Tweah Hits Back At Konneh

Finance, Development Planning Minister Samuel D. Tweah has
swiftly reacted to barrage of allegations against him by former Minister Minister of Finance, Amara Konneh on the HPX payment which has become a major issue of discussion in recent days.

In a swift reaction to former Minister Amara Konneh’sassessment of the HPX 37Million Payment, Minister Samuel Tweah, insisted that the “HPX payments met PFM requirements under Liberian law.”

Tweah in a 10 counts clarification to substantiate the HXP 37 Million payment stated that HPX engagement with Liberia grew out of a ratified international bilateral agreement reached between Guinea and Liberia on transport of Guinean ore through Liberia.

Amidst the recent visa restriction placed on him by the United States Department of State, the Minister of Finance and Development Planning Samuel D. Tweah, Jr.has swiftly reacted to the allegation which also affected his family, blaming his designation on the level of detailed misinformation given to U.S. congressional leaders against the ruling Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC) and maintained that the action is “unbelievably unjust, unfair and is a fundamental violation of their rights.

Minister Tweh however vowed, while describing himself as a father and a husband, to fight what he called the “injustice meted out to me and my family irrespective of the might of the power of the individual or of the country inflicting that harm, saying that he has always loved the United States and its ideals. “I lived close to a decade as a resident of the U.S. and received graduate education there. America is a truly great country and democracy,” he said.

Tweah argued that the allegation and verdict read thus: “Pursuant to Section 7031(c) [of the Department of State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs Appropriations Act, 2023] the United States is publicly designating Tweah, Chie, and Nuquay, for their involvement in significant corruption by abusing their public positions through soliciting, accepting, and offering bribes to manipulate legislative processes and public funding, including legislative reporting and mining sector activity.”

While categorically denying the allegations levied against him, Tweah retorted, “I have never influenced legislative processes” whatever that implies.  Specific reference to the mining sector confuses me but I believe this reference pertains to my involvement to developing a multi-user gateway through the third amendment of ArcelorMittal’scurrent concession and through granting rail access to HPX, an American company looking to transport rail from Guinea through Liberia.“

Making a link to the submission, he said about a year ago in Washington D.C. he received hints that persons connected with an American company, High Power Explorations Inc.  (HPX)  was trying to get him on Treasury sanctions because he was allegedly or supposedly favoring AccelorMittal Limited (AML) over HPX and preventing HPX from accessing the rail to conduct its investment in Guinea through Liberia.

“My informant knew this was unjust and unfair, knowing the role I was playing on the Inter-ministerial Concessions Committee and understanding the difficulties and complexities of the negotiation. I was also informed that persons close to HPX were considering sanctions against me because the company had paid US$ 37 million to the Government of Liberia through the national budget since 2019 and was yet to have an agreement with the Government,” he said.

He argued, “Legitimate monies received by the Government of Liberia for the development of Liberia through the national budget is never a bribe. That an agreement has been difficult to reach because of complexity surrounding a pre-existing agreement is no reason to threaten government officials with sanction.”

Minister Tweah who has been in charge of his portfolio since 2018 upon the ascendency of President George Manneh Weah said he is providing these explanations and contexts because these are chatters that have underpinned threats of sanction against him and his family from powerful individuals; It is important for the public to understand and know these things; We have not discussed them publicly as a government but now have an obligation to do so under the current circumstances”.

“I was advised that to avoid sanction, I should withdraw my support for ArcelorMittal’s third amendment until after the election. It was on this basis that I advised President Weah to turn over negotiations on the rail to the U.S. Government since too much propaganda and misinformation were threatening to destroy members of his government.

“The President obliged and the Americans for a brief moment tried to bring both HPX and A together to reach some understanding on the multi-user rail system. Meetings were held in London and Washington. Unfortunately, these meetings did not achieve anything, and the Americans withdrew and turned negotiations back to the Government of Liberia,” he averred.

“The truth of the matter is that ArcelorMittal has an agreement with the Government of Liberia signed by the Unity Party Government that gives Mittal the right to use the Nimba rail and to be an operator of this rail. In the Government’s vision to develop a multiuser rail system, we have tried to have Mittal relinquish operatorship of the rail to an Independent third-party rail operator for purposes of fairness and equity”, Tweah said.

He noted that ArcelorMittal has not been open to this position, and they, the government, have been at a deadlock in the negotiations for more than three years. Realizing the impossibility of having ArcelorMittal give up rail operatorship, and knowing the Government was not willing to proceed to international arbitration, the Government moved to a position of having Mittal become the User-Operator in exchange for other critical rights Mittal would have to give up under its current concession that would enable fair and equitable access to third parties such as HPX.

He narrated that he would have enabled the parties to reach a compromise, noting unfortunately, that HPX did not seem open to such a compromise and had insisted that Mittal abandons the rail operatorship.

“Mittal itself does not want to give up rail operatorship. As a consequence, Samuel Tweah   became the biggest victim in this power play between two billionaires, each of whom aims to undo and outmaneuver the other. This is fundamentally unfair to me and requires correction by the U.S. authorities,” Minister Tweh explained.

He said a few months prior to the 2023 elections, the IMCC paid a visit to the Port of Buchanan; but prior to this visit, “we had taken a position to press ArcelorMittalharder to share the current facilities at the port of Buchanan with HPX and to accept small shipments, about one to two million metric tons of ore through Guinea, preferably from HPX, since under the current concession Mittal is obliged to sharing both rail and port.”

He clarified that he narrated all these positioning and repositioning to the Americans to prove that neither he nor other members of the Government of Liberia were biased toward one investor against the other, but that we were bent on finding a practical solution to a very complex problem.

“Given legal concession rights ArcelorMittal has under the current concession forcing them out of operations of the rail would require litigation or the Armed Forces of Liberia bursting through their premises, violating international law. Since the Government did not prefer any of these two options, we could only concede to Mittal’s operations in exchange for other rights for third party companies like HPX,” he stressed.

“However, these explanations still evidently did not impress some higher ups in Washington who have continued to use Africa Intelligence, a propaganda media outfit, to rain attacks against the Government of the CDC. The headline of one of Africa Intelligence’s articles published on September 29, 2023, reads: George Weah irks Washington and Robert Friedland (he is the billionaire owner of HPX) with mine transfers to ArcelorMittal. Several such false stories have been planted internationally and locally,” he added.

Tweah said as they leave the Government, they have left copious transition notes to guide the new administration on these issues. The latest thinking is to find a way for HPX to share the port of Buchanan with ArcelorMittalsince it may take a long time for HPX or other third parties to develop separate berths at Buchanan,” he explained, furthering, “We wish the new administration luck in these negotiations and look forward to Liberia having a fair and equitable multi-user rail system.”

On the heels of these clarification, the man under whose Samuel Tweah, ascended to prominence within the treasury department of the government of Liberia, Amara Konneh, former Finance and Development Minister swiftly reacted to Samuel Tweah’s justications and clarification specifically on the HPX  controversial payment of US$37 million to the Government of Liberia (GOL) through the budget since 2019, to the Consolidated Account at the Central Bank of Liberia for fiscal operations without a ratified concession agreement by the Legislature, which he termed as illegal.

Konneh stated that the deal is suspicious in that up until Thursday’s press conference; the Liberian public knew little or nothing about the GOL-AML-HPX deal.

“HPX is High Power Exploration Incorporated, a company that is licensed to mine iron ore in Guinea, close to the border with Liberia in Nimba County. The company intends to ship its iron ore through Liberia since the port of Buchanan is closer to its operations area than Conakry, the capital of Guinea. But to do so, the HPX needs a concession agreement to use the railroad from Yekepa to Buchanan which is currently under the control of ArcelorMittal (AML) based on its existing mineral development agreement with the Government of Liberia (GOL).

While the negotiations are still ongoing among the parties – Arcelor Mittal, HPX, and the Government – the GOL, through Mr. Tweah, has been taking money from HPX in contravention of Liberian laws.”

“Section 88.1 of the Amended and Restated Procurement and Concession Act (PPCC) of 2010 clearly states that no concession shall be implemented unless the proposed project has been issued with a certificate for concession”.  Also, Section 5.2(e) of the Amended and Restated Public Finance Management Act (PFM) of 2019 states that resources that become public money upon receipt include “proceeds received by the state from the sale or leasing of any property owned by the state.”

“Hence, by receiving payments from HPX without a consummated concession agreement with the GOL, Minister Tweah violated provisions of both the PFM Act and the PPCC Act, two sacred instruments that Finance Ministers MUST uphold.  If there were “difficulties in having an agreement,” why not work around those “difficulties” before collecting the money from HPX? On what basis did he accept the money? How was the money accounted for in the budget? What revenue line item was it placed under? The House of Representatives rejected AML’s amended agreement that was under consideration. The timing between the payment of the $30 million and the rejection raises fundamental questions that must be answered.”

“Appropriations are made through the budget. Direct payments and disbursement are executed through the consolidated accounts based on projected revenues received as actuals.

Too many unanswered questions! I implore the 54th legislature to use part of the 10 days they have been called by President Weah to receive and debate the draft budget to investigate these irregularities to avoid potential litigation. Don’t leave it for the 55th Legislature and the Boakai Administration. We need an open, transparent government to build a credible state.” Amara Konneh, former Finance and Development Minister contended.

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