Monrovia — In recent days the violent action of some individuals in the ArcelorMittal concession area where properties belonging to the steel company were destroyed, bridges damaged, amongst other destructions, has led to growing calls from several quarters that the Government of Liberia should bear part of the blame for failure to heed to the concerns of the people of Nimba.
According to Mittal 25 year Mineral development Agreement (MDA) signed with the Government of Liberia, the company is expected to pay an amount of US$1.5 million annually to Nimba County where the company is operating a mining site, extracting iron ore.
Whether Mittal has been living up to the terms of the MDA has not been made public until the recent violent action in the county, which has led to a barrage of comments from several lawmakers of Nimba county blaming the government for failing to disburse payments made by Mittal to the county as Social development fund.
Following the violent action, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf like many other Liberians condemned the action by the perpetrators and announced that justice will be done, but again pronounced two other decisions, the establishment of a Special Committee to probe the matter, while the case is also in court and the use of Nimba County portion of the social development fund to repair damages incurred.
About 41 people are currently in prison facing trial for their alleged connection with the destruction in the aftermath of a violent protest in the county. Many believe in the absence of a court ruling President Sirleaf's two pronouncements run contrary to the legal process.
Outrage over Prez Sirleaf comments
President Sirleaf's comment has met stiff reaction from a cross section of Liberians including citizens of Nimba and elsewhere. Representative Worlea S. Dunah, Secretary of the Nimba Legislative caucus told FrontPageAfrica Monday that the Government of Liberia has failed to make available more than US$ 4 million of the social development fund from Arcelor Mittal intended for the county.
"They owe the county more than 4 million dollars, in 2011/2012 they did not give all the money for the county, again 2012/2013 they still held some of the money and now in 2013/2014 they have not given any money to the county from the social development fund", said lawmaker Dunah. According to Dunah, the Nimba Legislative caucus has been making efforts to get the Government to pay the money to the county but to no avail.
Other lawmakers from Nimba including Larry Younquoi, Garrison Yerlue, Jr. all took to several radio stations denouncing the action of the Government to hold onto the social development fund intended for the county. Representative Younquoi expressed that there were early warning signs from residents of the concession area expressing their anger in the dealings with Mittal with the locals.
He said the locals staged a protest earlier this year against the operations of Mittal and they- the lawmakers had to move on to settle calm the protest. The lawmaker revealed that Mittal equipment recently killed a man in the concession area and the body is still at the funeral home.
"The people can no longer make farms because of the scale of operations of Mittal using heavy machines, just recently Mittal machine killed one man and we have been running after that only because of this situation they have agreed to underwrite the cost of the funeral and burial", the lawmaker said. Bong County lawmaker George Mulbah also described the President pronouncement as a violation of the 1986 Liberian constitution, which calls for the Legislature to make appropriations.
Mittal has paid
Deputy Finance Minister for Revenue, Dr. James Kollie confirmed to FrontPageAfrica that Mittal has paid the social development fund for Nimba, Bong and Grand Bassa Counties to the Government of Liberia. Responding to an FPA inquiry on whether Mittal has been paying in full social development fund to the three counties from 2011-prseent, Deputy Minister Kollie stated "yes they have been".
On whether why the payment has not reached the people of Nimba for whom it is intended, Deputy Minister Kollie referred to the Expenditure Department. When contacted, Deputy Minister for Expenditure, Angela Cassell Bush did not respond to FPA inquiry.
The Government of Liberia experienced budget shortfalls during the just ended fiscal period but the Mittal payment is not in the category as other taxes and with confirmation that the company made available the payments to the Government of Liberia, the government is yet to explain the reasons for its inability of remitting the money to Nimba county.
In a 2013/2014 "A Citizen's Guide to the National Budget", the Ministry of Finance confirmed that Mittal paid 1.5 million for the fiscal period to Nimba County. On Page 51 of the Ministry of Finance publication, the Ministry stated that Nimba County received a total of US$1,667,000 as social development funds. Of that amount it was stated that transfer from Nimba County, Mittal amounted to US$1,500,000; transfer from BHP Billiton, US$100,000 and transfer from FDA, ICC (Nimba) US$67,000.
GoL to blame
The Federation of Nimba Youth and Students Organizations (FENYSO) squarely blames the Government for the fracas insisting that the government lacks human feelings.
Stated FENYSO "Today, many are crying wolf-fully and condemning, criticizing the manner and forms in which the Youths over acted in the quest and plead for their just and integral benefits which trumpets of various sizes have been blown and yet there still no fruitful results. Government should be blame for the episode in Nimba because this event is simply as a result of the delay and lack of human feelings for the people of Nimba couple with opulent and disobediently unconscious altitude calculated in stopping the social benefits of the company to the people".
The group said it is clear that justice will be precedential, as evident in some quarters as prejudgment followed by actions has been established and vocally air by requesting that the county funds will be used as a pay back to venerated damages caused by the citizens and youth of Nimba.
The group further stated "We denounce this statement and wish to profess that in the existence of unitary state governance, the cost which may be attached to the already mediated concepts of state actors be drawn from government coffers rather than the county in line with the public financial rules which gave birth to social and county development funds. And therefore, request our beloved president to retract this unorthodox statement". FENYSO described comments by President Sirleaf and other government officials regarding the Nimba incident as an attack on the county.
"We want to make it unequivocally clear that the manner and form in which government is handling the Nimba situation is different from all other situations and believe that statements made by Senator Sando Johnson, the reneging of speaker Tyler on the Issue Representative Tokpah flogging and Above all the president views on confiscating of Nimba social development is nothing but an attack on Nimba. And therefore the public should condemn such attribute of government official".