Liberians are anxiously waiting for President Weah’s decision in favor of a multi-user agreement, which will grant the country hundreds of additional jobs as well as hundreds of millions of additional investment in the form of FDIs by foreign mining companies operating in the West African region, such as Ivanhoe/HPX Group Companies, SMFG, and others, in addition to Arcelor Mittal. Moreover, the rail could be used for agriculture, passenger traffic and trade from other countries like Guinea and Ivory Coast.
In October 2022, President Weah issued Executive Order 112, which grants non-discriminatory access on a multi-user basis to the Liberian Infrastructure Assets for ArcelorMittal Liberia, Ivanhoe and SMFG (or their affiliates) together with any other eligible users. This order was well received by all stakeholders, including companies involved in the process, as well as main foreign embassies in Liberia, as a significant step towards a better financial future for the country.
Following the issuance of Order 112, President Weah appointed an Special Presidential Committee led by very senior Ministers, such as Amb. Dee-Maxwell Saah Kemayah, Sr., Minister of Foreign Affairs and Dean of the Cabinet as Chairman; Mr. Emanuel L. Shaw II, Advisor to the President, Member; and Cllr. Archibald Bernard, Legal Advisor to the President, Member, and Secretary to the Committee, therefore only increasing the expectation that the country would get a credible result that will finally put Liberia’s interests first.
Furthermore, the President had identified in his order that an eminent person or panel would be needed, to make sure his core principles are adhered to, and international best practices are taken into account and followed. In this regard, the Government of Liberia has been introduced to a large US infrastructure operator, RL Banks, that would operate the system fairly.
The entire country is now eagerly waiting their conclusions and the President’s final word, as Liberia is set to benefit greatly both on the financial and employment aspects.
Executive Order #112, issued in October 2022, indicates that the Government is committed to the core principles of open, non-discriminatory access on a multi-user basis to the Liberian Infrastructure Assets for ArcelorMittal Liberia, Ivanhoe and SMFG (or their affiliates) together with any other eligible users, including local companies and mining operators approved as such by the Government (“Eligible Users”), and in accordance with best international industry practice and best technical, safety, social and environmental standards (“Core Principles”).
A press release issued by the Executive Mansion in October 2022, states that nothing in the Executive Order shall interfere with or diminish the rights of any Eligible User to access the Liberian Infrastructure Assets, but it shall instead be interpreted such as to enhance and to promote the overall benefit of the Liberian Infrastructure Assets to the Republic of Liberia and its citizens.
The executive order followed after the House and the Senate did not approve the MDA proposed by Arcelor Mittal Liberia, which has been lobbying for exclusivity of railway and port usage to transport mining goods. This has been considered as a discriminatory approach towards other companies, by the House, the Senate and even the main foreign embassies based in Liberia, and it limits the economic development opportunity for Liberia.
The President of Liberia, who was very strong willed when talking about taking a decision to the best benefit of Liberia, hasn’t done so in the past five months. No actions have been taken or communicated by his committee, either, thus keeping the country from benefiting in jobs and money with every day that passes.
The multi-user agreement would allow for Liberia to triple the capacity of the existing railroad from AML’s planned 15 million to at least 45 million tons per year, to have an additional 600 million US dollars of investment in infrastructure on top of AML’s proposed 200 million for port and rail refurbishment, to create another 500 jobs and to generate millions of additional revenues every year for the local communities and for the National Government.
It remains unclear, why Arcelor Mittal has been so adamant in keeping exclusivity over the use of the railways and ports in Liberia, as it would make sense even for them to share the costs and the investments with other companies as well. The reason behind it could be related to the poor conditions of their workers in Liberia, whereby there have been several reports of people having been injured and even died while working for AML.
All eyes are on President Weah as all stakeholders anxiously expect a decision from him.