While mineral development agreements are always reached between the Government of Liberia and foreign investors, there are also benefits accrued by communities which host these concessions. Other than the social benefits such as education, health, as well as road, among others, there are always special cash benefits for the concession areas otherwise known as the Social Development Funds.
For examples, Acelor Mittal, which operates in Nimba, Bong and Grand Bassa Counties in north central Liberia, annually makes available these amounts to these counties for their socio-economic developments. Margibi, Bong and Montserrado Counties receive huge amounts annually from China Union, which operates what is left of Bong Mines in Bong County. Similar provisions are also made to Grand cape, Bomi and Gbarpolu Counties in Western Liberia by the Malaysian-based Sime darby, while Sinoe and a few others in the Southeast are receiving such social development funds, according to the various agreements signed by the government and these companies
The decision by the administration of President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf to have such arrangements imbedded in various concession agreements since its incumbency was to buttress the efforts of the administration in facilitating progress in Rural Liberia from the perspective of the County Development Agendas. And true to the desire of the Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf Administration to foster growth in country’s political sub-divisions, concession companies have since been remitting these monies to the authorities of their operation areas as back-ups to the County Development Fund or CDF, which is annually budgeted for all the 15 political sub-divisions.
Despite these good-will efforts occasioning the country’s development process, not much have actually been achieved since initiation of such development strategy by the administration for the last five to six years in the counties. Most projects and programs targeted by these funds as agreed upon by the people under the CDA are either incomplete or untouched.
Interestingly, at the core of the management of these funds are the various County Legislative Caucuses, even though authorities of the counties may be involved. The issue of oversight as one of the functions/responsibilities of county Legislators has become and continues to be very problematic for the management of the money. Oversight, according to the Legislators, means having direct control of the Social Development Funds in terms of planning, budgeting and expenditure, other than the true meaning of the word, which entails monitoring/guiding the people’s development initiatives in terms of proper management of the funds.
In fact, some county legislators have and continue to make themselves “logistic officers” just to chase the cash for their personal aggrandizement, despite the huge salaries, allowances, benefits, etc., etc, they earn monthly in both Houses of Representatives and Senate. This is why noise and conflicts of various forms continue to characterized the Social Development Funds, especially Bong, Nimba, Montserrado, Bomi and Margibi Counties from time to time. Despite the huge sums given to these counties by various concessions annually, development continues to elude the people to their own frustration.
It is no secret that such frustration may one day result to violent conflict between county Legislators and citizens and residents of the counties. This is why President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf must now intervene to avert such future situation. Such intervention must ensure a moratorium on the Social Development Fund for a period of six months to allow the people to determine how the SDF should now be managed to directly impact them other than benefitting a few county legislators.