Arcelormittal 3rd MDA Receives Support From 15 Campus Based County Student Associations -Laud Senate For Standing With Liberians

As Liberians, all and sundry, continue to clamor for the Government of Liberia to see the wisdom in ratifying the ArcelorMittal 3rd Mineral Development Agreement that is expected to accrue lots of benefits for the people of Liberia, a conglomeration of 15 county base student associations at the state-run University of Liberia wholeheartedly supports the AML agreement with Government of Liberia and ArcelorMittal, which accordingly will lift thousands of people out of poverty.

Making their position known on Wednesday, the UL student groups also lauded Senate Pro-Tempore Albert Chie for his statement made at the Opening Session of the Legislature where he clarified that the AML deal is still under discussion and hasn’t been rejected by the Legislature as is being widely speculated. The groups also sided with Pro-Tempore’s beef with the House of Representatives when he reportedly returned the AML MDA back to the Executive without the consent of the Senate.

“We just want the Senate to know that we stand with them in this matter and urge members of the lower House to remember that they did not get elected to divert the real issues in the name of patriotism, and then make decisions that benefit a company outside of our sovereign jurisdiction. They should remember that posterity will judge them harshly and we will be here to attest to their unpatriotic leadership,” the UL student associations stated emphatically.

Historicizing the Amended ALM MDA

Providing  a background to the current stalemate regarding the 3rd ArcelorMittal MDA, the University of Liberia students noted how after almost two years of grueling negotiations, on September 10, 2021, the Government of the Republic of Liberia and ArcelorMittal, the world’s leading steel giant, signed an amendment to the Mineral Development Agreement (‘MDA’) which would have paved the way for the expansion of the Company’s mining and logistics operations in Liberia, and correspondingly contribute to job creation and the overall economic development of Liberia.

“Transmission of the MDA to the Liberia National Legislature for ratification sparked overwhelming public and sectoral debate as to the actual benefit to the Liberian people. This confusion spread in many quarters in the country, including in the student community. There were allegations, counter allegations, intentional misinformation, leading to a total brouhaha in the public.

In order to meaningfully contribute to this national debate, we took up our time to painstakingly peruse and critically analyze the ArcelorMittal deal, after which, we got even more confused, because we saw nothing detrimental to the economic future of Liberia. All we saw were job opportunities for thousands of our hopeless youth; almost US$100 million in annual revenue, and additional economic benefits to communities where ArcelorMittal operates.

“These findings at that point did not only further deepen our confusion, but they inspired our curiosity and suspicion that something was not right and a terrible misjudgment, with a long-reaching impact on today’s generation and many generations after us, was about to happen. And sadly, it took flight on December 16, 2021, the day when the House Committee on Concession and Investment presented a highly flawed and shallow report to plenary of the Lower House,” the group of UL student associations averred.

The group intimated that their findings discovered that all of the contentions that the AML deal was not good for Liberia were entirely driven and inspired by a few Liberians who were hiding behind national interest to front for the Russian funded mining company, Solway, and the Guinean concessionaire, HPX-Ivanhoe.

“Solway was in 2020 given an exploration license on ArcelorMittal concession area hoping that ArcelorMittal would have concluded its mining interest in Liberia after the nine left by 2030; however, AML chose to expand. Solway knew that should the Arcelormittal deal be ratified, their intentions to main in Liberia would effectively end, because the AML concession area given them for exploration is illegal and the illegality would correspondingly expand to addition 25 years instead of the current nine years which they have to contend with.

“On the other hand, the Guinean concessionaire HPX-Ivanhoe, has secured the Nimba mine on the Guinean side with a promised investment of about US$2.4 billion, which will see the company pay millions of United States dollars to the Guinean authorities in royalties and revenue same as Arcelormital is doing here in Liberia, and thousands of jobs would be created for the people of Guinea should the mine get operational. But the hard fact remains that all of those goodies are for the people of Guinea.

“Now, the Guinean concession HPX-Ivanhoe wants to package that mining concession in Guinea to sell but would need to include critical rail and port infrastructure to make their sale attractive and to increase the market value of the deal. In pursuing their access to these infrastructure, Arcelormittal yielded to the government of Liberia request to establish a multiuser arrangement for rail and port infrastructure in AML amended MDA, in order to accommodate HPX-Ivanhole and any other company that would desire using these infrastructure in the future,” the students stated emphatically.

The students furthered that despite the compromises of ArcelorMittal to establish the multiuser arrangement, HPX-Ivan wanting to make their mining package more attractive has been pushing the government of Liberia to remove ArcelorMittal entirely as the operator of the rail and Arcelormittal has registered that that would be unfair.

“To backtrack a little, the public needs to understand that when Arcelormittal came to this country, our rail and iron port in Buchanan was entirely nonexistent and inoperable and the government of Liberia did not have the resources to rebuild them to ensure total control. Arcelormittal had to invest US$500 million to restore those infrastructure, then why should we as a people of value try to ignore the reality and support this ill-fated action to remove Arcelormittal as operator of the rail? Even though the current Agreement gives AML exclusive rights over the rail and port, the company has been willing to compromise by neutralizing its exclusivity so that Liberia can gain the additional revenue for other companies such as HPX to use the rail.

“But HPX thinks that is not enough to ride on Liberia to achieve their business objective. That will never be allowed here in this country. Liberia is a country of law and we will respect all corporate contracts entered into to present Liberia as a favorable investment environment where investors can direct their money and go to sleep because their investment will be protected.

Economic Benefits of Ratifying AML MDA

Rationalizing on what the country stands to lose if the ArcelorMittal deal is not passed urgently, the student grouping said, as the largest foreign investor in Liberia, ArcelorMittal Liberia has invested over $1.7 billion in the country over the past 15 years. More than 2000 jobs are expected to be created during the construction phase, with Liberians envisaged to fill the majority of the roles created. ArcelorMittal operates a Vocational Training Centre and provides two-year residential certificate training in mechanical and electrical trades.

“As part of this same expansion deal, ArcelorMittal Liberia has also launched a training and development program for high potential Liberian employees who will gain on the job experience and knowledge in ArcelorMittal Mining operations globally. The employees will receive advanced training in the fields of mining production and operation optimization, plant maintenance, planning and execution, plant electrical operation systems, and electrical maintenance. Other training areas include plant fitting and heavy-duty mobile equipment maintenance, as well as mine production and operations.

“The investment in advanced skills training demonstrates ArcelorMittal Liberia’s commitment to providing employment and professional development opportunities to Liberians. In addition, it is envisaged that the expansion will further boost the growth of small and medium sized businesses in Liberia which offer a range of services to ArcelorMittal Liberia.

“Since the commencement of its operations in Liberia, ArcelorMittal has provided direct and indirect jobs for over 5,000 Liberians; Liberians currently hold 66% of the senior management positions at ArcelorMittal Liberia. Since 2006, ArcelorMittal Liberia has spent over USD$38m on the County and Social Development Fund”. Community Development Fund (CDF) has been launched, ensuring that 20% of CSDF goes directly to affected communities for development. ArcelorMittal Liberia has been contributing US $3.0 million annually for the three counties in which it operates (Nimba, Grand Bassa & Bong). To date, the company has paid $45 million towards this commitment. AML has made a US $40 million commitment to fund the paving of Yekepa to Ganta Highway, after the people of Nimba complained that LAMCO had not built this highway during its decades in Liberia.

“What the lawmakers who are by the constitutional required to appropriate money for expenditure have over the years failed to do is to ask themselves the question: why hasn’t the 45 million in county social development fund benefited the affected countries?,” the leadership of the 15 university students associations at the University of Liberia categorically stated, confirming their support for ratification of the 3rd amendment of the mineral development agreement between government of Liberia and ArcelorMittal, noting that the agreement has the ability to lift thousands of people out of poverty.

“We laud the Senate Pro-Tempore for his statement Tuesday ignoring the arbitrary return of the ArcelorMittal deal back to the Executive without their consultation. We just want the Senate to know that we stand with them in this matter and urge members of the lower House to remember that they do not get elected to divert the real issues in the name of patriotism, and then make decisions that benefit a company outside of our sovereign jurisdiction. They should remember that posterity will judge them harshly and we will be here to attest to their unpatriotic leadership.

 “As the Legislature has reconvened yesterday, we call on the lower House to join the House of Elder – the Senate to meet in conference to transparently resolve and harmonize all matters of concerns around the ArcelorMittal deal to give us the ordinary people who they represent the opportunity of respectable jobs and much needed resources for the economic development of our country.

“The President of Liberia must do the needful, engage with the company and resolve all outstanding issues that could possibly hinder the passage of the deal. This is in the supreme interest of not just Liberians but also the president’s famous ‘Liberia is ready for business” mantra,” the students concluded.

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