MONROVIA – As controversies surrounding the Western Cluster Liberia (WCL) deal continue to trend around the country, with the citizens now threatening within one week to halt the company’s operation if they fail to abide by the terms and conditions of the Memorandum of Understanding signed with the Government of Liberia, especially pertaining to the Road User Permit (RUP); the provision of jobs, and complete pavement of the Bomi-Monrovia Highway, renowned cleric Reverent Kortu Brown has voiced his concerns about the Western Cluster issue, declaring that the Government of Liberia needs to urgently address the issues of poor publicity, lack of citizens’ participation and the absence of tangible infrastructure investment if the WCL deal must be sustainable for the Western Region and Liberia.
According to the former President of the Liberia Council of Churches, Bishop of the Apostolic Pentecostal Church International, and Pastor of the New Water in the Desert Assembly in Brewerville, Montserrado County, who is also a citizen of Bomi County information sharing on the operations and activities of Western Cluster Liberia is very limited.
“Not much is known publicly about the Mineral Development Agreement (MDA) and its expectations. The people who lead it are basking in the fact that the company is operating and has employed some people. However, community relation is poor, especially for a company with a bad publicity transition from Elinito to Western Cluster. There’s a need that the company focuses on community and public relations in order to avoid it becoming a casualty of poor publicity and ineptitude.
Moreover, the cleric who also hails from Bomi County said citizens’ participation in the Western Cluster operation is dismal, given the past history of the Liberia Mining Company that exploited iron ore and Bomi, where the citizens were not incorporated into the top echelon of the company.
“About 45 years old, LMC folded from Bomi Hills after 45 years of operations, 1947-1977. One of the principal allegations against the erstwhile LMC was that it didn’t incorporate citizens of the area in top managerial positions. I was in Tubmanburg when LMC closed in 1977. The company had a good pay off program for its workers. However, the majority were ordinary workers with salaries unequal to their counterparts from other areas.
“Bomi citizens and by extension, the people of Western Liberia, including Grand Cape Mount and Gbarpolu Counties, fear similar reception again. If their resources don’t improve their lives now and develop their communities then when will that happen? European mineral resources are developing Europe. Asia mineral resources are developing Asia. American mineral resources are developing America. When will it happen for Africa? When will the companies exploiting the resources of local communities act in the strategic interests of those communities to ensure that those communities are economically viable and livable when the investment is folded?
“The absence of a robust Technical training program during LMC 30-years operations contributed to poor participation of citizens at top levels in the operations of the company. The establishment of Bomi Community College, Start Technical College in Sinje, amongst others, were meant to fill the deficits in the manpower needs of the Western Liberia,” Rev. Brown stated.
Regarding the issue of the lack of substantive infrastructural investment covering the WCL operations in the Western Region, specifically Bomi County, Rev. Brown said it is common knowledge that the erstwhile LMC didn’t pave the motor road in its 30-year operations.
“They left a railroad that was looted and pillaged a few years after the closure of the company. Since then there isn’t much to show for LMC extraction of $592m in 30 years except for the facilities of Bomi Government Hospital which has considerably declined in provision of adequate medical services due to limited funding and resourcing.
What’s the tangible infrastructural development Western Liberia will benefit from when Western Cluster phases out? Iron ore is an exhaustible resource. That means the resources will not last forever. How can some of those resources be computed to help provide future investment and/or alternative economic opportunities for people and communities of the Region? That’s why the proposal for the reinstatement of the railroad cannot be easily dismissed. Aside from the health risks of running approximately 50-75 trucks daily in populated areas to truck ore to Freeport, the future of economic life in the region needs to be considered when the investment phases out and the mineral resources are gone. A railroad could be a commercial beneficial including the fact that it will create complementary employment and travel opportunities,” Rev. Brown said.