President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has launched the first shipment of about 50,000 tons of iron ore by China Union, one of the largest investments in post-conflict Liberia, from its newly constructed pier at the Freeport of Monrovia.
In 2009, China Union, a subsidiary of WASCO CAD (Hong Kong), signed a 25-year Mineral Development Agreement (MDA) with the Government of Liberia and committed to invest US$2.6 billion to renovate and revitalize the former Bong Mining Company. With the completion of Phase One of their operations in July 2013, full-scale mining began with the setting up of camps, hydraulic and conveyor belt machines, and completion of repairs on the railroad between Bong Mines and Monrovia.
According to an Executive Mansion release, at a ceremony Wednesday at the Freeport of Monrovia, President Sirleaf, in a joyous mood, termed the event as a fulfilled promise to the people of Liberia, with a renewed commitment that proceeds from the shipment would strictly be used for the betterment of the Liberian people.
The Liberian leader told the gathering that what is taking place was the result of collective efforts, and all should be proud of the achievement as it was yet another intervention by her administration in reviving a broken economy that she inherited.
China Union projects to export 500,000 metric tons of iron ore by the end of December 2014, of approximately 50,000 tons per month.
On the welfare of the Liberian workforce employed by China Union, President Sirleaf said the government has remained engaged with the company regarding the welfare of local employees in keeping with Liberian labor law. "While we engage China Union to improve conditions, we are equally calling on Liberians to cooperate with us as the process is gradual," she told cheering local employees at the shipment pier.
China Union plans to double its workforce from 232 to 459 local employees, and with its first export and increased employment, the company is poised to economically revitalize the former Bong Mines area and provide its people a sustainable livelihood.
President Sirleaf praised the management of China Union for being focused to its operation despite the difficulties that characterized taking control of the concession area, including the removal of squatters and rehabilitation of port facilities.
The new Chinese Ambassador to Liberia, His Excellency Zhang Yue, also gracing the occasion, said the first shipment was a new chapter in Liberia-China relations, describing it as a vision come true for President Sirleaf and China Union.
Ambassador Yue paid special tribute to two local female employees - Kabeh Jallah and Catharine Teah - who operate heavy-duty machines at the mine and shipment sites in Bong Mines and Monrovia, respectively, and have demonstrated a high level of courage and professionalism in their operation. He pledged his government's cooperation in making every employee realize their potential, irrespective of gender.
Earlier, the Chairman of China Union Investment Liberia Limited, Xiong Xinhai, said the first shipment of ore by his company marks the official start of iron ore mining operations on the Bong Range. He pledged his company's fullest cooperation with the Liberian government in realizing its benefit from the concession agreement while living up to its corporate social responsibility.
"In demonstration of this, Madam President, China Union has taken over and revived the Bong Mines Hospital by providing the hospital new medical equipment, and has employed over 300 Liberians, which is expected to increase over the coming years," Mr. Xiong disclosed.
Skills training programs in various technical areas have also formed part of China Union's transition from rehabilitation to mining and shipping, Mr. Xiong said, and this has proven to be hugely beneficial to both Liberia and China Union.
Finance Minister Amara Konneh said that the shipment of 50,000 metric tons of ore, although still in low quantity, will bring huge economic benefit to Liberia in its revenue generation.
He recounted the consequences created by the closure of the first mining operations due to war, which included loss of jobs, income and revenue. With the resumption of mining operations, he said, jobs will be re-created, coupled with revenue generation that will then lead to supporting those facilities that served the people in the concession area, including hospital, clinics, schools and feeder roads.
Lands, Mines & Energy Minister Patrick Sendolo praised China Union for working within its time schedule despite the challenges. He particular thanked the company for revamping the Bong Mines Pier where the ore is being shipped. The pier will now help government in its energy restoration program, he pointed out, as the newly constructed pier will also be used to bring in heavy fuel oil for the plants currently under construction by the Government and its partners.
The launching ceremony was witnessed by the Legislative Caucuses of Bong and Margibi Counties, including Senator Oscar Cooper and Representative Corpu Barclay; other government officials, including Madam Ciata Bishop, the new head of the National Bureau of Concessions, and the Managing Director of the National Port Authority, Madam Matilda Parker; and other guests.