13 April 2017

Liberia: Bong Mines Residents Frustrated By China Union's Woes

Despite the quest of the government and the people of Liberia for more foreign direct investments in the country in order to earn revenue and improve the living conditions of citizens, residents of Bong Mines, a former mining area of the Bong Mining Company (BMC) now operated by China Union, have described the Chinese company's US$2.6 billion investment as unhelpful to them.

Residents of Bong Mines made the assertion on Thursday, April 6, saying it was unfortunate to have such a huge investment without any impact in the life of the people.

The government of Liberia in 2010 signed a 25-year mining agreement with China Union valued at 2.6 billion, to the delight of President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and other government officials as well as residents of the mining area welcoming the investment.

The BMC, which was operated by Germans, had to quit mining activities as the civil crisis, which lasted for over 14 years and devastated every sector of the Liberian economy, escalated.

Bendu Mentoe, chair of the Women in Peace Building Network (WIPNET) and a resident of Bong Mines for over 40 years, told reporters that the company has failed to build a school, provide adequate healthcare services, electricity and safe drinking water among others, which was provided by BMC prior to the civil crisis.

According to Mineral Development Agreement entered between China Union and the Government of Liberia, under the Community Funding Obligation clause, China Union agreed to provide an annual social contribution of US$3.5 million, to be managed and disbursed by the Liberian communities in the counties affected by the company operations.

Under the agreement, the company "shall provide US$200,000 annually, one quarter of such amount be reserved for students who are permanent residents of the county or counties in which the company operates or operation area are located.

"The company shall construct a heavy-oil power plant, and develop a hydroelectric power plant at station SP1 on the St. Paul River near Haindii town with a generating capacity of 130 MW, leading to the total capacity 230 MW as a result described in the clauses," the MDA stated.

The company also agreed to provide housing for its employees, provide clean and safe drinking water, maintain and operate or cause to operate a health facility in an operation area to ensure availability of medical treatment, care and attention in accordance with applicable law, according to the MDA, which added that "the company shall provide reasonable access to such health facilities to members of the local communities."

"We are even happy today that the company has finally turned over the hospital to the government, because only people with money and employees of the company were benefiting from health services. Ordinary residents have to pay US$5.00 just to register and also pay US$5.00 per night if admitted there. Bong Mines residents and people from the nearby villages were finding it difficult to settle their bill," madam Mentoe told reporters.

The Management of China Union Mining Company recently turned over the Bong Mines Hospital to the Liberian Government to continue providing medical services to the people of Bong Mines and its surroundings in Fuamah District, Lower Bong County.

According to Liberia News Agency (LINA), the Management said as a result of the low price of iron ore, it cannot cope with the high cost associated with running the hospital.

China Union management further stated that it was aware of the situation it will pose to the health needs of the residents, but was compelled to take such an austerity measure to save it from incurring any further expenses that it will not be in the position to underwrite, LINA reported.

Mentoe said prior to the coming of the China Union to Bong Mines, residents were very delighted, including women groups, because of the information provided during a town hall meeting about the benefits associated with China Union if given the opportunity to operate in Fuamah District.

When quizzed on the impact of the company before the drop in the price of iron ore, Mentoe said since the coming of the company, residents are yet to benefit anything from the company, adding that only people living out of the mining sector can maybe say such.

"Our women have to work today on the farm in order to survive, including those who were into business but are no longer into business due to difficulties or less buyers in Bong Mines. Some have their own farms, while some have to be part of the contract group.

They are paid LD$200 per day, which they use to buy food and pay children's school fees," madam Mentoe told reporters.

Fuamah District Commissioner, Hamilton B. Giddings, expressed serious disappointment at the company, saying that, "China Union is not helpful to the people," adding, "the expectations of the people were raised but nothing to prove."

As we speak, he said, "Our people are dissatisfied, because of the impression given to the people of Bong Mines. During a palava hut meeting, they were told that Fuamah District would have been developed or transformed in the shortest possible time but the people are yet to see anything tangible."

"China Union and its collaborators promised to provide electricity, safe drinking water, good road network, and adequate health system for the people. But today, only a road that the people here can point to or talk about, which is not completed yet. This shows that the company is not willing to provide or live up to its agreement," he said.

Commissioner Giddings said since the turning over of the hospital to the government, the people of Fuamah District are now receiving good healthcare services andare free for everyone.

As part of the MDA, China Union revamped the hospital and managed it for some time before turning it over to the Government of Liberia, with the plans to take over when it resumed full operations.

Also speaking, Kesselly Sumo, a former president of the China Union Workers' association said the redundant workers of China Union are planning to take the company to court for failing to settle them.

"This billion-dollar company currently has less than 100 people employed and has downsized more than 200 people and these are some of the issues that led to the company dismissing me," Mr. Sumo told reporters.

Morris Tate, Head of Communications of China Union, during telephone conversations said China Union said it would require a formal communication or letter to management before any interview is accepted.

"We don't just allow people or reporters to visit the premises of the company. We understand that you people spoke with some of the residents of Bong Mine, but we can't respond to anything now," head of communication told reporters.

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