12 November 2012

Liberia: Stating Our Approval for Mineral Law Reform With A Caution


THE REPORTED COMMENCEMENT of a mineral review process, spearheaded by the Ministry of Lands, Mines and Energy, is indeed a revolutionary stride that must not only be supported by all Liberians but must also go beyond smart talks and colorful paper work. This is altogether necessary and proper because this nation's history is clear on the fact that the mineral wealth—how it is garnered and apportioned—remains a factor in the country's economic development and political crises. This is why we are elated that the Government, through the Ministry of Lands, Mines and Energy, has launched a consultation process that would lead to the overhaul of the mineral sector by means for reforming its laws.

ALREADY, THE HEAD of the lead Ministry in the mineral law reform process, in a statement last Thursday, acknowledged the critical role mineral and mining resources play in Liberia but with a lamentation of serious governing legal deficit in the sector and its corresponding shortfall in returns to the people of Liberia. Minister Patrick Sendolo said, quite loudly, that benefit flows from the sector to the people is a serious problem and therefore that there is an urgent need to infuse into the sector true fidelity, accountability and participation that it is wanting of.

IT IS EXPECTED THAT other stakeholders and experts, as well as ordinary citizens of Liberia, would in the subsequent weeks deliberate on the merits and defaults of existing rules and regulations governing mineral and timber, and therefore may form a consensus on the critical issues deserving attention and reform. As Minister Sendolo put it, those legal and regulatory framework issues that have bedeviled the sector would be thoroughly reviewed and updated to accommodate current realities.

WE WANT TO thank the ideologues of this process, especially agreeing strongly with those stakeholders holding the view that the resource curse which has plagued Liberia's socioeconomic development and served as a trigger for conflict is due not only to decadent or unhelpful laws but also to deliberate shelving of the under law under the carpet.

AS THE CONSULTATION process unfolds, therefore, it is our expectation that the focus of reform will not be limited to trade issues (how mineral rights are traded or exchanged), but mainly extended to tax and social responsibility issues (what is done to taxes paid to government; clear terms on what concessionaires must do to local people and robust penalties for evasion of responsibilities, amongst other things.)

BESIDES, IT IS also our hope and expectation that the Mining and Mineral Law when finally reformed does not remain a property of exclusively Government officials and their entrepreneurial partners. Deliberate efforts must be made by Government to educate and raise the consciousness of locals in mineral-based communities. Why we don't want to question the sincerity of the those involved in the mineral reform efforts, it is however our considered opinion that the law and its benefits will remain questionable and unhelpful when the ordinary Liberians for whom this whole process is funded and undertaken don't know that the law exists or that there is something in it that refers to their welfare.

THUS, WHILE WE support the ongoing mineral reform process, we do with cautious optimism, owing to the culture of pervasive exclusion—exclusion of the intended beneficiaries from the products of reform. Hope the Mineral Law reform process will, when completed, prove our skepticism wrong.

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