By Julius T. Jaesen II
ArcelorMittal-Liberia, Liberia’s biggest investment company, since its advent in our country in 2006, has been a devoted corporate citizen to Liberia’s socioeconomic development and transformation. The company has since been dutiful and committed to meeting up with its terms and conditions of the agreement to the national government to support the budget and as well as its corporate social responsibilities to the three affected counties where the company operates. Just a few months back, it was by no mistake when the Liberia Revenue Authority recognized the monumental contribution of ArcelorMittal amongst other investment companies and certificated AML as the biggest taxpayer and tax-compliant entity in the country.
The stay or longevity of AML in Liberia will only serve the good of our government and its vast unemployed youth. Over the years, the taxes AML has paid contributed vastly to funding the national budget, sustaining our economy, and supporting our developmental recovery drive. Also, the company has absorbed in its employ a huge throng of Liberia’s unemployed population – who since the coming of the steel giant – AML – have been responsible family heads – putting food on the tables of their families and keeping their kids in schools. No concession company operating on Liberian soil has contributed immensely to bridging the unemployment endemic – sponsoring young people home and abroad to obtain advanced education, giving back to our health sector, and many other areas where our government faces challenges like ArcelorMittal has done since its operation in the country. For this, we must be grateful to AML and support any effort to extend its agreement and keep our youth employed.
AML is operating in three of Liberia’s fifteen counties – namely – Grand Bassa, Bong, and Nimba. As stipulated in the Mineral Development Agreement, the company is mandated to give US 45 million per annum as corporate social responsibility funds to the three affected counties to help address social, economic, and environmental issues in these counties where the company operates. But regrettably, several dwellers of the affected communities have complained on rivers of occasions that they aren’t reaping the dividends or feeling any impact of the 45 million dollars in corporate social responsibility in their counties that the company is required to provide annually.
Whilst the concerns raised by dwellers of these communities are genuine ones, the underlying questions we must ask as enlightened patriots are: 1. has AML been a responsible corporate citizen when it comes to fulfilling its corporate social responsibility to affected counties? 2. If AML has been complying with the terms and conditions of the agreement – who is to be blamed? 3. Do we blame local authorities or AML? Certainly, the obvious answers to these questions will be yes – AML has been and continues to meet up with its corporate social responsibility to these affected communities, and the failure to see the impact of the CSR rests on the shoulders of our local authorities and as well the national government.
Whilst we welcome the national government to go all out to attract investors to come to invest heavily in our country and mine our natural resources – as citizens, we must demand our local authorities and national government to utilize proceeds gathered in taxes and corporate social responsibilities to the benefit of affected communities, citizens and our country holistically. When a government collects royalties, taxes, and corporate social responsibility funds from concessionaires and refuses to use such funds for the intended purposes – such government deepens citizens’ distrust and mistrust in concessionaires, the government itself, and as well scares potential investors from investing in such a country.
The municipal authorities in affected counties and the national government ought to be accountable to their citizens and as well as concessionaires who are compliant with all terms and conditions of the agreement they entered in.
But also true, it is our moral responsibility as citizens to not just sit and watch government negotiates our resources to companies – see companies extract our mineral resources – we don’t see the impacts effectuated in our lives and communities and we do nothing to demand accountability from our government. We must sit supinely and wait for 6 years before we change a corrupt government that is exploiting our resources and depriving us of the benefit to advance our lives and develop our communities. We must hold our authorities accountable – because history has shown times and times without numbers that governments in Liberia and many countries in Sub-Saharan Africa have been toppled due to rampant corruption.
When corporate citizens are devoted to their responsibilities in agreements we signed with them, it is only fair enough that our government demonstrates a high degree of transparency, accountability, probity, fiscal discipline, and integrity in the management of such funds to ensure progressive impacts in the lives of its citizens and the overall development of the country.
Last year September, the government of Liberia through the Executive Branch and ArcelorMittal-Liberia signed the third amendment to the Mineral Development Agreement to extend AML operations in Liberia. The third amendment when ratified by the Legislature, will see an increase in AML’s investment portfolio by an additional 1 billion. AML’s 1 billion additional investment will bring lots of economic dividends to Liberia and help the government address some of its pressing challenges and as well aid in poverty alleviation by narrowing the unemployment gap. However, since the signing of the agreement and its presentation to the Legislature, a few rival companies – fearing that AML will have a monopoly over the rail, have along with some selfish officials, been sponsoring nasty attacks against the ratification of the agreement.
It can be recalled right after the House of Representatives returned AML’s agreement to the President on the same day, a US$500,000 cheque issued in the name of the House’s Speaker, Bohfal Chambers, went viral on social media as a bribe for returning AML’s agreement. This on the part of the Legislature is a classic display of self-interest over national interest.
We urge our government to bring wisdom and judicial prudent to bear by carefully handling the AML agreement in ways that will be beneficial to Liberia, its citizens, and the company. We should not bully a company whose corporate citizenship over the last 16 years has helped tremendously to contribute to addressing Liberia’s myriad development challenges. Any effort on the part of our government to allow our biggest taxpayer to withdraw from our economy – it will have a detrimental impact on the economy and advertently widen the unemployment gap – puts several employed citizens who will ultimately become unemployed to rise against the government – thus creating instability and national security threat.