MONROVIA-“Solway people are my family… They’re my friends; we lived together in the same house so it tells you I’m in their interest…” Pres. Weah tells Nimbaians

Amidst the long drag, bottleneck and red tape overwhelming the signing of the third amendment of AcerlorMittal Liberia’s (AML) Mineral Development Agreement (MDA); AML has continued to be sincere to its win-win posture in the mining industry in Liberia and living up not only to its social and corporate responsibilities to the citizens and places its operations are involved with but has remained thoroughly focused in its commitment to ensuring a glowing partnership that stresses mutual respect, growth, and development, mainly for the host country.

Despite the industrial tussle over the utilization of the facilities-rail tracks and the port of Buchanan by AML and Solway Mining Company; despite SAML’s argument that it should have leverage over the mentioned facilities at the height of serious lobby by Solway, AML kept a level head in the pursuant of its investment interest and how to positively change things around for the people and the various counties its operations engages.

This struggle and rigmarole became so heated that President George M. Weah while on his last nationwide tour had to intervene say, “Solway people are my family… They’re my friends; we lived together in the same house so it tells you I’m in their interest…”

This long haul prompted the Chief Executive to issue Executive Order#112 which states among other things the establishment of the National Railway Authority (NRA) with the responsibility to, amongst other things, manage railway and associated infrastructures owned by the Government of Liberia.

The Order which was issued Monday, October 17, 2022 comes from the backdrop of the fact that the Government of Liberia owns certain key assets of national importance comprising railways and associated infrastructures, such as the Yekepa Railway that runs from the station at Yekepa in Nimba County through parts of Bong County to the terminus and associated port infrastructure at or in the vicinity of the Port of Buchanan in Grand Bassa County or Buchanan Port.

Issuing the Order, President Weah indicated that the Government is committed to the development and enhancement of the Liberian Infrastructure Assets in the national interest to permit increased use of these strategic assets by producers in Liberia for the export of minerals and other goods for the benefit of the people of Liberia and the sustainable development of the Liberian economy, including especially Nimba, Bong, and Grand Bassa Counties.

He said these Liberian Infrastructure Assets have been underutilized in the past to the detriment of the people of Nimba, Bong and Grand Bassa Counties, and the nation as a whole.

The President recalled that “the Government has also entered into a treaty with the Government of Guinea (the “Implementation Agreement”) dated 11 October 2019 and given full legal effect by the Republic of Guinea on 18 February 2020 and by the Republic of Liberia on 6 May 2021 for the export of certain Guinean Products via Liberia that has been identified and approved by the two governments (‘Approved Infrastructure Projects’).”

The President’s Executive Order also acknowledges that the “Government has granted the non-exclusive use of the Liberian Infrastructure Assets to ArcelorMittal Holdings A.G. and ArcelorMittal Liberia Holdings Limited (together ‘ArcelorMittal Liberia’) under the terms of a mineral development agreement as amended on 28 December 2006 and 23 January 2013 (the ‘MDA’); and the Government has also committed, pursuant to the terms of a framework agreement with Ivanhoe Liberia Limited (‘Ivanhoe’) and Société des Mines de Fer de Guinee (‘SMFG’) dated 20 December 2019 (as amended on 12 April 2021 and 30 March 2022) (the ‘Framework Agreement’) and the Implementation Agreement (1) to provide access and use of the Liberian Infrastructure Assets to Ivanhoe and SMFG pursuant to their Approved Infrastructure Project; and (2) to enter into a concession and access agreement as regards certain specific terms for the long term use of and access to the Liberian Infrastructure Assets and associated infrastructure and facilities.”

He also indicated in the Order that the Government is committed to the core principles of open, non-discriminatory access on a multi-user basis to the Liberian Infrastructure Assets for ArcelorMittal Liberia, Ivanhoe and SMFG (or their affiliates) together with any other eligible users, including local companies and mining operators approved as such by the Government (“Eligible Users”), and in accordance with best international industry practice and best technical, safety, social and environmental standards (“Core Principles”).

He declared: “Pursuant to the authority of the President under the Constitution and laws of the Republic of Liberia, I hereby direct that there shall be established a National Railway Authority under the aegis of the Ministry of Transport pursuant to its lawful authority and responsibility.”

Meanwhile, as things kept going zigzag, President Weah has appointed a new presidential committee to resolve outstanding issues with the US$1.2 billion 3rd amended investment agreement with global steel giant ArcelorMittal.

According to the Executive Mansion’s statement on its official Facebook page, the decision followed a meeting with Mr. Lakshmi Mittal, Executive Chairman of ArcelorMittal, in Doha, Qatar, where the President held discussions centered around resolving all outstanding issues to the Revised Mineral Development Agreement (MDA) to be signed between the Government of Liberia and ArcelorMittal (Liberia) Ltd.

Those appointed to the Special Presidential Committee are Amb. Dee-Maxwell Saah Kemayah, Sr., Minister of Foreign Affairs as, Chairman; Emanuel L. Shaw II, Advisor to the President, Member; and Hon. Cllr. Archibald Bernard, Legal Advisor to the President, Member, and Secretary to the Committee.

This new Special Presidential Committee of the Government of Liberia will work with an ad-hoc committee that is to be established by Mr. Mittal, to resolve all outstanding issues relating to the MDA.

The Committee is further mandated to “meet with and engage any and all relevant authorities of the Government of Liberia and ArcelorMittal and any other stakeholders, either individually or collectively, whenever and wherever deemed appropriate in the sole discretion of the Committee, in order to ensure the finalization and implementation of the above-mentioned MDA within a reasonable time frame, and report back to the Office of the President with its findings, recommendations, and advice”.

Said the statement: “the Liberian Leader has further directed the Special Presidential Committee to work assiduously and collaboratively in the discharge of its duties and responsibilities, in order to find a durable solution that will have due regard to the legitimate interest of all parties, while always upholding and protecting the supreme national interest of the Government and People of Liberia”.

In March 2022, President George Weah announced his authorization for the Inter-Ministerial Concession Committee (IMCC) to engage Arcelor Mittal for the resubmission of an amendment of the draft Agreement that will be in the interest of all parties.

The announcement was contained in a communication President Weah sent to the House of Representatives through Speaker Bhofal Chambers and read in plenary.

The President then states: “I have directed the members of the Inter-Ministerial Concession Committee (IMCC), established by law for this purpose to review and analyze the points made in your letter to further confer with you and then to report their findings to me for further actions. Thereafter, I shall authorize the IMCC to hold discussions with Arcelor Mittal for the resubmission of an amendment that fairly satisfies the needs of that company while also upholding the national interests of Liberia.”

Prior to these actions, the House of Representatives without consultation with the Senate took an unprecedented move acting arbitrarily to return the AML draft Amended Agreement to the Office of the President of Liberia.

This shockingly happened despite an earlier agreement by the very House of Representatives to go to a conference with the Senate and resolve all differences, after the Senate passed their version of the draft Agreement which was different from that of the Lower House.

This decision of the Lower House was widely criticized by the Liberian public including politicians and members of the private sector such as top Liberian economist, Simeon Freeman.

What’s In The New Arcelormittal MDA?

In September 2021, the Luxembourg- based worldwide steel manufacturing company ArcelorMittal signed a $US 1 billion amendment to its current agreement with Liberian Authorities to expand its operation in the country.

The amendment would pave the way for the expansion of its mining and logistics operations in Liberia.

The expansion project will evoke massive iron ore processing operations, and the expansion of the Yekepa – Buchanan rail, and the Buchanan Port facilities. This exercise would see the construction of a new ore concentrator plant and a significant expansion of the company’s mining operations.

ArcelorMittal expects to draw the first concentrate from the brownfield expansion project in late 2023 if the MDA were approved late last year.

As per the agreement with the government, ArcelorMittal will have reservations for expansion for at least up to 30 million tones per annual with the company agreeing that other users could be permitted to use and invest in additional rail capacity.

ArcelorMittal CEO Aditya Mittal said: “This project is an important component of our strategic growth program, designed to ensure ArcelorMittal captures the best organic growth opportunities within our business.

“The Phase 2 expansion in Liberia is an excellent example of how we can leverage growth opportunities within our existing asset base to deliver sustainable, long-term value.

“Signing the MDA amendment will enable us to capitalize on and add to the infrastructure investments previously undertaken and transform ArcelorMittal Liberia into a large-scale, premium product operation.”

ArcelorMittal, which has invested more than $1.7bn in Liberia over the last 15 years, and expects to generate more than 3,000 jobs during the construction phase of the project after the ratification of the draft AMD.

Liberia President George Manneh Weah said: “We are delighted to have reached this important agreement with ArcelorMittal Liberia, our long-term partner in the development of the mining sector in Liberia.

In a related development, as the world was celebrating world Anti-Corruption Day, it was published that the United States Treasury Department has issued sanctions on two companies and a Russian national linked to the Solway Investment Group engaged into mining operations in Liberia for allegedly leading bribery and corruption schemes showcasing the Russian involvement in the Guatemalan nickel sector.

Guatemala is a Central American country south of Mexico. With an estimated population of around 17.6 million, it is the most populous country in Central America and is the 11th most populous country in the Americas.

The US sanctions were imposed on Compania Guatemalteca de Niquel ProNiCo and Mayaniquel, Guatemalan-based subsidiaries of Solway Investment Group, which is also operating in Liberia, as pundits declare that they foresee a creeping sanction.

Solway is the world’s largest privately owned nickel producer in a sector dominated by public companies, turning over USD1 billion, and being active in the nickel business since 2003

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