Officials of ArcelorMittal, the world's largest steelmaker, Wednesday (Jan 23) stated that they are not parking their bundles to sell shares and leave the country like some companies have done; rather, they will stay with the Liberian people after making huge investments in the post war country.
"No, we won't be leaving; we are here for long; we are in for a long haul," stated the company's communication chief Hesta Pearson, backed by new CEO Antonio Carlos, Environmental Manager Johns Howell and Chief Operating Officer Geoff Jolly.
The officials made the commitment at a press interaction intended to give update of the company's operation and plans for 2013.
ArcelorMittal remains Liberia's first post war foreign direct investment (FDI) which kicked off with US$900 million even before the first post war democratic elections was held in 2005. The deal was revised with at least 22 major changes favoring the country when President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf took office and called for re-visitation of all concession agreements signed before her administration.
Following revision, the deal hit US$1billion, but during his visit to Liberia in 2008, the founder And President of the company Lakshmi N. Mittal upped the investment to US$1.6 billion, the country's highest in multiple decades, before China Union's US$2.6 billion's beat it two years later.
Since 2006, ArcelorMittal has invested about US$820 million: at least US$800 million on preparation including building of infrastructure (roads and ports) and US$19 million on corporate responsibility as spelt out in the deal, officials said.
The company has constructed a hospital, a school, a railway and refurbished the Port of Buchanan for its long term operations, among others. It has put into place strong mechanisms to protect the environment while carrying out mining activities, said John Howell.
With at least 500 Liberians currently employed, the company exported its first shipment of iron ore for the first time in 30 years October 2010, and is planning to increase production in 2013, despite challenges from heavy rainfall, officials told the press.
CEO Carlos said the company is very committed to Liberia and the investment it has in the country. "Liberia is one of the most important investments, the first big investment to come to post war Liberia...and we are committed to reaching our goals," he said, commending the Liberian Government and the local people for the smooth existing cooperation.
President Sirleaf has boasted that Liberia attracted at least US$16 in FDI, including ArcelorMittal's US$1.6 billion, in her first term, but many Liberians say they are yet to feel the impact. They allege that only the President and her officials are benefitting from most of the investments, but some of these companies have built roads and made huge contributions to government's projects.
"The thing is that people are saying they are not feeling the impact of these investments because the pronouncements and expectation were too high and publicized to the extent that people thought they would get jobs and huge salaried right away," said a government officials who prefers anonymity.
"Worst of all, some companies have spend years on the ground and are yet to officially launch significant operations, while others are like leaving," he added.
Several big investments including Buchanan Renewables have sold out and are leaving after years of operating and not living up to their deals, something very frustrating to many Liberians who had built high hopes in their arrivals.
"Buchanan Renewable is a big failure to the Liberian people; it came here to exploit the country...to use our forest to provide energy for European countries at the detriment of the poor Liberians," Green Advocates International has argued, calling for a revision of the agreement.
The head of the environmental and resource watchdog Counselor Alfred Brownell said BR, before its pulling out, failed to provide electricity which was part of its major investment announced in Liberia.
"Instead of bringing cheap electricity here--they have cut down all the rubber trees, used by our poor people to produce coal for local consumption--to produce wood chips to provide electricity for richer countries," Brownell said, adding, that is why the price of a bag of coal has tripled in Monrovia."
Like BR, Elineto sold out its oil block and left; Golden Veroluem in Sinoe County is said to be folding up to leave after reported differences with local, but ArcelorMittal says it is here to stay.
"No, we are here to stay; we are here for the longest; just to tell you our future plans alone clearly means we are here for a long haul," Madam Baker continued. "We have done so much; we have invested here so much...and Liberia's investment is very much important to Arcelormittal; the arrival of our new CEO is a clear indication that we are not leaving; we need commitment to the country and we are committed to our investment here. We are here for the longest; we won't be leaving."
Howell said ahead, the company will be investing more in the environment to ensure that the biodiversity of its areas of operation is not affected after the ore are pulled out. The company has undertaken several activities in collaboration with the citizens and relevant government agencies including the Forestry Development Authority, local forest owners to protect endangered species and to prevent air and water pollution.
ArcelorMittal's vision for the environment, according to him, is that people of the region should be able to tell their grand children that "We used up Nimba's iron ore but we left it a healthier, more prosperous place: the forest are better, the air and water cleaner and the farmer better off that they were when we started...."
Jolly declared 2013 as a busy year for the company--a year they will witness the expansion of railway and export of more ore.
"The launch of commercial mining operations represents an important milestone in the recovery of Liberia's economy, which was devastated by 14 years of civil war," the Company said in a statement in 2010 after shipping its first tons of iron ore.