24 February 2005

Liberia: Democracy Groups Pressurized NTLA to Kick Firestone Contract Out

Monrovia — There are mounting pressures against the recently signed Firestone Concession by the National Transitional Government of Liberia (NTGL) extending the previous 99-year deal by additional 38-years without regard to the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA).

Early this month, six civil society organizations questioned the legitimacy of the NTGL to sign concessions beyond its two-year tenure. The extension of the Firestone deal comes in the wake of a controversial 99-year contractual agreement signed by the Administration of Liberia's 16th President, Charles D.B. King in 1929.

The Liberia Democracy Watch, Foundation for International Dignity, Foundation for Human Rights and Democracy, Association of Environmental Lawyers of Liberia, National Human Rights Center of Liberia and Center for Democratic Empowerment had contended that the Comprehensive Peace Accord (CPA) does not allow the Transitional Government to sign concession beyond its tenure.

The agreement, which was signed on Friday, January 28 this year, is currently before the Transitional Legislative Assembly for ratification.

In an apparent re-enforcement of their opposition to the Firestone concession, the civil society groups have called on the NTLA to reject the contract and throw it out because it was illegally done.

They claimed that the NTGL is bent on mortgaging and auctioning the resource and constitutional rights of future generations without accountability and with impunity.

"We urge this body to deny this agreement, the legitimacy it craves and send out positive signal that all is not lost in Liberia," they recommend.

The six civil society organizations quoted the CPA as stressing that, "all legal obligations of the transitional government shall be inherited by the elected government as such, all illegal obligations and transactions of the NTGL, such as the Firestone concession, will not be honored by any elected government. Already, the NTLA has begun hearing on the concession agreement

The group argued that the mandate of the NTGL is limited to the CPA to perform normal state functions and does not in any way extend to or include the execution of long-term agreements and concessions.

"Normal state functions do not include demanding, collecting and receiving ten years advance taxes from telephone companies without any vital public interest attached to the demand," something which the human rights groups claimed the government has done.

"Normal state functions most certainly do not extend to and include the execution of a concession agreement in favor of the largest rubber plantation in Africa for a period ending 2043, more than three decades beyond the tenure of the interim government executing the concession," the civil groups frown.

The group stressed that in the absence of any expressed authority of the NTGL to temper with and auction the natural resources of Liberia and undercut the tax revenues of the nation are illegal and void.

They observed that the authority to exploit the natural resources of any nation and collect tax advances is reserve and inherent in the authority of legitimate, durable and elected government as true representatives of the people and not an interim government.

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