Monrovia corridor. The amount was reported to be US$3M.

He said though lawmakers requested Minister Giddings to provide evidence that the money was paid to the previous government, he failed to do so up to present.

“The Minister of Public Works came here and said Western Cluster said they provided US$4.5M to the previous government to condition the road. We asked the Minister here, and he said they got no evidence that Western Cluster paid US$3M and he got nothing on the record to prove that Western Cluster pays US$3M according to them (Western Cluster).”

Senator Dillon wants punitive actions to be taken against past government officials if it is established that the company paid US$3M to the past administration.

“If Western Cluster paid US$M in keeping with their portion of the agreement and the previous government officials did not apply that money on the road, this current government cannot sit and allow it to happen with no actions.”

He said past government officials linked to receiving the money and failing to act should be prosecuted to serve as deterrence to others would-be corrupt officials.

He observed that with nearly a year to the deadline for the company to construct and commence the usage of the railway for transporting iron ores, WCL is demonstrating “no intent or action” to act in keeping with the agreement.

Senator Dillon claimed that the company was only permitted to use the roads temporarily to enable it have ample time to do the railway.

“Anytime we give them a road permit and they damage the roads, they say they give the money to this government official or that other government official and nothing happens but we still find a way for them to use the road. I am asking the Senate for us to take more stringent implementable and concrete actions where we can act and be clear on the record.”

Senator Simeon Taylor of Grand Cape Mount observed that the central government of Liberia and its officials are the ones that are benefitting from the mineral resources of Liberia more than citizens from the operational areas of these mineral companies.

He named bad roads and appalling living conditions as the aftermath of the depletion of Liberia’s resources.

“The roads are bad; whenever you drive from here to Tubmanburg, Bomi County, you will have to carry your car to the garage. Roads are the least things that we should be benefitting from. It’s so disheartening.”

He termed as deception disclosure made by the company that it would invest US$1B in Liberia.

“The company cannot even recondition the road from Tubmanburg to Mano River Congo or build a simple bridge; but we have reserved three of our mineral deposits for Western Cluster. The agreement said after trucking iron ores in one year, they should put asphalt on that road, but they refused to do that. We are not even seeing our people being employed or trained. In my mind, the Western Cluster agreement is just a fiasco and a very beautiful way of attracting the resources from our areas and leaving them (our citizens” vulnerable.”

Senator Taylor observed that authorities of Western Cluster would renege on constructing the railway and seaport following the expiration of the grace period given them by the government to truck iron ores via the road at the time authorities of the company have already enriched themselves.

“People who are even driving on that road (Bomi-Monrovia corridor) their lives are threatened by those various trucks. It’s very dangerous. And I hope this body can take the necessary measures that will help to save the lives of our people and give them their just benefits.”

Living conditions not improved

Senator Saah Johnson of Montserrado County claimed that about three deaths have occurred involving trucks transporting iron ores for Western Cluster in recent times.

He said the government can carry on investment by scouting for investors, instead of allowing Western Clusters to exploit the Liberian people.

“They (Western Cluster) have proven beyond all reasonable doubts that they can do nothing in this country. In one year from now, can they build a railway? It’s not possible. What they are doing as a company, we can do it. Why can we go look for a company and sign an agreement to create more jobs in Bomi.”

“If you visit Bomi you will see people standing and looking at the trucks moving to and fro but there is no difference and nobody’s life has been changed there. Today we are in pain in Montserrado County; three different accidents and three deaths from the trucks.”

Senator Joseph stressed that the Total Involvement Bridge which links the Bushrod Island to the township of Virginia is under threat as a result of continuous trucking of tons of iron ores by Western Cluster, noting that, “enough is enough; let’s move forward on this as a country.”

Contracting Liberians; employing foreigners

For his part, Senator Numene T. H. Bartekwa of Grand Kru County observed that the company continues to destroy the Bomi-Monrovia corridor on a daily basis due to its intense trucking of the iron ores.

“What we need to do as a Senate is to make a strong representation to the Executive stressing the need to review the contract between the government and Western Cluster because, according to the agreement, in three years Western Cluster is supposed to begin to construct a sea port in Grand Cape Mount. But up to present, no feasibility study has been done for that project.”

He said instead of directly employing Liberians, the company is only employing foreigners, and making the custodians of the natural resources of Liberia to be contractors.

Senator Bartekwa emphasized that the move by the company is intended to deprive Liberians who are contracted from receiving their just benefits.

According to him, affected communities in the operational areas of WCL are not also benefiting from the corporate social responsibility as enshrined in the MDA.

Desist from political games

“This is how these people keep us poor. Africa is known to be a mineral vested continent and they know very well what Africa has. All they do around the world is to keep us Africans poor, extract our resources and leave us in poverty-and then they come and tell us we are corrupt because our people are poor,” Senator Crayton Duncan of Sinoe County stated.

He used the occasion to urge public officials and others to desist from playing “political game” to gain support from others for political reasons.

Senator Duncan emphasized that “our country is not changing in any way and nothing is happening here; we have become a laughing stock.”

He observed that Western Cluster is not engaged in mining activities, but hauling iron ores that are already stockpiled in the county, as the government remains “too weak” to act while its citizens are suffering.

He called for the Senate to inform the Executive of holding onto the budgetary allotments of the Ministries of Public Works and Mines and Energy if Western Cluster fails to do the right thing for the benefit of the country and its citizens, noting that, “we should be able to stand up.”

“Western Cluster is functioning while the rest of Liberians are in destitution. We should stop playing politics.”

Following the intense debate on the report, the plenary of the Senate mandated the Joint Committee to work with the Secretariat to list the non-compliance and violation issues raised against Western Cluster and forward to the Executive for actions this Thursday.

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