CENTAL wants zero tolerance on corruption in Western Cluster deal
By Lewis S Teh
The Center for Transparency and Accountability in Liberia (CENTAL) has urged President George Weah to protect the Constitution and people of Liberia by demonstrating zero tolerance on corruption.
“We at CENTAL are calling on President George Weah to protect the Constitution and the Liberian People in this Western Cluster deal by demonstrating zero tolerance for corruption and bad governance.”
CENTAL Executive Director Anderson Maimen, made the call on Friday, January 13, while in a news conference at his office in Sinkor, Monrovia.
He said CENTAL’s attention has been drawn to negotiations around the Western Cluster Concession in Bomi County, which he noted understandably generated tension between citizens of Bomi and their leaders on one hand, and the company (Western Cluster Limited) on the other.
According to him, the Center has observed a violation of fundamental constitutional safeguards in the process, such as the separation of powers, adding that the involvement of Senator Edwin M. Snowe and the Bomi Legislative Caucus in negotiating a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) establishes a serious conflict of interest on the part of legislators who have an even higher responsibility of oversight regarding matters such as concessions.
He noted that the MOU undermines the 2011 Mineral Development Agreement (MDA) between the Republic of Liberia and Western Cluster Liberia Limited, as it evades lawful taxes in millions of dollars owed by Western Cluster to the Government of Liberia, and approves potential environmental hazards posed by the company’s operations via trucking of minerals from Bomi through the Freeport of Monrovia.
“Ladies and gentlemen of the press, the lack of citizens’ involvement in the said negotiations [is] even more telling and constitutes flagrant violation of relevant laws, including the Land Rights Act of 2018.”
He said these acts do not only signal corruption, but also undermine transparent revenue generation by multinational firms through corporate lobbying to weaken enforcement of key mineral policies.
Maimen continued that those acts also influence policymakers’ decisions to win government contracts in mining companies’ favor through fraudulent means, thereby hindering efforts to garner needed revenues and transform the lives of affected communities/counties and Liberians, which more broadly results in Liberia losing millions of dollars through shady concession deals and illicit financial flows in the sector.
The CENTAL executive recalled that in 2019, several former public officials were accused by Global Witness and subsequently indicted for soliciting US$950, 000 in bribes from UK-based Sable Mining Company.
Maimen explained that the aim was to change section of the PPCC Act in favor of the company to award Wologizi Mountain in Lofa without competitive bidding process, and the likes of Grand Cape Mount County Senator Varney Sherman, former Speaker Alex Tyler, Morris Saytumah, former Minister of State and now Bomi County Senator; Richard Tolbert, former National Investment Commission head and others were involved in the said corruption saga.
He expressed frustration that what is even more disturbing is that some of the same names have resurfaced in this shady MOU arrangement wherein Bomi County Senator Edwin Snow mentioned former Speaker Tyler, Senator Morris Saytumah, and others as participants.
This, he said speaks to the fact that the culture of impunity continues to thrive as a result of a weak and compromised legal system that undermines the rule of law, democratic tenets as well as effective functioning of judicial institutions established to reprimand violators of crimes.
He said CENTAL is extremely elated that the people of Bomi are standing up and demanding accountability of their leaders and better treatment from a company operating in their county.
“We call on the citizens and people of Bomi County to remain steadfast in their advocacy for a better deal that reflects and truly seeks their interest, moving away from business as usual.”
CENTAL also wants any discussion (s) around review of existing concessions and awarding of new ones should be done in line with relevant Liberian Laws, the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative guidelines and requirements as well as other international frameworks promoting inclusion, transparency, accountability, and full citizens’ engagement and meaningful participation in mining and other award decisions.
Meanwhile, Maimen called on the Government of Liberia to respect the principle of separation of powers, as provided for in the Constitution of Liberia, noting that Senators and Representatives, who should be providing oversight and approving Agreements cannot at the same time be negotiators of said contracts. Editing by Jonathan Browne