ArcelorMittal MDA Seems To Be Sailing On Good Footing, As President Weah Announces New Negotiations

President George Manneh Weah

The world’s steel giant, ArcelorMittal is said to be  on good footing following the Liberian  leader,  President George Manneh Weah has authorized the Inter-Ministerial Concession Committee (IMCC) to engage with this steel company for the resubmission of an amendment that will be in the interest of all parties.

The announcement was contained in a communication the Liberian leader sent to the House of Representatives through its Speaker Dr. Bhofal Chambers and read in plenary on Thursday.

He stated: “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.”

The House of Representatives in March this year, rejected Amendment No. 3 to the Mineral Development Agreement (MDA) between the Government of Liberia on the one hand and ArcelorMittal Liberia Holdings Limited and ArcelorMittal Holdings A.G. on the other hand; saying, if the agreement becomes law, it would not serve the national interest.

The decision to return the Agreement to the Executive came about, after the House and the Liberian Senate failed to settle their differences over the draft Agreement that had spent some months languishing at the Legislature. It was initially passed by the House and forwarded to the Senate for concurrence after several scrutiny.

The Senate did not concur with the House in ratifying the draft MDA on grounds that it did not address most of the concerns raised by residents of the affected communities. It then propose the setting up of a conference committee to settle their differences before ratifying.

Earlier, the House voted unanimously in support of the Senate’s proposal to form a conference committee to find a way forward and named its Committee members headed by Representatives Clarence Massaquoi (Lofa County). But in an unprecedented move, the the House, without announcing whether the committee met, hastily convened a closed-door session on Monday, March 28. At the end of that meeting, the members voted unanimously to send the agreement back to the Executive for renegotiation; leaving their Senate counterparts in limbo.

Moments after the rejection of the ArcelorMittal deal, House Speaker Bhofal Chambers described the decision taken by the House plenary as the ‘greatest achievement to humanity.”

Speaking to reporters he said, “All that we do is that we seek the best interest of the Liberian people. In the wisdom of Plenary, they have decided to address the interest of our people. I think this is one of the greatest achievements of humanity — to serve our people selflessly,”

He added: “Our concern is the act of beneficiation, value added to the process. So that is what we have cataloged and felt that in no way we can have the concession agreement being entertained here without the Executive not renegotiating.”

The action of the House was not welcomed by the Senate; with some Senators insinuating the House was in error to return the un-ratified agreement to the Executive without the Senate’s acquiescence.

However, in his communication to the House, President Weah said he welcomed the House’s decision taken against the ratification of Amendment No. 3 which he submitted on November 17, 2021 for legislative action.

He said while he has not heard from the Senate as to its views, it was cleared to him that since both Houses of the Legislature must ratify mineral development and concession agreements or their amendments, the House’s decision to decline means the ratification of the third AML Amendment, for the time being, has failed.

The President expressed appreciation to members of the House for what he called the ‘diligence shown by each of them as they exhaustively reviewed the terms of the proposed amendment No.3 in the interest of the country.

Writing further, he noted that while he continues to believe that the expansion of the Arcelor Mittal operations by the addition of a concentrator and the increase of production to some 15 million tons of iron ore is in the interest of the country and people, he has taken of all the points made by the House that led it to decline to ratify the agreement.

On September 9, 2021, the Government of Liberia through the Executive and AML signed the completed negotiations for the AML 3rd amended agreement . The agreement was hailed by both parties as a win-win situation as it would lead to a US$800 million direct benefit to the government and paved the way for the expansion of the company’s mining and logistics operations in Liberia and allow ArcelorMittal to significantly ramp up production of premium iron ore, generating a significant number of new jobs and wider economic benefits for Liberia.

To become law, it was sent to the Legislature by the President for ratification. But some of the provisions in the draft agreement did not go down well with the lawmakers. Following series of consultative engagements with residents of the affected counties, the company officials and government negotiators, the House made major changes to the draft and sent to the Senate for concurrence.

The agreement, as submitted by the Executive, contained clauses that grant the company exclusive rights to the Yekepa to Buchanan railroad and Port of Buchanan, as captured in article 3, section 3(f) of AML’s third amendment to the MDA.

Article 3, Section F of the revised MDA, entitled, ‘The concessionaire’s capacity as Railroad Operator’, gives AML “the exclusive right to continue to serve as the operator of the Railroad during the term and any extended term of this agreement…”

Section F(2) puts AML “in charge of daily operations for the benefit of each and all Users in accordance with Railroad System Operating Principles and the Multi-User Agreement (when it becomes effective).”

Speaker Chambers, rejecting these clauses, said “This gives you the indication that the 54th Legislature, members of the House of Representatives, are supererogatory individuals. And they have done what is good for the country’s interest. It’s not one person. It is the whole body that has decided to take this high ground.”

In his letter, the President agreed with the House on the multi-user access of the rail and the port.

He said: “My Government remains fully committed to a fair multi-user access to and use of the railroad corridor from Yekepa to the port of Buchanan, and to the port of Buchanan itself, both by other Liberian enterprises and those from the sister Republic of Guinea. Such access and use will be beneficial to both nations and enhance the goals and purposes of the Economic Community of West Africa States and the Mano River Union to both of which Liberia is a member as is the sister Republic of Guinea.”

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