ArcelorMittal In Nimba, A Blessing or A Curse?

–Lawmakers Expressed Dismay over the Company’s ‘Lukewarm’ Interventions In Nimba

When the news of ArcelorMittal, the world largest steel company broke that it was coming to Liberia, especially in Nimba to operate, Nimbaians including other Liberians at home and abroad were celebrating that a long awaited blessing since the departure of the Liberia American-Swedish Mining Company (LAMCO) has arrived, but it seems this blessing has turned to a ‘curse.’

In 2005, ArcelorMittal Liberia signed the first Mineral Development Agreement (MDA) with Liberia to allow the company to begin mining operations in Yekepa, Nimba County and Buchanan, Grand Bassa County concessions.  This agreement was then renegotiated and amended in 2006.

The MDA carries severe conditions regarding sustainable development and economic, social and environmental investment. Its aim is to ensure that, while foreign companies are able to generate a profit from their investment in the extraction of Liberia’s resources, the country and its citizens benefit as well.

Among other things, it stipulates that ArcelorMittal contributes US$3million a year to the county social development fund for Nimba, Bong and Grand Bassa Counties. This money, which over the 25-year expected life-of-mine will total US$75 million, will be used to drive community development projects that will uplift and improve the lives of local people. The agreement also includes commitments to infrastructure development, environmental protection and an overall guiding principle of uplifting Liberia and her people.

The company is also required 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.

The Company’s Promises

In the MDA, the company promised to support socioeconomic regeneration and growth in the local communities and throughout Liberia;  develop and strengthen an internal corporate responsibility governance and operational structure, build and strengthen partnerships with relevant industry stakeholders through proactive engagement and internalizing best practices on the environment, workplace, health, safety and good corporate governance in business operations.

The Disappointment:

However, it seems the company is reneging on her promises as Yekepa once considered as Little America in Nimba County lies in ruin with all of the structures left behind by LAMCO deserted by the company.

Even communities considered as the Project Affected Communities (PAC) are crying over lack of supports from the company. Their situations are ranging from environmental pollution, lack of basic social services, employment opportunities and other infrastructural development initiatives.

New Agreement:

Recently, the Liberian Government and ArcelorMittal Liberia signed what they called landmark agreement amending the previous MDA in the tone of US$800million. They said the new amendment paves the way for the expansion of the company’s mining and logistics operations in Liberia.

The expansion project includes the construction of a new concentration plant and the substantial expansion of mining operations, with the first concentrate expected in late 2023, ramping up to 15 million tonnes per annum (‘mtpa’).

As the largest foreign investor in Liberia, ArcelorMittal Liberia said it has invested over US$1.7 billion in the country over the past 15 years. It says more than 2000 jobs are expected to be created during the construction phase, with Liberians envisaged to fill the majority of the roles created.

Nimba Citizens Expressed Disappointments:

Following the renewal of the agreement with the company, concerned citizens of Nimba petitioned their lawmakers calling for serious and total scrutiny of the agreement before passage at the Legislature.

Among other things, the citizens called for employment opportunities for Nimbaians, basic social services and other economic benefits to them. Project Affected Communities whose livelihoods depend on their farms said their creeks have been polluted, crops destroyed, lack of schools, clinics, hospitals, roads and the desertion of Yekepa among others.

Lawmakers’ Assessment:

Based on the petition from the aggrieved citizens of Nimba, members of the Nimba Legislative Caucus were led by Senator Jeremiah Kpan Koung for the first since the arrival of the company in the country on an assessment tour in the company’s operational areas.

Senator Koung was accompanied by Representatives Roger Domah (District#7), Dorwohn Gleekia (District#6), Gunpue L. Kargon (District#4), Prince Tokpah (District#2) along with the local leadership of the county headed by Superintendent Nelson Korquoi, County Inspector B. Mack Gblinwon among others.

The tour took the delegation to Sehkimpa, Zolowee, Gbarpa, Yekepa, Zorgowee, Zor Tapa among others. None of the high ranking officials of the company [foreign managers] were seen at the site besides Liberians.

During the assessment, Senator Koung expressed serious disappointment in the management of the company over lack of development in the county and project affected communities. Even Yekepa were the company operates lies in ruin as all materials including buildings left behind by LAMCO are all abandoned by the company, but prefers setting up small containers as dwelling areas for workers and their  families as the once little America lies in bushes.

With frustrations vividly on their faces, the citizens in all of the towns and villages visited by Senator Koung and his team, expressed sorrow how their ‘blessing has turned into ‘curse’ since the arrival of ArcelorMittal in the county.

But speaking to a cross section of citizens, Senator Koung said “We have come based the petition that you people presented that you weren’t satisfied.”

Disappointingly, even the company’s Tokadi Mountain operational office is far below standard as road leading to the site very deplorable with a 40-foot container being used as a clinic occupied by foreign nationals.

In Yekepa, a family of three living in a 40-foot container, some on single bed like hospital beds, the largest swimming pool lies in bushes, once largest warehouse operated by LAMCO abandoned, hospital turned into clinic, all streets damaged with potholes, bushes all over the city among others.

Following the tour, Senator Koung said “Thanks to AML, but we are not impressed because after many years, the community continues to be the same even going backward. We expect to see some of the high ranking members of the company, but we didn’t see them.”

Some of the bystanders were heard saying ‘ArcelorMittal has turned our blessing into curse’ because they couldn’t believe what they saw after 15 years of the company’s operations with just ten years remaining.

The company couldn’t be reached as all efforts to get in contact proved fruitless.

By Reuben Sei Waylaun (Business & Development Journalist)

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