Liberia, Politics

President George Weah disapproves Hummingbird Deal

“By virtue of the authority in me vested under Article 35 of the Constitution of the Republic of Liberia, I hereby disapprove, veto the Act to ratify the Mineral Development Agreement (MDA) between the Government of Liberia and Hummingbird Resources (Liberia) Incorporated for several reasons stated supra,” President George Manneh Weah has informed the Senate.

In a communication, dated July 3, 2018, which reached the Senate Chamber as that body was going for executive session, the President stated: “In view of my disapproval of this Act as provided for in Article 35 of the Constitution of Liberia, I herewith return to your honorable body the said Act. However, I look forward to working with the Legislature in future….”

In the communication, President Weah informed the lawmakers that the Act sent to his office was reviewed by the Special Presidential Concessions Review Committee, and that it derived the overall conclusion that while the agreement is appreciably conscious of the need for a fair business arrangement, few critical aspects need reconsideration in order to bring a protracted benefit with mutual balance for each of the comparing parties.

In its current form, President Weah said the agreement needs modification in two parts such as the authentication of the document. He said the transmittal instruments from the Legislature to the office of the President scheduled of Senate engrossed Bill #1, “has a big error which he noted cannot be corrected by the office of the President; instead of the year 2018, the Bill bears 2017 which era I cannot account for.”

Additionally, the President observed the omission of several dates which omissions my office is not authorized to correct and without such corrections, he cannot affix his signature. He further observed some pages 14 and 15, Annex 3, are not signed or initialed.

“As it appears on its face, the agreement was concluded since July 9, 2015, the situation which obtained in 2015 is not the same today, 2018; therefore, giving the time lapse this certainly warrants a review to ensure that provisions in the agreement are responsive to current and future situations, “President Weah reminded the Senators.

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Another area of concern stated in President Weah’s veto communication is a section which vests authority in the Minister of Lands, Mines and Energy to extend the land area for exploration. “This sovereign authority ought to be vested in an agent, vesting same in one agent is potentially… an unlawful act, including the pursuit of personal gains, a realistic anti-corruption mechanism would avoid such gross investment of authority for a hard gotten commodity such as land.”

President Weah noted that it was prudent “to adjust this provision to ensure that expansion is subject to and authorized by the appropriate authority.” The President also took exception to the amounts paid periodically in the name of Community Development Fund by Hummingbird from year one to eleven of its operational period.

“These periodic payments are commendable , but are not appreciable in amounts for such an undertaking of this nature, the amounts should be substantial to ensure that communities are impacted as a support to the government’s pro-poor policy.”

In the area of other social responsibility concerns, President Weah asserted that the MDA obligates the proposed concessionaire to provide medical, schools and other assistance to the communities to be affected, noticed that those provisions are not specific. “As a mining concession, it is important to delve into the details of such responsibilities so that any doubt regarding standards as to the assistance such as construction works can be readily determined.”

Some members of the leadership of the Senate and notable members of the committee on Lands, Mines, Energy and Environment briefly held consultation with presiding Senator Dan Morais who chairs the committee on Foreign Affairs.

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Afterwards, Grand Gedeh County Senator Alphonso Gaye proffered a motion and seconded that the communication be received and turned over to the leadership, who would ensure that copies are distributed among Senators and that after consultations, report to plenary in one week.

The Liberian Senate in June ratified the MDA for gold in the Southeast which also contains areas where a mineral resource, possibly columbite-tantalite (otherwise known as coltan) has recently been discovered. In a press briefing following the passage, Pro Tempore Albert T. Chie said, “the Senate wishes to assure the public that over the next ten years, the Government will accelerate the assessment, appraisal and sustainable development and management of its mineral resource base and other natural resources to improve the lives of its people, especially the rural dwellers and service these loans which have been obtained. ”

In November 2016, the Senate Joint Committee on Lands, Mines, Energy, Natural Resources & Environment; Judiciary, Claims, Human Rights & Petitions and Investment & Concessions, recommended to the plenary of the Senate to postpone ratification process of the proposed Mineral Development Agreement between the Hummingbird Resources (Liberia) Inc. pending some explanations from the Executive.

According to the joint committee’s report, principally the lumping of four exploration licenses into a single Mineral Development Agreement instead of four separate MDAs, and the lack of a plan in the MDA towards the development and mining of the over four million ounces of inferred gold resources discovered in Sinoe County, are concerns that the Executive needs to explain.

The committee in its concluding report to plenary noted that the lumping together of the four exploration license areas into a single MDA, instead of four, in line with the New Minerals and Mining Law approved on April 3, 2000, will lead to revenue loss to the government in the tone of millions of United States dollars; “and significant reduction in social development funds and other benefits to the affected communities and in Sinoe,Grand Kru, River Gee and Maryland counties.”

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Besides the loss of revenue and benefits, the committee maintained that the areas could be susceptible to limited and impetuous exploration work, which could result into some of the areas prematurely and unjustifiably being declared uneconomical and making them relatively unattractive for future investment.

In the findings of the committee, during the formulation of the MDA, there should have been a provision setting aside a production lot(s) over the areas in Sinoe, where the gold has been discovered or the company given a maximum of one year to declare production areas.

“Allotting the company five additional years for exploration over these areas containing a minable gold resource after exploring for ten years, is excessive and the legal, technical and economic bases are debatable, ” the joint committee concluded.

Meanwhile observers have welcomed President Weah’s veto of the Hummingbird Agreement especially in view of Senate President Pro Tempore Albert Chie’s alleged ownership of ten percent shares in Hummingbird.

Wisseh Fronyeneh Doe, a native of Grand Kru and a student at the P.G. Wollor High School in Barclayville told the Daily Observer in a telephone interview that most people in that county have absolutely no knowledge of the Hummingbird Company, nor of the Concession agreement. He lamented what he called a sellout of the interests of the people of Grand Kru, noting that nothing will convince them to sell their birthright in exchange for a few dollars which will not last a day, he said.

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