1 November 2013

Liberia: 'Blame Lawmakers' - Liberian Govt Faulted for Slow Pace of China Union Operations

Complaints by citizens of Bong County over the operations of China Union a Chinese iron ore mining company operating in Liberia continues to soar but a member of the Ellen Johnson Sirleaf-led government has come in defense of the company.

Forestry development authority boss speaking at a forum organized by the German embassy and the Kofi Annan Institute last week said that the company did not start its operations on time due to several bottlenecks that were being addressed by the government.

"The fact that the contracts were signed in 2009 does not mean that the companies were turned over to the people to commence as of 2009. I am telling you that as of 2011, the government had not turned over assets to China Union," said Mr. Harrison Karnwea.

"So the length of time that it took for the government to turn the property over affected the implementation of the China Union transfer and also it has affected the way the government works and those things that they should do."

He said the government had to addressed issues relating to individuals that had claims with the old company that operated in the area, Bong Mines pointing out that these issues had to be settled to allow the Chinese company to operate freely.

"The late H. Nathaniel Richardson was operating in Bong Mines. He had an agreement with the government before the advent of the China Union; we couldn't throw them out of the window," he lamented.

But Foday Fahnbulleh Chairman, of the Fuamah Progressive Platform a pressure group that has been pressuring China Union into fulfilling its corporate social responsibility to the people of its concession area said the situation they face as citizens is very delicate because of the politics that powers that be bring to bear in issues of natural resource management.

"You find people who have authority reneging on their own side of their duty; you find many things happening," said Fahnbulleh.

"You have in the document the issue of the railroad from Bong Mines to the concession areas, that railroad is in deplorable condition. But as I speak, they were able to fix just a portion within the town; they have failed to live up to that."

He maintains that the company has failed to do any work on that road as is stated in the concession agreement.

"The document says as of the date, which is January 13, 2009, in two years the company should be able to build all the roads," said Fahnbulleh.

"When you look at the mineral development agreement, the road leading from Bong Mines to Marwah and to Hendi all the surrounding roads meaning you will have coal tar on those roads and from Kakata to Hendi will be built in that timeframe (2 years)."

He said the company has reneged on employing Liberians at a percentage stipulated in the agreement adding that the people of Bong Mines are yet to feel the impact of China Union.

"The agreement states that all skill laborer jobs should be given to Liberians and within five years 30% of all managerial positions should be occupied by Liberians; that has not been lived up to," he said.

"As of October 1st there is not a single Liberian in any of these position. China Union has failed to employ a single Liberia but instead everyone you find out there including the medical doctor is on contract. You get to that area you wont believe that there is a 2.6 billion dollar investment there; if you have 2.6 billion dollar investment, it means it should reflect in the lives of the people."

But Karnwea said citizens of the area need to patient by allowing the company to operate without molestation.

"We have to make sure that investors who put their monies in this country are protected otherwise a bunch of other investors may get scared to come over here because of harassment," he said.

"Paving roads and other things are not done overnight. So as a former senior member of the government, I am aware of what happened in Bong Mines. We do appreciate and understand that the community's expectation is high but I think some of these matters can be discussed."

But Fahnbulleh maintains the company has not lived up to the expectations of the citizens of the concession area and puts the blame squarely at the feet of lawmakers of the area.

"We blame our lawmakers because they have oversight responsibility in terms of monitoring compliance. Our lawmakers have failed in their duties to the people."

China Union's concession is put at US$2.6 billion set for Liberia's Iron Ore Industry. The company won a concession agreement from the government of Liberia to operate in Bong Mines for 25 years.

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