After Illegally Collecting HPX 37M, Samuel Tweah’s Deceptive Claims Pose a Threat to Foreign Investment
Approximately a week ago, the US imposed sanctions on Liberian Finance Minister Samuel Tweah and two senators, accusing them of graft, bribery, and misusing public office.
According to the US State Department, the Treasury designated Tweah, along with Senators Albert Chie and Emmanuel Nuquay, for their involvement in “significant corruption” by manipulating legislative processes and misusing public funds.
Minister Tweah, seemingly underestimating the severity of the sanctions, held a press conference to defend himself against the US sanctions which have so far targeted seven senior members of the CDC administration.
During the press conference, Tweah attempted to portray himself as a victim caught in a rivalry between two companies, HPX and ArcelorMittal Liberia (AML).
He claimed to have defended ArcelorMittal against HPX, an “American company” intending to conduct business in Liberia using Liberian rail and port infrastructure.
Despite his efforts, Tweah failed to provide verifiable evidence supporting his defense against the US sanctions.
Background of HPX Liberia Operation
HPX, a privately held company focusing on the ultra-high-grade Nimba iron ore project in Guinea, plans to use Liberian infrastructure for shipping ore worldwide. However, ArcelorMittal has operational control of the rail under the current Mineral Development Agreement.
In 2021, AML proposed expanding its operation in the 3rd mineral development agreement, allowing other companies to use the rail to generate additional income for the government.
Minister Samuel CDC’s majority in the Houses of the Legislature rejected this restated agreement that if it came into effect would significantly ramp up the production of premium iron ore, generating significant new jobs and wider economic benefits for Liberia.
Speaker Bhofal Chambers contended that the deal needed to be renegotiated, fueled by months of propaganda and disinformation, some reportedly sponsored by HPX herself.
Tweah and the Questionable $37 million HPX Payment:
After legislative refusal to pass the amended AML agreement, Tweah unilaterally included a suspicious $37 million payment from High Power Exploration (HPX) in the 2022 proposed recast budget.
Senator Darius Dillion questioned this payment, leading to Tweah being invited for questioning. Tweah justified the payment as a signing fee for a controversial framework agreement for HPX, despite the absence of a government agreement with the company.
“The Government could fall behind in salary by one month if the ArcelorMittal risk was not addressed by the HPX US$30 million,” Minister Tweah told Senators, in defense of his active acceptance of money from HPX, a violation of Liberian law.
As stated by former Finance Minister Konneh, “while the negotiations are still ongoing among the parties – ArcelorMittal, HPX, and the Government – the GOL, through Mr. Tweah,” for the rail and port facility use, this very Finance Minister was actively taking money from HPX, disregarding Liberian law.
“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.”
How can Minister Tweah even pretend that he was protecting ArcelorMittal and Liberian interests while simultaneously violating Liberian laws and collecting unlawful money from HPX, for which he has never accounted?
In March 2022, both Houses of the Legislature agreed and named members to a joint conference committee to solve outstanding issues in the 3rd AML agreement when they resume session.
But while the House was on break, the Executive through the office of the president re-called the House to act on a single agenda item- to reject the AML deal.
Tweah made no public comment in defense of Liberian of ArcelorMittal as the House rejected the AML agreement in total on March 28, 2022.
A few days later March 30, 2023, Samuel Tweah, the Minister of Justice and the National Investment Commission signed the problematic framework agreement with HPX giving the company the right to extend the railway facility from Yekepa to the Guinea-Liberia border and have access to the Yekepa-Port of Buchanan rail.
ON March 29, 2023, FrontPageAfrica reported that it had “gathered” that rejection of the AML deal by the House was “.. also intended to pave way for the coming in of High Power Exploration (HPX), an exploration company opting to carry out iron ore development in Nimba Guinea Mountains.
Readers will remember how Tweah, through his making, entered this clandestine HPX Framework Agreement that nearly landed Liberian into litigation. So, did Mr Tweah not know that signing the HPX framework agreement was illegal bearing in mind that the rail was still contracted to AML?
How could the Minister of Finance, Chairman of the NIC, the Ministers of Finance, Justice, and Lands, Mines & Energy sign a dubious Framework Agreement for HPX to use Liberian infrastructure already contracted to another company?
Tweah’s conduct was intentional, as the framework document for which HPX paid $37 million did not give HPX rights to any government assets but a roadmap to a concession agreement, which requires legislative ratification. Sadly, the roadmap agreement for HPX never reached the legislature as Tweah was collecting money for a mere framework paper.
Tweah must realize that his reckless handling of state affairs nearly and could still land Liberia into litigation, as HPX has the right to sue the Liberian government given how much money Tweah collected from them by offering what they want.
Former Finance Minister Amara Konneh is asking the “54th Legislature to hold hearings into this” and ensure that the sanctioned Finance Minister is held to account.
To conclude, Tweah must take responsibility for his actions. He clearly violated Liberian law and took money from a company with no agreement with the government.
Tweah’s intentional conduct, signing a dubious HPX Framework Agreement without legislative ratification, raises concerns about his handling of state affairs for which he must stop the blame game and account.
Tweah must acknowledge the repercussions of his actions, including violating Liberian law and accepting money from a company without a government agreement.
Former Minister Amara Konneh calls on the 54th Legislature to hold hearings and ensure accountability for the sanctioned Finance Minister.