..A More Positive Approach Toward Ratification of ArcelorMittal’s MDA

MONROVIA-There is absolutely no disputing of the fact that Liberia stands in dire need of any and all forms of assistance in areas of employment and inducement in economic activity. The ocean of idle youth roaming the streets and alleyways all over the country, especially in urban centers bespeaks the great need for an increased pace in job creation and economic stimulus to absorb a good chunk of that segment.

Liberia’s economy has its backbone principally grounded in the export area in resources like iron ore, rubber, diamonds, and gold. These industries are almost exclusively dominated by foreign companies, operating on a concessionaire basis. It should not be Rocket Science to grasp the hard reality that we must welcome and encourage these companies to invest more greatly in the area of training, especially in a pressingly needed area such as vocational and technical skills.

According to a forecast by Liberia’s Ministry of Education, as of  2020, there is a potential demand for 620,000 skilled workers in various industries. But the question is, are we on course in developing these skills to meet market standards?

Do we have institutions to produce the quality of technical skills required by the job market?  It seems few institutions in Liberia are taking up the challenge.

An example that runs to mind is the Vocational Training Center (VTC) which was inaugurated and dedicated in Yekepa, Nimba County, at ArcelorMittal Liberia, in September of 2018. Training outfits like this, feeding operational expansions with prepared manpower, no doubt are needed to mold our youths into functioning and productive citizens that can man these industries and be impactful actors in the marketplace. Evidently, this will have a spillover effect in spurring economic activities in the country.

In May 2021, after completing a 3-year instensive vocational and technical education training program, the ArcelorMittal Liberia Training Academy, formerly the VTC graduated it’s first class of forty-five professional technicians in diverse fields.

The company showed bold confidence in the first graduates of its training center by absorbing them in it’s workforce.

It is training ventures like this that our Government should be taking concrete steps to encourage other concessionaires around the country to replicate if they are already not engaged in manpower development. By its renewed focus on training and expansion, ArcelorMittal Liberia needs all the enticement to do as it did during the very devastating EBOLA Virus onslaught on our sub-region when it refused to fold up and flee as many others did.

This was such a show of confidence and faith in the Liberian people that a rare number of other profit-seeking firms will muster the courage to display.

ArcelorMittal Liberia made history on September 11, 2011, when the company’s first shipment of iron ore left Liberia for Asturias in Northern Spain, reviving the country’s long dormant iron ore industry after 20 years of absence from the global stage. Building on this mileststone in fulfilling its commitment to Liberia, the firm had long intendeded to expand the mine’s output to 15 million tons per annum, but the expansion was put on hold in 2014 due to the declaration of force majeure as a result of the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, with Liberia being most affected.

Notwithstanding this setback, ArcelorMittal exhibited a commitment to the project, and despite the emerging threat of the novel Covid-19 virus to the global economy, is set to expand its investment portfolio in Liberia by $800 million. This effort will boost ArcelorMittal Liberia’s iron ore production from 5 million tons to 15 million tons annually within the next 3 years. This additional investment will create thousands of new jobs in support of the Liberia government’s Pro Poor Agenda and would no doubt ease unemployment which is plaguing the nation’s idled youths and limiting their future prospects.

Today, we see an ongoing negotiation for continuity in the state and operations of ArcelorMittal Liberia, and in that, a huge recommitment to expansion in almost every sphere of its operations and community service engagements. The undertaking to increase employment at both skilled and semi-skilled levels, as well as expansions in certain aspects of its mining operations, obviously speak of greater space for absorbing increased numbers of our youth into the labor force along with a boost in their personal growth resulting to more assuring job security and secure relations between management and labor.

Newly reconditioned road by Arcelor Mittal   Liberia

If the end sought in this enterprise is the reaping of the greater good for this country, the path cannot be demanding unattainable returns and thus forcing a pullback of a major contributor to our revenue generation but instead focusing on erecting the mechanisms that will ensure the actualization of commitments outlined in the new expansion plan. Policymakers must be meticulous in the crafting of measures that will prevent any reversal in the delivery of these goodies contained in this expansion agreement.

For example, imagine the dividends in economic enhancement that will accrue if the Company fulfills its pledge to increase local procurement which will grow multi-fold with the expansion as well as a commitment to developing SMEs which is good for the business and the economy.

Accordingly, a more positive approach toward the ratification of the Mineral Development Agreement has to be adopted aware that now is not the time to fall on acts of over-demanding and thereby inadvertently creating a disincentive to continuing productive investment in our struggling economy.

What is urged here is that we put our best foot forward in these discussions while at the same time doing some introspection on the pervasive unsavory acts of some functionaries that continue to impose extra-legal burdens on for profit companies operating in the country only to satisfy personal interests. Stringent laws and effective enforcement channels, with harsh penalties, need to be fashioned so as to discourage such acts that undermine the achievement of genuine goals set in the agreed upon operational and financial tenets.

Just as we are always proverbially warned never to throw the baby with the bathwater, so it is that we refrain from shutting our eyes to the basketful of very positive and impactful propositions in the MDA on the docket and allow our emotions to get the better of us. Emotions and sentiments put aside one can clearly see the indications on the horizons of better job creation and economic enhancement should this Agreement be ratified and scrupulously followed.

Contrary to the unsubstantiated claims and misinformation campaign against ArcelorMittal Agreement, what stands out most are the 2000 jobs the deal promises for the construction phase of the extension, and the additional 1000 jobs in the operational phase. These are in addition to stepping up payments in revenue and royalties to a minimum US$75 million; US$0.5 million would be added to the current US$3 million in County Social Development Fund, for the affected counties – Nimba, Grand Bassa, and Bong. Other notable benefits of the amended MDA include advanced training in the fields of mining production and operation optimization; growth of small and medium sized businesses which offer a range of services to ArcelorMittal Liberia, among many others.

Just imagine what the teeming masses of this nation’s people who live in abject poverty would lose should the Senate not exhibit leadership and coordinate with the Lower House to find an acceptable and honest balance to urgently approve ArcelorMittal Amended Agreement!

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