Public hearings by the House of Representatives on the concession Agreement between the Government of Liberia and the Danish Company, APM Terminals for the management of the National Port Authority or NPA are underway in Monrovia. The lawmakers could not conclude the hearings on the US100 million concession agreements on Tuesday, probably due to time limitation, considering the need for proper understanding of the terms of such agreement.
In the wake of this on-going exercise on Capitol Hill, there are claims and counter-claims about the surreptitious nature of the negotiations which led to the signing of the multi-million dollar agreement and its onward submission to the Liberian Legislature. These claims are just among members of the Board of Directors of the NPA, with side attractions from a few groups, including the University of Liberia Students Union or ULSU on the various terms of the agreement.
A member of the NPA Board and President of the Liberia Timber Association, Rudolph Merab contended that the document was kept in secrecy, noting that as a group constitutionally charged with oversight responsibility for that institution, not a single member had an understanding of the merits and demerits of such agreement, except Chairman Beyan Kesselly and Board Secretary and Managing Director Matilda Parker.
Interestingly, the NPA Board Chair confirmed the foregoing, attributing such decision to the laws which restrict him and the Managing Director from information-sharing among members of the Board. If Kesselly’s assertion is something to consider, then there is a transparency problem and no essence of even maintaining a Board of Directors. And of course, there is something “fishy” about this whole transaction.
Reading through most of the terms of the agreement, we are even wondering as to why would the Chairman of the NPA Board, the Managing Director and Board Secretary, as well as an Inter-Ministerial Committee and Public Procurement and Concession and Commission, who all should represent the general interest of the people of Liberia in such area, want to negotiate and sign an agreement that is completely detrimental to the socio-economic well-being of not only the NPA workers, but the nation as a whole ?
What is even more scaring about this contractual agreement, if and only if passed again by our brothers and sisters in the Liberian Legislature, is the economic hardship the ordinary Liberians will encounter amidst their already poverty-stricken situation. Notably in the agreement, is the rise in tariff on a bag of rice from the current US$3.00 to US$10.00, as well as timber processing from US$5.00 to $16.00 and container movement from US$175.00 to US$295.00 just to name a few.
This means that if the tariff on rice, for example, is increased to US$10.00 as per that ugly agreement, the ordinary or average Liberian will have to take´” blood test”( find it very difficult) to survive. Amazingly at the capitol during Tuesday’s hearings, the Managing Director of the NPA and Secretary to the Board, Matilda parker was heard alerting the Lawmakers to notice the “many unanswered issues” in the document, including the welfare of the 673 NPA employees, low royalty to the Port, as well as rise in tariff on rice and cement, as if she was never a discussant in the negotiations.
We are of the fervent belief that had Parker, Kesselly, the Inter-Ministerial Committee headed by Dr. Richard Tolbert of the national Investment Commission or NIC and those from the PPCC been in our national interest, they would adequately handled the foregoing “unanswered issues” as well as those of the utilization of Liberian-owned companies for trucking and stevedoring and the 30-mile radius exclusive clause even before the signing of that agreement.
Again, personal economic interest in this era, must exceed the over-all national interest of Liberia-probably that’s why the negotiations went, they way they did. But again, the only way out in terms of proper ratification, is our brothers and sisters on Capitol Hill. If they will, again, blind themselves with huge gratuities as they may have done with the Maritime Act, so be it.
We have no choice now, but posterity will surely judge them and all of those whose intentions are to further plunge ordinary Liberians into abject poverty, other than reducing it as professed by the current administration.