There was laughter in the Senate Committee Chambers Friday November 25 during the hearing of a request to amend a concession agreement between the Government of Liberia and the Liberia Forest Product Inc. or LFPI, operators of Equatorial Palm Oil or EPO.
The entire hearing chamber burst into laughter when the Chairman of the National Investment Commission told Senators that she was not aware that the very contract which ratification she seeks had already by-passed the Senate and been allegedly approved by the President and signed into law.
Most interestingly, one of the signatories on this document which was approved by President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf just last month is former Finance and Development Planning Minister Amara Konneh, who left the ministry months ago.
The document, which is in the possession of this paper show that the first amendment to the Concession Agreement between the Liberian government and the LFPI had already been signed into law by President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf before forwarding to the Liberian Legislature for ratification.
By law, every concession agreement or amendment shall be submitted before the Liberian Legislature which comprises of the House of Representatives and the Liberian Senate passed and subsequently submitted to the president for approval but the LFPI amendment comes in a different protocol with the signing first by President Sirleaf before sending same for ratification before the legislature.
The amendment which is currently before the Liberian Senate for possible approval was reportedly approved into law on October 24, 2016, with former Finance and Development Planning Minister, Amara Konneh, Madam Etmonia Tarpeh, of the National Investment Commission, and Dr. Moses Zinnah of the Agriculture Ministry all signing as heads of those government’s institutions. Cllr. Fredrick Cheru, attested and approved by President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.
What is much more puzzling is the signature of former Minister Konneh who is currently on foreign mission with the World Bank appearing on the document, which was dated on October 24, 2016. This has left members of the Liberian Senate pondering.
The LFPI, which is currently operating in New Cess, Grand Bassa County is engaged in palm production. The company is seeking 19,795 acres of land with a five year extension project. But residents of that part of the country are resisting the extension plan on grounds that the company has reportedly failed to live to its expectations by providing schools, clinics and better housing for workers and residents.
It all started when the Senate’s Committee Chairman on Concession and Contracts, Bomi County Senator Sand Johnson had invited the National Concession Commission to a public hearing to enable the senate take a decision on ratifying the document or not.
Making her presentation last Friday, the Chairperson of the commission, Madam Ciatta Bishop took the stage to explain while the agreement should be passed. But when Bomi County Senator Morris Saytumah raised inquires that the document was already signed and approved into law before taking it to the Capitol Building for legislation, Madam Bishop narrowly escaped by saying that she’s not aware of those who neither signed nor approved.
Her statement brought the hearing to an immediate halt amidst laughter. Reporters and some members of the public were told by Chairman Johnson to leave the hearing, according to him the move was to allow the committee discuss some strategic issues with members of the executive branch of government that were in attendance.
Following the 20 minutes, Senator Johnson informed the media that the committee had resolved to postponed the hearing to a later date as many of the invitees did not show up for the hearing.
By E. J. Nathaniel Daygbor -Edited by Othello B. Garblah