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Special Feature

The Jindal’s Investment, Where are we?

It was an atmosphere of glee amongst Liberians when news about Jindal’s investment interest in Liberia first emerged about two years back. The arrival of the Jindal Chairman Naveen Jindal and his meetings with President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf  were further reassuring that this $18 billion group will turn the fortunes of the country.

India’s Steel & Energy Giant with resounding and outstanding records of being one of world’s reliable and established entities, made known its investment interest in Liberia, focusing on the Wologisi Mountains Range where there are huge deposits of iron ore and other endowments. Added to its desire of mining at Liberia’s resource-rich Wologisi Mountains Range Mr.Navin Jindal agreed on the request of Her Excellency Ellen Johnson Sirleaf  to also invest in rejuvenating Liberia’s declined energy sector with the construction of 175 MW coal power plant in Liberia.

Judging from the play of events, especially considering Liberia’s dysfunctional state of economy, it was not a mistake that Jindal decided to pump its resources into Liberia because the government had indicated it wanted to open up the country to investments so that Liberians have unhindered employment accesses to enable them respond to the growing risks of poverty.

Soon, emerged scramble over the mountain with China expressing its interest to take the mountain.  Later, the government decided to table the entire bid, even though it was said from highly placed sources that Jindal was best suited for the takeover. The building of the coal-fired power plant at the cost of US300 million, was an outcome of an agreement signed September 10, 2013 between the Indian energy company and the Liberian Government.

At the time, Jindal indicated the plant would consist of two 175 megawatt units, and the coal used to power the mine will likely come from Jindal’s coal mine in Mozambique or from South Africa, and that the energy produced at the plant will be sold for a third of the price of what it currently costs people in Liberia to run a generator on diesel.

“I have a dream to light up Africa,” said Naveen Jindal, chairman of Jindal Steel and Power and a member of the Indian parliament said at the time. Jindal made the announcement during Liberia President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf’s five-day visit to India. Sirleaf said he is pleased with the agreement between his country and the Indian power company.”I am impressed by what they (Jindals) have achieved,” he said. “The manner in which they have built.”

But since these enthralling events which signaled “a done-deal for Jindal’s investment dream realization,” the atmosphere has turned extremely foggy and creepy, in that everything seems to be at standstill, most especially at the time Liberians are eager to see the company begin operations because of the huge benefits the nation stands to accrue.

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The decline in the velocity that earlier marred the Jindal and Liberian government’s negotiations for a possibly permanent agreement remains a sticky issue, especially at the time of growing apprehension about the state of the economy, considering that operationalizing Jindal investment will unquestionably stimulate and bolster the already poor-health economy because more and more Liberians will get employment benefits.

What is responsible for the stalemate remains to be seen, but the overbearing bureaucratic bottlenecks that often characterize these kinds of topnotch undertakings cannot be overruled. Liberia is noted for this appalling gimmick which at times kills God-given opportunities.

Available information is that President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has instructed officials of her government with stakes in this issue to act as urgently as possible so that the company begins full preparations for operations. But for whatever reasons, these instructions have been shelved by the concerned officials, who are not considering the interest of the people who are in dire need of employment, and that of the nation is lagging in everything, is a wanting phenomenon.

“What does it profit a man when he or she boasts of having dozen of children but has nothing to show as dividends of going through the hurdles of making children.”? Wouldn’t it benefit him if he lets one of them out so that he gets something out of the process of letting out?   A second year student at the University of Liberia remarked recently.

Yes, it makes sense to be cautious, but it is impractical when actions are taken on the basis of yesterday’s mistakes, without taking into accounts the conditions that necessitated such failure. No argument that pre-conflict Liberia did not do well in arrangements it had with other investments, but that does not mean Liberia or the government lacks the wherewithal to change course; to be able to correct the mistakes.

What is said about Firestone, the oldest investment in Liberia’s history, cannot be said about ArcelorMittal, Sime Darby, GVL, China Union, because the government, in negotiating the agreements, took corrective actions evident by the involvement of these investments in corporate social responsibility activities in their areas   of operations.

Juxtaposing the excellent impacts of other investments such as ArcelorMittal, China Union, Sesa Goa (in the mining sector) and Sime Darby, GVL (in the oil palm sector) on the economy to the concerns of “depletion of the resources by government with little or no benefits,” is a reminder that granting Jindal and other companies interested in Liberia access will go a long way in taking Liberia out of the wood.

Liberians, in their distant abodes, are concerned about the near-death posture of the negotiation with Jindal, and are expressing frustrations and at the same time calling on government to act because time is surely running out.

“Delay is dangerous,” remarked a concerned Liberian who said he is only waiting for Jindal to be given a green light by the government so he can  get back home. “I am hopeful of getting employment when this company is given the chance to operate.”

“Jindal cannot suffer the negligence and discomfiture caused by other company’s inability to act in line with the status quo,” the oldma who claimed he is a trained electrician noted.

What is of more concern is that the delay by some officials to move faster will have effect on the investment climate indirectly.   What a country that its president gives instruction to officials and those instructions are not followed to the later and in a time frame set. No investor will love to sit in one country for almost two years spending on other things and its main investment line is not being worked on.

Liberia is not the only place to invest in Africa.  In other countries, for example, their services are needed.  This is about time for madam president to step in from the back in the tough way. Remember any commitment made to investor by a leader that your government would ensure speedy work on an investment is respected.   So, when that MOU was signed last year and assurances were given in India that Liberia would  do all in its power to  seal the power plant deal is  reached, it was a sign of strong commitment.  In fact the president said she would submit a legislation to the house on Jindal for the power plant.

Jindal, by all standards of what its wealth, is too good a company to be cold-shouldered because doing so is tantamount to exposing Liberia to an everlasting danger of losing a magnificent opportunity many nations across the African Continent yearn to have.

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