Bomi County Senator Edwin Melvin-Snowe has accused the Liberian government of shortchanging the county by more than half a million United States Dollars in payments made from the Western Cluster Social Development Fund.
According to Senator Snowe, the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning has deliberately withheld funds, hindering the county’s planned development projects. The actions of the government have not been well-received by the county’s citizens.
Snowe stated, “The people of Bomi are not fools. When Sime Darby left, they paid over US$2 million, and we have yet to receive that money as a county. Our people are angry and are planning a peaceful demonstration in compliance with the law. We urge the Finance Ministry to release our funds.”
He also pointed out that it took the government nine months to disburse the funds, and instead of paying in US Dollars, they provided a significant portion of the money in Liberian Dollars. This resulted in Bomi County being shortchanged by half a million dollars due to unfavorable exchange rates.
Senator Snowe also accused the Minister of Internal Affairs, Mr. Varney Sirleaf of withholding a substantial portion of the county’s funds in Ministry accounts. He appealed to the Senate Pro-Tempore to intervene and ensure that the county can access its funds. He emphasized, “You cannot pay us at the rate of 150 and then, two weeks later, raise the exchange rate to 200.”
Western Cluster Liberia is one of the largest concessions in the region, and Western Liberia is considered one of the most impoverished areas in Liberia. Concessions in the region have the potential to provide jobs and improve the standard of living.
In August 2011, the company signed a 25-year Mineral Development Agreement with the Government of Liberia with the expectation of mining up to 30 million tons of iron ore annually. This iron ore primarily consists of quartz, hematite, magnetite, as well as weathering and replacement products like martite and limonite.
Western Cluster Limited had been making annual contributions of US$2.8 million for social and educational projects, including free medical services to residents in remote villages in Bomi County. However, the company withdrew in 2014 due to the Ebola pandemic and subsequently the coronavirus pandemic.
After negotiations with a Liberian delegation, the company returned to Liberia. As part of the negotiations, the company was required to pay US$10 million as a complete settlement of its financial obligations for the period it was not operating in Liberia. This negotiated amount represents 50 percent of its financial obligations to the Liberian government.
However, due to the circumstances surrounding the suspension of its activities, the amount was reduced by half.
In addition to the agreements outlined in the revised Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), Western Cluster has committed to providing US$3 million from the Freeport of Monrovia to St. Paul River Bridge and an additional US$1.5 million from Bomi to St. Paul River Bridge, as demanded by the government.
The company has also pledged to continue repairing and maintaining the roads used for the transportation of its ore to the Freeport of Monrovia after reconditioning them.
In a related development, concerns were raised by Senator Prince Moye of Bong County, who complained that Bong County had not received the full amount allocated by the China Union Concession Company under the Social Development Fund. Despite being entitled to US$1.5 million, only US$400,000 has been disbursed to date.
Moye expressed frustration saying, “It is disheartening that despite having the largest concession, our county lacks good roads, our hospitals lack medicine and equipment. In the past, such funds were used to address these challenges in health centers and schools in the county.”