Mittal Deal, the Best Ever, in Liberia under Scrutiny?
By Yini Guva A. Sahn
Some of the benefits LAMCO left for Nimba-abandoned heavy equip.
Liberians began asking questions when piles of iron ore at Port Buchanan were missing. “The missing iron ore in Liberia concerns us all!”- While inquiry was being made into the disappearance of the iron ore, there were unconfirmed reports of an undercover deal being carved to award the Ore Mining contract to Mittal Corporation.
News of the signing of this fraudulent deal drew even more public outcry in Liberia. Human Rights Lawyers, including the Green Advocates and many ordinary Liberians were not happy. Former Minister Foday Kromah of Lands and Mines called the deal illegal. Hon. Harry Greaves wrote in his unpublished memo, “An Unauthorized memo from Harry Greaves” that the deal was not in the interest of the Liberian people because it had some disturbing downsides. With all the opposition to this deal, Liberian officials still awarded the contract to Mittal with impunity.
How Companies Fleeced Liberia
Mittal Corporation is not the only multinational corporation to buy its way into Liberia with the help of government officials. Lieut. Col. Landsdell Christie WRANGLED a concession agreement from the Liberian government for the Devil’s Mountain in Bomi Hills. (The Bomi Bonanza: Times Magazine, March 28, 1947). He founded the Liberia Mining Company and invited some friends to join in reaping his fortune. The Bomi contract undoubtedly was obtained through trickery and deception. (Definitions of the words “Wrangle and Maneuver”)
From the initial stage of operation, the Liberia Mining Company, LMC, shipped out one million tons of high grade iron ore from Bomi Territory, now Bomi County. At full production, LMC was set to triple its shipment and Liberia’s income was doubled to $40m a year, forty times the size before President Tubman came to power. (Times Magazine: May 18, 1959). If the government received forty times a year just from Bomi Hills, how much did it receive after LAMCO and Bong Mines were at full production? Of the $40m, how much did the citizens of Bomi County receive? Did the people of Bomi County even see the details of the contract?
After years of operation, when LMC was ready to close down, the workers simply requested for a few months of severance pay. When their request was not honored, they went on strike. The strike was handled with heavy hands by the Liberian government. There are no records anywhere to show that the workers’ demands were met. The unwritten labor laws of Tubman’s Open Door Policy never allowed strikes. The policy only opened the door for foreign multinational corporations to fleece the country, but closed the doors on its own citizens to potential opportunities and benefits.
The Way Forward
The days of the “Bomi Bonanza” are gone. Liberians don’t want another bonanza in Nimba or anywhere anymore. The free fortunes given to the corporate owners of LMC, LAMCO, and Bong Mines are things of the past. One wonders if Firestone is also not reaping similar lopsided benefits while its workers earn slender wages that are far from being life sustaining for many of its employees and their families. Never again should the national resources of the country be mortgaged to foreign multinational corporations for a few dollars of bribe. Any contract that has no substantial benefits for the country or the local people should not be ratified. In fact, Nimba County citizens in Liberia have expressed their feelings of disgust at the company that has not even started operating and want the contract revoked - Residents of Yekepa Want Gov't to Revoke Mittal Steel Contract. Their request should not be condoned.
Finally, the best thing that has ever happened to Liberia was the decision by President Sirleaf to review all contracts that were WRANGLED through the interim government of Gyude Bryant. Not only should the Mittal Deal be scrutinized, all those who signed and qualified it must be come under serious scrutiny. That’s the only way to begin to put an end to the corrupt tradition of our country.
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