MONROVIA-Nimba county Senator, Jerimiah K. Koung has expressed his disgust over the operations of Arcelor Mittal Liberia saying that the company was not up to the task. But some Liberians said they are only critizing the company because they are seeking for personal benefits.
“I have seen that nothing has changed. But I can say to you that I am not impressed because this is just the same old building, no addition and no subtraction for almost 75 to 80 years; Especially when we get the world’s biggest steel giant. It doesn’t look good; it doesn’t represent the kind of investment we have in this country,” he told staff of the company in Yekepa when he took a team of journalists and some lawmakers there over the weekend
According to him, the first Mineral Development Agreement – MDA called for the company to carry out mining operations in Yekepa, Nimba County and Buchanan, Grand Bassa County concessions. This agreement was then renegotiated and amended in 2006.
Senator Koung said, the MDA states that ArcelorMittal contributes US$3 million a year to the county social development fund for Nimba, Bong and Grand Bassa Counties.
But he said, for instance, instead of AML working on repairing the houses, they have not done it; a situation which he said is bad. On the hospital level, the company is only operating 60 bed rooms rather than, 100 bed rooms.
AML has operated for 16 years and recently singed another 25 years amended agreement with the government which will allow it to invest US$800 million
“There is no safe drinking water in our town. We don’t have any employment opportunity. We are living in total hardship,” said Gabriel Dunbar Gbanlon, former Commissioner and now spokesperson of Sehyikimpa, in Saniquellie Mah District. The town is close to the operation site of AML, Torkardi mountain.
He added the future of the town is bleak, as no learning opportunities for the children and young people. He said students from the town highly make a pass at the company’s vocational school. “We call on you to intervene, and let our children go to school. That’s the only hope,” he added.
Senator Koung said, they are not going by the agreement. Part of it calls for the improvement and rehabilitation of existing infrastructures, environmental protection and an overall guiding principle of uplifting Liberia and its people.
“They are to “to establish and maintain medical and education facilities in areas of operation, to serve employees, their families and the broader community and to prioritize the employment and development of local Liberians. But all these are not happening.”
“When LAMCO was here, if you came here, you would know that company was here. With Arcelor Mittal here, see what is here. And this is the biggest steel company in the world. So, we can see for ourselves. That’s what we taking to our friends and to share with our friends,” Said Senator Koung.
“We want them to be in the country, but equally so, we don’t want them to exploit us. What we are doing here today is to do a pictorial document who do not have the chance to come on the ground.”
Another lawmaker, Prince Tokpa said: “This is not what we expected. Yekepa used to be the most beautiful place in Liberia. Workers had conducive living areas, good pay and good working environment. These are what we will pushing for when we get back to Monrovia,”
“We are not impressed with what we have seen. We will tell our colleagues the reality of what is happening here. We want to say thank you. We would have appreciated to see some of the expats and some of the very high ranking people in the company. But unfortunately, we didn’t see them, but we saw you our brothers who are Liberians.”
But some Liberians who spoke to our reporter in Nimba said, they believe that the lawmakers were not serious in their discussions.
“They just want to raise the hope of people and at the end of it, they will go and receive brown envelope from AML and nothing will happen.
“Where were they before. Some of them were in Ellen’s government, especially, Senator Prince Johnson who is talking loud?, Mr. Samuel K. Tiah said.
Meanwhile in a statement issued late Tuesday AML acknowledged the visiton of the lawmaekrs.
The statement said: “Five Nimba County legislators on last Saturday visited the ArcelorMittal Liberia Yekepa concession on a citizens engagement tour, announced by Senator Jeremiah Koung to obtain information about AML’s operations, and to interact with staff of the company.
Representatives Roger Domah, D. Twain Gleekia, Gonpue L. Kargon, Prince S. Tokpah, and Senator Jeremiah Koung, visited the Tokadeh Mines and the residential area and AML Hospital in Yekepa, and also visited some non-operational locations around Area F.
Senator Jeremiah Koung who headed the team said it was part of their responsibilities as lawmakers to engage with ArcelorMittal on the concerns of the citizens, stating that they are all working for the development of Liberia as the common agenda. He concluded with “the citizens have the right to petition their representatives. When they do, we have to come and listen to them and see for ourselves”.
During a debriefing session held at the ArcelorMittal Liberia Training Academy, AML’s Head of Government and Community Relations Marcus Wleh said AML welcomes the visit of the Nimba lawmakers and stressed that as a leader in Liberia’s private sector, the company operates in an open, transparent, and accountable manner. Wleh said, “ArcelorMittal Liberia is honored to be contributing immensely to Liberia’s economy and explained that with the progress being made on the company’s expansion project, there will be more opportunities in the areas of jobs, education, training and development, and revenue generation for the Government”.
Two weeks ago, the Government of Liberia and ArcelorMittal signed a landmark amendment to the company’s Mineral Development Agreement (‘MDA’) which paves the way to triple its mining and logistics operations in Liberia to export 15 million tons of concentrate annually. The additional capital required to complete the project is expected to be approximately $ 800 million.
ArcelorMittal Liberia is concerned about the worrying precedent being set by some of the lawmakers during their visit. By making statements that appear to support acts of impropriety against the company; failing to fact-check derogatory remarks against the company and personnel, and refusing to follow safety and security protocols; only reinforce a state of impunity that was voiced.