Concessions Sweep in Liberia: Hasty Passage of Putu Deal Rattles Gedeans

Written by  Nat Nyuan Bayjay Source: FrontPage Africa

Monrovia –

Thursday’s session of the Lower House was probably one of recent legislative sessions that witnessed the passages of three crucial investment and mining bills, forwarded to the Senate for concurrence.

When it all seemed that the Mineral Development Agreement (MDA) between the Liberian Government on one hand and Putu Iron Ore Mining, Incorporated and Mano River Iron Ore, Limited on the other hand may have not received the same smooth and quick legislative passage as other MDA’s that just spent less hours of legislative scrutiny, the deal now seems poised for ratification following the passage of the deal by the House of Representatives.

The House’s passage of the deal was witnessed by a dramatic scene that witnessed the withdrawal of earlier protests by lawmakers hailing from Grand Gedeh County.

The ratification of the US$1.6 million Putu deal comes amidst stiff resistance from some citizens of Grand Gedeh County.

Seeking a more informed decision on the deal, a group of technical and expert-citizens from Grand Gedeh County, the host-county where the MDA is to take effect, under the banner of the Grand Gedeh County Technical Committee for the Putu Mineral Development has taken the initiative to probably provide some legislative insight to the National Legislature to halt the ratification of the deal until several lapses contained in the MDA are clarified.

But the instant withdrawal of the Grand Gedeh Legislative Caucus’ initial stance in support of the group now leaves its goal daunting, probably with the intervention of its two senators when the bill reached the Upper Level.

The voice of Senior Senator of Grand Gedeh County, Isaac Nyenabo, was raised above others as he had sought to support the group, something that would only later see the reverse since his fellow Lower Level colleagues have succumbed.

The Committee, spearheaded by Dweh Borley and other Gedeans, among a list of several points, spotted the provision of supporting bid documents that led to the awarding to the mineral exploration which was issued to the Mano River Iron Ore Resources, the MDA’s refusal to specify the locations of the land in the county that will be committed to the project, the provision of information on the shareholdings on the two companies (Putu Iron Ore Mining, Incorporated and Mano River Iron Ore, Limited), and the provision of clarity on the scientific research fund.

President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, in a letter to National Legislature, presented the MDA in which she urged members of the august body to ratify.

“The Agreement represents, perhaps, the first agreement of such scale to reach Grand Gedeh County and the surrounding South-eastern counties…..that would bring numerous benefits including fiscal, funds, housing, hospital, roads, port and railroad”, President Sirleaf is quoted as luring the National Legislature to have the Putu Mineral deal ratified.

Two years ago, the Government announced that it has granted a two year extension for the Putu Range Iron Ore exploration license, extending it to September 2010.

The group raised some crucial points that it considers unfair to the deal unless they are clarified, key among which it demands for the names of companies that bided for the MDA.

“We need to get the original documents submitted by participating companies for bids to the Government of Liberia for the Putu Mountain, information on the bidding process and documentation of due diligence”, it stated in its letter submitted to the National Legislature.

The country’s inability to properly screen potential investors has been the norm amid reports that most officials tend to look the other way in an era where a simple tool as a google-search could yield much information about potential investors.

Fear of such has led the concerned citizens of the county to take the action as more formidable firms has lost out to lesser-known firms in dark-clouded due diligence processes in the post-war nation, leaving many baffled and confused by the complexities of the Liberian bidding system.

On the issue of constructing a new port and railroad the company says it would do, the group said it is not logical for the construction of a new port when in fact there are currently two seaports in the region, one of which could be improved.

The Ports of Greenville and Harper, in Sinoe and Maryland Counties respectively, are either of two ports the group is suggesting could be improved.

“Why not improve an existing port instead of constructing a new one?” the group wonders.

The group’s push against the speedy passage of the bill until it is properly examined comes on the heels of recent backing by Grand Gedeh County Superintendent Chris Bailey who had earlier labeled the criticisms of the Putu deal as misleading.

Bailey who blamed some citizens of the county in Monrovia for ‘hiding behind the curtain to throw stone’ told a local daily that the local authority of Grand Gedeh County is fully aware of the deal which gave birth to the prospecting of the Putu Mountain by the Putu Mountain Miners. He pointed out that negotiations were ongoing and that upon completion every resident of Grand Gedeh will benefit.

“The Putu Mountain deal is legal and meets the approval of the local authority of Grand Gedeh County. This Putu Mountain, which is also called Gedeh Mountain, will benefit all of us. For instance this year, US$100,000 is expected to be given for the education of the children of this county, and there will be many other benefits”, he had said.

Consisting of two prominent ridges that strike northeast southwest, namely, Mt Jideh (with its extension Mt Montroh) and Mt. Ghi, the Putu Iron Ore project is located in the center of a 425 square kilometers exploration license in Grand Gedeh County, approximately 100 kilometers north east from a potential deep water port of Greenville in Sinoe County and 200 kilometer south east of the Mt. Nimba iron ore deposit.

The group’s crucial concern comes amid recent reports by FrontPageAfrica that both House Speaker Alex Tyler and National Investment Commission (NIC)’s Boss Richard Tolbert have been heavily involved in pushing the interests and ratification of the Putu Mining deal.

Tolbert, responding to a FrontPageAfrica inquiry recently acknowledged that he has ties to Putu but explained that he had recused himself from all dealings regarding the Mano deal in Liberia.

Tolbert had said: “I should as a Liberian have a share but I do not have any now but I still maintain relations with the company”.

Tolbert said he was very proud that to be associated with Mano and Putu and was instrumental in keeping them in Liberia even after war and destruction.

With the National Legislature’s Agricultural or Constituency Break slated for the end of next week, it seems clear that the Putu deal might get the blessing of the Senate, something that had led some to believe would be an exception to the Capitol Hill lawmakers’ speedy passage of investment lucrative bills. An additional extension of the legislators’ break by two weeks has already witnessed the ratification of some investment acts, the most recent of which is the Golden Veroleum.

Already, the House’s Thursday’s session witnessed the passages of both the controversial APM Terminals deal and the BHP Billiton.

The APM agreement when concurred by the Senate would ensure that the Dutch company who won the contract taking over major operations of the Freeport of Monrovia including the construction of a new 300-meter marginal wharf at the Port in public-private partnership valued at US$120 million. The company will pave the operation yard of the port aimed at ensuring that it handles the minimum of 75,000 TEUs annually for containers and 75,000 tons annually for general cargo.

This follows the Managing Director’s turnaround during a recent public hearing which comes in the face of a recent Presidential declaration warning against public officials going against GOL positions on concessions.

BHP Billiton signed a US$3 billion deal with to develop a large-scale iron ore project which means the MDA will allow BHP Billiton to continue exploring for iron ore at Goe Fantro, Kintoma, St. John River South and the Tolo Range, according to the National Investment Commission (NIC) Chairman Richard Tolbert.


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