Liberia: Global Witness' Evidence Credibility Questioned

-Experts witnesses denied any changes made to 'controversial' Section 75 of the PPCC Act

Two experts' witnesses that were involved with the controversial Section 75 of the Amendment and Restatement of the Public Procurement and Concession Commission (PPCC) Act of 2005, which provides for non-bidding areas for acquisition of mineral rights in the country, testified on Friday, July 12, but denied accusation that the section was illegally inserted in the document.

The prosecutors have laid out their case at Criminal Court 'C' where they claimed that Senator Varney Sherman of Grand Cape Mount County influence Sable Mining, a UK-based mining company to bribe several keys government officials to include former Speaker of the 53rd Legislature, J. Alex Tyler, to insert section 75 into the draft amendment and restatement of the PPCC Act of 2005.

The act was drafted in 2009, and approved on September 10, 2010, and subsequently submitted to former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, who later signed it before it was printed into handbill on September 18, 2010.

Prosecution also relied on the report, 'The Deceivers 2010', a publication of Global Witness, an international NGO established in 1993 that works to break the links between natural resource exploitation, conflict, poverty, corruption, and human rights abuses worldwide to indict Sen. Sherman and his co-defendants.

Global Witness further alleged that over US$900,000 was paid by Sherman, who was then lawyer of Sable Mining to his co-defendants at various times to facilitate the insertion of Section 75 in the Amendment and Restatement of the PPCC Act of 2005, to give Sable Mining an undue advantage over the Wologisi Mountain in Lofa County without going through a competitive bidding exercise.

However, during his testimony, Witness Emmanuel O. Sherman, deputy minister for operations at the Ministry of Mines and Energy, told the court that Section 75 came about from a recommendation of experts that included international lawyers in the mineral and mining sectors hired by the United States Government, the World Bank and the European Union (EU).

Mr. Sherman, who served as chief geologist of the Geological Survey at the Ministry of Lands, Mines and Energy, now Ministry of Mines and Energy, said the international experts made several prominent recommendations, one of which, he said, was to do with the declaration of an area where there was insufficient geologic information.

He further explained that once the non-geologic area was defined, then the processing of mineral rights over such area should be considered as a non-competitive bidding area.

"So those recommendations that were put forward by the experts' report of 2008 formed the basis for the drafting of Section 75 of the PPCC Act of 2005," the expert witness said.

According to Mr. Sherman, he was assigned with the experts from the Global Master of Arts Program (GMAP) that was sponsored by the US Government through the USAID.

He testified that between 2008 and 2009, under the USAID's GMAP program, a new mineral adviser, Dr. Paul Jordan, and an international lawyer Jeff Woods, were tasked with the responsibility to continue with the drafting of Section 75, which they did up to the time the Act was approved in 2010.

Also, the former PPCC executive director Joseph S. Neufville, who was responsible for the implementation of the passage of the Act, supported Mr. Sherman's statement when he said that Section 75 was included into the approval law by the international experts.

"I saw that from the report of Fui Tsikata, who was contacted by IBI International, the USAID sponsor program to harmonize the PPCC Act of 2005," Neufville said.

Witness Neufville said Tsikata was a Ghanaian mineral and mining expert hired to help in the process of harmonizing the Act that call for a non-competitive bidding exercise.

"The report on the harmonization of the mineral mining Act to the PPCC Act was issued in 2008 of which, a vigorous collaboration process with the hiring of an international Procurement and Concession Law Firm in Ghana, and about December 2009, a draft law was prepared for submission to then President Sirleaf," Neufville told the court.

Meanwhile, the case will resume on Tuesday, July 16 at which time the prosecution is expected to produce their rebuttal witnesses, after the defense team announced that they have rested with the production of oral and documentary evidences.

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