Speaker Chambers’ Action Puts Economy in Jeopardy? -3,000 jobs, $75m annual revenue in limbo

Only a few weeks after the abrupt and surprising return of ArcelorMittal’s amended agreement to the Executive, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Honorable Bhofal Chambers has gone on to announce a blanket review and renegotiation of all concession contracts in Liberia.  The Speaker made the disclosure on the ELBC program, Today Inside the House of Representatives, last Friday (April 22).

The Speaker’s announcement has sparked intense debates among street bureaucrats and the Liberian public. Many are questioning his knowledge of the separation of power and the timing of the announcement, particularly, weeks after he presided over a controversial one-item agenda in an Extraordinary Executive Session to vote in the Lower House to return the ArcelorMittal deal the government sources have confirmed that it took nearly two years to negotiate.

Historically, it has been the prerogative of the Executive branch of government to lead and facilitate discussion on negotiations with concessionaires and investments, while the Legislature’s role was to affix the final seal of approval. Speaker Chambers affirmed the triangular system of government while discussing what he described as the “teacup and the saucer.” Apparently referring to the Executive, the Speaker said they missed “somethings” and that Legislators were acting in good faith.

Hon. Chambers also spoke of exclusivity of the Port of Buchanan, but this paper has confirmed that the government currently operates vast sections of the port including the commercial pier.

Some pundits have opined that the Honorable Speaker of the House of Representatives was again in error when he referred to the so-called disputed area, telling the Liberian people that SOLWAY was given the portion in 2011 by the Ellen Johnson Administration.  There is no evidence to support the Speaker’s assertion that Patrick Sendolo gave an exploration license to SOLWAY.  Sources at the Ministry of Mines told this reporter that SOLWAY gained eminence when the Roosevelt Jayjay was Minister of Lands, Mines & Energy, and Hon. Emmanuel Sherman served as Assistant Minister for Exploration & Research. It is widely speculated in the Ministry of Mines that Minister Jayjay’s handling of the SOLWAY exploration interest led to President Sirleaf firing him on November 25, 2010.

Even more concerning is the apparent silence of the Executive since the Speaker’s announcement. Albert Paye, a resident of Ganta who listened to the interview, in a Facebook post said that beyond the crossing the constitutional and legal parameters, the optics of such a statement send the wrong signal to potential investors as to the investment climate of the country.

It may be recalled that the aftermath of returning ArcelorMittal’s Third Amendment was marred by harsh public criticisms of the lower House for rejecting almost 3000 new jobs, US$75 million in annual revenue, and a host of other benefits to the struggling people of Liberia. It was shocking and raises lots of questions as to what will cause the fifth poorest country in the world to reject an Agreement that received public acclamation from Liberia’s major development partners including the United States and the European Union.

Further criticism was on the long-term job insecurity imposed on hundreds of Liberians currently employed by the Company. Ratifying the AML deal would have sealed additional twenty-five years of job security for those about 2500 Liberians. Considering that Liberia’s average household is between 5-7 (according to LISGIS’ Demographic and Health Survey 2019-2020), more than 12,000 Liberia are now put at risk of livelihood support.

The Speaker went to great lengths in an attempt to dispel the perception that the announcement of review is targeted at Arcelormittal but had to generalize the extend of the renegotiation to cover up, and so that it does not appear that Liberia’s largest taxpayer and largest investor – Arcelormittal is not being harassed and bullied. 

He said several other concessions will be “looked at” and named MOPP, Golden Verolum, BEA Mountain, and Firestone as being among those to be called.  Like Paye, many other Liberians have reminded the legislature that enforcement of contracts is central to investment determinants, and countries that summarily announce renegotiation of concessionaires’ contracts are bound to suffer investment winter or investment snubs.

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