MONROVIA – In the midst of growing concerns from the citizens of Bomi County over what they term as gross violations of the Western Cluster Liberia (WCL) Memorandum of Understanding with the Government of Liberia and the company’s operations in the Western Region, Bomi County Senator Edwin M. Snowe has come out to provide clarity about his role in the Western Cluster deal, terming his role as being in the best interest of the people of Bomi County, as he and the Bomi Legislative Caucus continue to fight to ensure that Western Cluster lives up to its side of the MOU, and that the Government of Liberia delivers to the people of Bomi their fair portion of the County Social Development Fund that WCL last year made available to the Government for the Western Region counties of Bomi, Grand Cape Mount and Gbarpolu in the tune of US$5M, for which Bomi holds the lion’s share of US$3.5 million.
Expressing his own misgiving about how WCL is proceeding with the western region iron ore operation, Senator Snowe said he is on record for always holding Western Cluster’s feet to the fire for them to live up to the MOU, just as he and other members of the Bomi Legislative Caucus continue to pressure the Government to give the citizens of Bomi the US$3.5 M promised as their share of the initial US$5 million paid against the US$10M as the Western Region social beneficiation fund.
“What wrong have I done here? It’s a wrong fight. It’s misdirected. Western Cluster made a payment of US$5 million to the government of Liberia a few months ago. We have engaged the Ministry of Finance that they have US$5 million for the three counties and we want our money. I think Cape Mount even had a county sitting and they started talking about their money. Gbarpolu is already arranging their county sitting. We are saying, as soon as the money hits our account, we will have our county sitting.
“The Government has not given us this $5 million. The government has said that before February, they will pay this money into the counties’ accounts. I have said to them I am not going to wait for February. When we open in January, we will start discussing the national budget. Senator Seytumah, who is the chairman of the Budget, has agreed with us. He as chairman will not discuss this budget until the US$5 million for the Western Region is paid. Senators Botoe Kanneh and Daniel Nathen have stood on the floor of the Senate and said they will not discuss the national budget or do anything on this matter until the money owed to their counties is paid. Senator Varney Sherman and Senator Simeon Taylor of Grand Cape Mount County have stood on the Senate floor and demanded their people’s money to be paid for development. I have stood on the floor to say the same thing. And that is the Western region’s decision.
“In the House of Representatives, I am told they have a similar idea. Whether they are effecting it, I am not there. What I know that is happening on the floor of the Senate is that we have agreed, six senators have agreed, that we will not discuss the national budget issue unless the money is paid.
“If the Government had paid this money, we would not have been hearing some of the noise. And the citizens are right. You say you were giving them US$5 million since last year; we have not had the county sitting to even discuss the US$5 million. Bomi Community College has not gotten the $1.5 million yet; the additional road work in the county, we haven’t seen anything happening yet; the county sitting for the $1 million we have not had yet. So, people will have their own apprehensions. So, I understand when our citizens are not happy and are saying ‘look, you said we were going to get this money to help our people, to help our county, where is this money?’ I agree with them,” Senator Snowe stated when he appeared over the weekend on Radio Bomi to speak on issues surrounding the Western Cluster operations and other issues that hinged on speculations that he is conniving with the company for personal gains.
“What has happened over the last few weeks regarding the Western Cluster issue and the barrage of attacks on me, I go to bed and I sleep sound because every man has one thing to live by, and that’s your conscience. This is why I decided that I will speak about Western Cluster in Tubmanburg, on Radio Bomi, relayed on Puma FM; and that I will speak to the people about Western Cluster. If there is anything I did wrong with Western Cluster, my conscience will be my guide.
“What I did was in the best interest of this county. I am very happy about the actions we took. Yes, Western Cluster needs to do more for our people, but our action to get this mine open was in the best interest of the people of Bomi. Today, if the people of Bomi feel that this mine should close, and that they are not satisfied with their operation and standard, I will stand up with the citizens, and we will tell the mines to close down.
“What happened in Western Cluster, I must explain to you and the citizens of Bomi again. When we became senator of this county, first as representative for three years, we saw Sime Darby was operating as an oil palm company here. And there were complaints every day; the people were not happy about the way Sime Darby was proceeding. Our people were not getting water, they were running pipelines to the oil palm trees but our citizens didn’t get water. We didn’t get the good school system; we didn’t get the good health system. Every day we fought, and eventually, Sime Darby left and turned over to a registered Liberian company, Mano; and then we began to see that Sime Darby was better than Mano. They made people redundant, they reduced salaries, and things started going bad. But today, thank God, Mano is still operating. We are trying to pick up the broken pieces; work with the relationship with our citizens there to make sure Mano does what is right, and to operate.
“Then I became senator and saw that we have our mine here. The company had signed a 25 years mineral agreement with the Government of Liberia for our mine, and the mine is sitting; so, I engaged the Government of Liberia. Before we engaged the Government of Liberia, we held consultations with the Legislative Caucus of Bomi County, by and through the Chairman of the Caucus. We got the full blessing of the Caucus, to engage the Government.
“We engaged the government, that we have a mine. We said to the government, you signed an agreement. The mine is sitting. Our people don’t have jobs. Nothing is happening in our county. Our people are turning into beggars. If you cannot get this company to operate the mine, then we let them relinquish the MDA and let somebody else come and have this mine, but we need jobs for our people.
“The government of Liberia told us that this company had come one or two times and expressed interest, but we are having a crisis or situation regarding their taxes. The government said it had given them a bill, that they owe over $20 million in taxes, and they were putting up resistance that they cannot make this payment because they had shut down their operations; that before Ebola virus hit Liberia, and as you know, Bomi was heavily affected; this company said they had ceased their operation and they had notified the government of Liberia.
“The government of Liberia did not close their books; the government of Liberia is still billing them every year on taxes and social development funds for the county, coming to almost US$23 million. The company they had not been operating, so, they cannot pay this money. So, they’ve been going back and forth with the government. We came and said, “look, you have to find a solution because our people need jobs. We need to get this company to operate because we need to provide jobs for our people.” They tussled and reached an understanding that they would reach some agreement with Western Cluster to see what percentage they could or wouldn’t pay. But whatever percentage they would pay, it was definitely going to affect the social aspect of the money that should come to the Western Region, with Bomi, having the lion’s share – because the operating mine is in Bomi, and then Gbarpolu and then Cape Mount.
“They invited the Government of Liberia to India at their headquarters. As a matter of fact, at that time they said COVID was still raging, and they had a management policy forbidding them to travel; but we wanted our mine to open. The Minister of Lands and Mines called me, saying that he had the blessing of the government, to sit with Western Cluster and decide a way forward. And this way forward is going to affect the money that they owe the counties, because they had already said they don’t want to pay the money. So, what do we do? I contacted the Chairman of the Caucus, and he said, ‘we prefer you going and helping to represent the interest of the Caucus and the citizens of Bomi County’. We fly to India.
“I heard someone on the radio saying we were in India for four days. Go and check my ticket. We were in India for less than ten hours; that’s how hectic that trip was. We sat down with Western Cluster, the Minister of Lands and Mines having the full authority of the Government, and I, as a member of the Caucus, having the full blessing of the Chairman of the Caucus, discussed the issues.
“Western Cluster said they didn’t want to pay any money because they shut down from Ebola virus, they shut down from Corona, they had not been operating, the government is billing them; so, they cannot pay. We told them no! If you have a case that you have not been accumulating taxes because you are not operating, and you cannot pay this money; you have been holding our mine, so, you must give our social money to us. With you and the government issue, maybe you have a case. It’s left with the government to argue. But from our side, you have been holding our mine, so the corporate social responsibility for this mine to the people of the Western Region, specifically the people of Bomi County, must be protected.
“We argued and argued; we did not sleep. Ten hours we were in there. After that meeting, we got on the plane and we left. Western Cluster agreed; the government of Liberia agreed, that since you had a case that you notified the government and you left, you were still holding the mine. You did not cancel the MDA, so the people of the region must benefit. So, this total of your social commitment to the people is within the tune of US$10 million. There is no way we can waive that amount. Western Cluster agreed that since it concerned the people of the region, they agreed to pay the citizens.
“We are committed to pay US$5 million upon signing of the MOU, then 45 days after our first shipment, we will pay the balance US$5 million. Notwithstanding, once we resume, all of our taxes clicked in, so even though we are that amount in the arrears, but going forward, all the other commitments come in, and we will pay the government taxes’. I informed the chairman of the Caucus and other stakeholders and we moved forward, and we came back to Liberia. We called a meeting and we informed the stakeholders.
“At that time, even though former Speaker Tyler and I were at loggerhead. I reached out to him and Senator Devine who were very key in having Western Cluster to operate here, and informed them of what had happened. I called all of the stakeholders, be it current or former members of the Legislature, and briefed everyone on what had happened. The Legislature said to me: ‘excellent; as long as our people’s interest have been protected, that the money they owed to our people is not being waived, we are happy over it’.
“The Minister of Internal Affairs called the stakeholders on the Executive side and briefed them. The Government said, since they are not going to take away the money belonging to the region for the citizens, fine, let them come operate, let them begin to pay their taxes. Western Cluster started holding additional discussion with the government of Liberia.
“We called a stakeholders’ meeting where all of the stakeholders were present at the Multipurpose Building. Everyone came and explained this old story, how everything happened. We explained to them. The downside of this arrangement is that, according to them, they cannot build a new port and railroad till after three years, so they will have to truck. But we cannot allow them to put their trucks on the road during the day when our people will be commuting on that very road. This was spelt out in the MOU under the Road User Permit.
“Everyone attended from the county attended that meeting – former and current legislators. Chiefs, Paramount chiefs, commissioners, everyone attended that meeting. Our people expressed their concerns. All of their concerns were taken into consideration. We explained to them what had happened. They gave their approbation; and accepted for us to proceed.
“We went to the government and told them that we’ve spoken to our people, and our people have given their consent. But Western Cluster must provide jobs for our people; they must live up to what is expected of them. Western Cluster started operation; they signed their MOU. They paid the US$5 million to the Government of Liberia. The government of Liberia had acknowledged receipt of the US$5 million.
“The government of Liberia now said to us, with this US$5 million that Western Cluster has paid, and the understanding that we’ve reached, the entire US$5 million is for the three counties. Bomi County having the lion share in the mine will have $3.5 million. US$750K will go to Grand Cape Mount County, and US%750K will go to Gbarpolu County.
“Then the government comes back to us and says, of the $US3.5 million we are giving you, the government of Liberia will have a say in US$2.5 million of that amount, that will benefit Bomi directly, but the government will have a say in it.
“The government is saying US$1.5 million must be given to Bomi Community College. US$1 million must be given to the County to do additional road works in the County – Coleman Hill, Sackie Town, Klay, DC Clark, some of the roads going through Dewoin District. Another US$1 million will be given directly to the county to have a county sitting where the citizens will decide what they want to do with this money.
“Cape Mount and Gbarpolu Counties, you have your $750K each, call a town hall meeting, call a county sitting and decide what you want to do. In addition to that, the Government of Liberia told Western Cluster, since you say you cannot pay these back taxes, and we agreed because you made enough justification, you will have to contribute to the government for the road works. The government of Liberia already has a budget of US$1.9 million to do spot repairs on the Monrovia-Bomi Highway. Western Cluster, you have to come in and make your share of contribution, excluding this $10 million commitment you have. We need money for our roads. Western Cluster, we need additional US$1.5 million to add up to government US$1.9 million so that we can do some rehabilitation on the road. That is Saint Paul Bridge towards Tubmanburg.
“In addition to that, you will be hauling using that Duala corridor going to the port. The government is about to fix these roads. We need additional US$3 million from you, to rehabilitate that component, in addition to what the government will put in to fix that road. That is St. Paul Bridge towards the Port. It comes up to $4.5 million. It’s in the MOU.
“They reached an agreement with the government of Liberia. They signed the MOU. The Minister of Finance signed. Since it has to do with the mining sector, the Minister of Lands and Mines signed. Since it has to do with law, as a legal instrument binding the government of Liberia, the Minister of Justice signed. Since it’s an investment package for the government, the National Investment Commission Chairman signed the MOU.
“No where on that MOU Edwin Snowe’s name is written on it. Somebody is feeding people with information and they don’t have the right information. The MDA for Western Cluster was signed in Bomi County. It was the first MDA under Madam Sirleaf’s government that was signed outside Monrovia.
“I had one interest; that yes, Western Cluster made a case not to pay taxes, and the government has agreed that it made sense, but Western Cluster will not make a case not to pay the people of Bomi County their money. And we got our money. At least, they’ve paid, and they have confirmed. And the government has confirmed receipt of the US$5 million. That’s the only fight I have with the government right now. That the US$5 million must be paid,” Senator Snowe said.
Regarding the post from renowned economist Samuel P. Jackson that he Snowe had offered Jackson $10,000 as hush money so he couldn’t talk about the Western Cluster’s haphazard manner of trucking iron ore from Tubmanburg to the Port, he said while he has a lot of respect for Mr. Jackson as a big brother, what Samuel Jackson said was totally untrue.
“I saw a post from a big brother who I got a lot of respect for, saying I promised him US$10,000 which is not true. Mr. Sam Jackson who is very knowledgeable about the origin and historicity of this whole Western Cluster past transactions asked to provide consultancy, and he wanted to be paid this amount. The government engaged the Caucus and Western Cluster and told Western Cluster to give Mr. Jackson consultancy because he knows about this thing, and he can help them to understand the environmental issues, operationalization of the company, among others. I turned Western Cluster’s contacts over to Mr. Jackson, but probably he did not follow up, or they did not make the payment. I have nothing to do with it. So, he says I offered him US$10,000, that’s not true. We had a telephone conversation where he will provide consultancy. If Western Cluster accepted, I don’t know. Contract is both ways.
“He said I was indicted by the Ellen Johnson Sirleaf Government, it’s true. I won my case. He said I left college in America to come to Liberia; It’s true. I left college in America, I came to Liberia and enrolled at the University of Liberia. I graduated from undergrad and got a Master Degree from the University of Liberia. So, I didn’t drop out of college to come and sit down. I left America, I came and continued my college education here. Go to the University of Liberia, my records are there.
“I am not defending Western Cluster. Nobody in this county has kept Western Cluster feet to the first compared to me. I fight with Western Cluster every day. When Western Cluster put trucks in our city here, passed through our towns, and civil society and the journalists raised the issue, I formally wrote to the Ministry of Public Works and complained Western Cluster, after I had called them on numerous occasions that they were violating the road agreement. I wrote to the Ministry of Public Works and the Ministry took the appropriate action as regards the road permit.
“I heard that my friend and brother Mr. Fahgohn called on the show and said Western Cluster is blasting up the mine and FTI building is cracking and falling apart. When I leave here today, I am going to FTI. If the information is right, that FTI building is cracking from the blasting, we will tell them to stop, and we will take the necessary action and they will fix FTI. The information I got is that they are drill mining, and that the sound is not even heard like before. But again, a citizen of this county is on the air saying that FTI building and other areas are being affected, I will go and see.
“I saw footage on Spoon FM where people have chalk on their faces, and they say Western Cluster is washing the ore in the St. Paul River here and rashes are coming on people’s skin. I am going to the affected communities. I am appealing to our citizens. If your home is being affected, or any human being is being affected by the blasting of Western Cluster, please let us know so we can take the necessary action to protect you.
“People are making this Western Cluster deal as though Edwin Snowe runs the Republic of Liberia, that if a Western Cluster truck tyre gets flat, it is Edwin Snowe. If the police fail to arrest Western Cluster truck for driving on a flat tire, it is Edwin Snowe. I disagree.
“The road agreement says Western Clustern trucks will start moving at 6pm so that by the time they get to Duala, the commercial district of Duala will have pretty much shut down so that the trucks can pass through by midnight or so. No trucks pass in the day. But guess what? Madina Rock Quarry has trucks upon trucks that lifted rocks from Madina in Cape Mount to Monrovia without any timeline; neither do they have any regulation on the tonnage of rocks that are supposed to be carried on those trucks. Today, our roads have spoiled, Madina Rocks Quarry should take full responsibility for the majority of the portion that was damaged before Western Cluster. But we don’t care that Madina Rock Quarry has transported heavy crushed rock on that road for years.
“We have about two or three logging companies in this region that will truck their logs broad day when the taxi drivers, the commuters and our children are passing on these roads, but nobody cares. But because the name Edwin Snowe is involved in fighting for his county, everybody is saying it’s a bad deal. Is Western Cluster the best option for our people? No! Has Western Cluster performed satisfactorily for our people? No! I want Western Cluster to provide more jobs for our people. I am not happy to sit here and you are bringing in other nationals, so that the citizens of Bomi and Liberians can do the job that other nationals are doing. I disagree that our women here can cook, and you will tell me that you will bring cooks from outside and fix food here? I disagree. Is the issue of Western Cluster rosy? No! There are challenges.
“The only person I know in Western Cluster is an Indian man called Shetan. Nobody else. Will I have a share in the trucking and I will complain them to Public Works to stop them from trucking? What wrong have I done that my name has been maligned all over the place?
“I told Western Cluster that we will not sit and have a foreigner as HR, and I recommended and insisted and recommended former Superintendent Brown. I told Western Cluster that we will not have a foreigner as HR. He is the former superintendent of this county and knows the issues.
“If the citizens of Bomi County come up today and say they don’t want this company, they don’t want them to work here, let them shut down, I will lead that conversation for them to shut down. How does it hurt me? All that I did in this transaction was to represent this county from my conscience.
“Did Bomi County get shortchanged in this deal? In the MDA, they talked about trucking the ore; they talked about the Duala traffic, and they’ve come out and say they will meet all of the EPA standards, they will cover the ore and follow all environmental regulations. If EPA comes out and says Western Cluster is not trucking the ore or meeting environmental standards, fine.
“They say Western Cluster had 78 trucks making two trips a day. I called Shetan and he said they have 40-45 trucks. They say they are weighing 50 tons of ore on each truck. I know that we have a representative on the mine to make sure that in the road permit that no truck should be more than 30 tons. We have people on the mine that monitor every day on the weigh bridge. They say Western Cluster has shipped over four loads of iron ore. But Western Cluster has informed the Caucus that they are currently loading their first vessel.
“They are clearing the road now, they have reached as far as Klay clearing the road. This weekend, they are going to be putting additional asphalt to pave over the road, and they are going to come all the way into Tubmanburg. What wrong have I done here? It’s a wrong fight. It’s misdirected.
Citizens Gear for Protest Action
Meanwhile, as the Western Cluster controversy deepens in Bomi, the citizens of the county have given the company a one-week ultimatum to address their concerns or risk a mass protest to halt the company’s operations in the county.
According to information coming in from Bomi, the citizens are demanding detailed information surrounding the MOU signed between the Government of Liberia and the Western Cluster mining Company.
They are also demanding jobs and the complete pavement of the Bomi County road. The company is currently patching the road.
Speaking in a mass meeting in Klay District Bomi County, the angry citizens threatened to stage a road block if the company doesn’t respond to them by Thursday, January 12, 2023.
A nine-man committee has been established to draft a petition that will be subsequently presented to the Council of Chiefs on Monday January 9, 2023 for onward submission to the Bomi County Legislative to the caucus.