House poised to probe failed multi-million contracts
Julius Kanubah, FPA Legislative Correspondent firstname.lastname@example.org (+2316586240)
After over five years of the reign of the Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf led government with the luring of several multi-million US dollars concession agreements, anger is growing at the National Legislature over the performance of several of the Mineral Development Agreements.
The anger comes as the tenure of the government is gradually fading with the entire 64-membership of the House of Representatives and half of the 30-member Senate set to go for re-election in what is expected to be a highly contested race.
The House and Senate are two key Legislative bodies that have ratified concession agreements aimed at ensuring the revitalization of the nation’s economy coupled with the issue of job creation and the restoration of basic social services.
But five year on, the impact of the multi-million US dollars concession agreements ratified by the bi-cameral Legislature are not been felt mostly by Liberians and especially the targeted beneficiaries of the concession areas who remain in extreme poverty, unemployment as their natural resources are being ‘exploited’ by foreign companies.
This development has claimed the attention of Grand Bassa County Representative Gabriel Smith of the opposition Liberty Party- whose County is hosting some of Liberia’s major post-conflict multi-million US dollars Mineral Development Agreements.
In a letter to the plenary of the House of Representatives, lawmaker Smith registered his disappointment over the performances of several concessionaires, requesting the body to institute an investigation.
Smith: “I present compliments of my highest esteem and herewith request plenary to, on the basis of our oversight responsibility, set up an independent/specialized committee to conduct a general performance review of all concessions ratified by this Legislature since 2006. This review shall to the extent necessary, include every contract entered into by this government since 2006”.
The Liberty Party Buchanan lawmaker outlined in his letter that “the purpose of this exercise is to ascertain or verify compliance of the concessionaires to the terms and conditions of their contracts as it relates to the fulfillment of the social responsibilities and the employment of Liberians as required in the respective agreements”.
Representative Smith based his request for an investigation on cries from across Liberia over the lack of opportunities from the investment agreements.
“You will note with outmost surprise, Mr. Speaker, fellow colleagues that there have been numerous complaints from citizens of our respective constituencies, over the mal-employment policy (ies) of some of these companies like the BRE (Buchanan Renewables) which operated on a three Month periodic contract basis for two years, with a very negligible percentage of indefinite contractors if there exist any. Second in line is the Mittal Steel, which contrary to the MDA term of utilizing local resources for maximization, employment opportunities, has imported several million tons of rocks in the Country; thus denying thousands of Liberians job opportunities, while at the same time importing countless number of foreign nationals to occupy jobs that could have otherwise been done by Liberians”.
The Grand Bassa lawmaker continued with his protest as he reflected the failed investment deal for Lofa County: “On the other hand, is the problem of poor and undesirable salary scale of some the Liberian owned security firms which are taking up contract with some the major companies. You will also recall that there has been incessant cry from the people of Lofa against ADA, several others which may not be named in this communication”.
In seeking the indulgence of his colleagues to take action now before it’s too late, lawmaker Smith noted: “In view of the foregoing, and in full recognition of our fiduciary and constitutional responsibility to our people, it is crucially important that we, the representatives of the people be armed with the facts about and surrounding the performance of these concessionaires and/companies operating with our country; so as to enable us take the necessary actions and report to our respective constituencies, in fulfillment of our constitutional responsibility”.
The letter by Representative Smith sparked angry responses from most members of the House of Representatives who expressed support for the constitution of an ad-hoc committee to review the performances of concessionaires in Liberia.
Among the chain of lawmakers who voiced strong opinions over the failed operations of most of the concession agreements ratified by the Legislature included Saar Gbollie of Margibi, Richard Holder of Montserrado, Eugene Fallah Kparkar of Lofa and Dickson Yarsiah of Gbarpolu.
Gbollie: “It’s not our last time to make decision in this chamber because we still have time as Legislators. I have reasons to believe that the special committee should be formed. I’m very, very concerned about ADA because there is no head and tail over their operations in Lofa”.
Holder: “As a lawmaker, I’m under serious pressure in District-14 (Montserrado County) which is a political district. Look at BRE, they have cleared/cut down all of the trees; transported thousands of tons of rubber chips but no construction of facilities, no planting of rubber … they are exploiting our resources and carrying it to their Countries without any impact for our people here. Where is the light BRE promised? The light bulbs are still dark as BRE has done nothing”.
Kparkar: “Colleagues, you recall I lamented the situation of ADA in Foya, Lofa County and as we speak ADA is in coma. Nothing is happening, no social benefits. So, it’s part of our responsibility to bring all concessionaires here as we have the mandate to invite most of these institutions like BRE. I heard before about the green energy issue and power chips from BRE. Nothing is happening and I heard that the chips are being shipped by BRE out of Liberia. Monrovia and Kakata should have been electrified under the plan but nothing is happening now. I think we should invite most of these concessionaires because so many of these investments are kangaroo investments; even AMLIB (America Liberia Mineral Limited). We need to constitute the committee today”.
Yarsiah: “Since five year and four Months now, lots of investment agreements have been passed. The issue as raised by Representative Smith is not just unique to Buchanan but fifteen counties because like Gbarpolu we are being affected. We gave Forestry Management Contracts (FMC) to B&B but to date the social benefits embedded in the agreement like building of schools have not been met because the Management claimed they not made any shipment yet; even the land rental fees are nit been adhered to. Gbarpolu is not getting anything. So, there is a need to reinforce the fifteen-member Compliance Committee with additional members and investigate these concessions. If not prosperity will judge us because the agreements we have ratified there are no effects”.
The disappointing comments from the chain of Legislators prompted more support for the letter by Representative Smith though House Speaker Alex Tyler later intervened to announce “that action will be taken on the matter on Tuesday (May 3, 2011) after consultations with various Committees of the House that deal with Concessions”.
The move by Representative Smith to request the setting-up of an independent/specialized committee to conduct a general performance review of all concessions ratified by this Legislature since 2006 is seen as both political and economically sensitive.
Analysts believe lawmaker Smith has an intention of a mere publicity stunt in the media and public as time is running out for each member of the Legislature as the multi-million dollars concession agreements that were ratified and in some instances hastily under nose(s) are not just impacting the lives of hundreds of thousands of poverty stricken rural dwellers. With such publicity stunt, Representative Smith could be pardoned in the pending testing political survival battle as some may not blamed him for not bringing investments like other lawmakers to benefit their areas of representation but it ws due to the failure of the Executive (Presidency) to compel compliance with the investments.
On the other hand, Representative Smith without any sense of politicking could just be on par with reiterating the economic needs of his people with respect to restoration of basic social services, employment and the reduction of poverty.
With these days, Tuesday (May 3, 2011) is the day set for the Lower House to take a decisive move whether to investigate the performance of the multi-million dollars concessionaires or leave them as they crumbled in meeting key aspects of their Mineral Development Agreements.
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