Liberia: One Nimba Movement Condemns Government's Decision to Slash County Social Development Fund, Calls for Comprehensive Audit

Monrovia — A pro-democracy group, the 'One Nimba Movement' has termed as questionable the decision of the Government of Liberia to cut 20 percent of the Arcelor Mittal Social Development Fund (SDF) recently disbursed to Bong, Grand Bassa and Nimba Counties.

The Government of Liberia, through the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning (MFDP) remitted US$3.1 million to the three operating counties, representing 80 percent of the company's required annual allocation.

Of the allocated amount, Nimba County received US$1.55 million, Grand Bassa, US$1.02 million, while Bong got US$527,000, representing their respective SDF shares of 50 percent, 33.3 percent and 16.7 percent.

According to the Minister of Finance and Development Planning, Samuel Tweah, the contribution is in fulfillment of an agreement reached a few weeks ago between the government of Liberia and Arcelor Mittal, which obligates the company to remit 80 percent of SDF funds to the government and use the balance 20 percent to fund development projects in its concession areas.

Minister Tweah, giving further reasons for the 20 percent cut said the company often incurred losses and property damage during protests by workers and residents of affected communities, and as such the money will be used to repair and cover some of these losses.

But the Chairman of the One Nimba Movement, Bob Yeenuah Kartoe, at a press conference on Monday, July 13 said the decision is unprecedented and a calculated attempt by the Government to denied the counties their entitlement.

"The unprecedented and suspicious manner in which negligible portions of the arrears owed to Nimba, Bong and Grand Bassa Counties were paid for the very first time in pretty close to three years since the ascendency of the Weah government gives ample reasons to suspect that there is a coordinated conspiracy on the part of the Government of Liberia and Arcelor-Mittal Liberia (AML) to rob these Counties of their fair entitlements especially at a time when 20% of the SDF is said to be questionably withheld," the Movement through its Chairman Kartoe said.

Speaking further, Kartoe noted that while the Movement welcome the remittance of US$1.55 of Social Development Fund to Nimba County, it is concerned that out of arrears of approximately $6.8 million United States Dollars, only $1.55 million United States Dollars could be remitted without solid commitment on how to pay the balance.

"The Movement expresses great dismay at the comical display by the Government of Liberia in remitting the amount and making it a newsworthy issue. The money paid is fairly due the people of Nimba County as stipulated in Article 14 of the Mineral Development Agreement (MDA) between Arcelor Mittal Liberia (AML) and the Government of Liberia and its presentation by the Government as if it was a gift from the Government is laughable."

The Recommendations

In its recommendations, the group, among other things called for the immediate payment of the county's SDF arrears in the sum of US$6.8 million and the amount generated from the scrap.

It also called on the Government of Liberia to immediately commence the process of review and renegotiation of the Mineral Development Agreement (MDA) with Arcelor-Mittal in keeping with the five (5) years revision clause in Article 36 of the MDA, something it said has not been done for two review periods.

It is also requesting the Nimba County Legislative Caucus and the Government of Liberia to mandate the General Auditing Commission (GAC) to conduct a full-scale audit of the operations of the Nimba County Social Development Fund and the County Development Fund covering the period after the last audit to ascertain that the funds were used in keeping with law and procedures.

The group also wants the Caucus to ensure the Ministry of Justice and Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission (LACC) review previous audit reports of the CDF & SDF, especially the 2011/2012 and the 2012/2013 audit reports in order to prosecute and hold accountable past and present officials who might be culpable.

The county sitting is crucial to the implementation of the fund. It is during the setting decisions are made to expend the fund garnered from the SDF and County Development Fund (CDF). However, it has been marred by controversies, claims and counter claims.

The group called for the County's legislative caucus to proceeds with the hosting of the next County Council sitting in a manner and style that will reflect the true and genuine wishes, aspirations and desires of the majority citizens of Nimba County.

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