Rep Fahnbulleh Resolute in "Corporate Accountability" over China Union's "Engross" MDA Negligence

Mar 12, 2024 - 17:53
Mar 12, 2024 - 17:56
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Rep Fahnbulleh Resolute in "Corporate Accountability" over China Union's "Engross" MDA Negligence

 by: William K. Howard 

Capitol Hill: Liberia’s government signed a $2.6 billion agreement with the Chinese company, China Union, to mine for iron ore in the former Bong Mines operation area in Western Liberia.

The agreement reached in 2009, was intended to be Liberia’s chief investment ever, as the government announced it would generate between 3,000 to 4,000 jobs with an additional 15,000 indirectly.

As reported by VOA, the government said, "This will go to the heart and soul of creating more jobs for our people and a stronger spur for the economy." China Union was among several companies that bid and won. Through diligence, a development agreement was put together by the negotiating teams of the Liberian government and China Union. It has now been signed by President Sirleaf and is being forwarded to the national legislature for ratification.

However, 14 years later, China Union has come under increased pressure from both workers and particularly the House of Representatives, since a lawmaker from its host community lodged a formal complaint.

Representative Foday Fahnbulleh believes that the level at which the company has downplayed its responsibilities stated in its Mineral Development Agreement (MDA) is “incomprehensible” and amounts to disgrace and neglect.

“Regrettably, Hon. Speaker and Distinguished Colleagues, the terms of the MDA have not been respected. The Kakata to Hindi Road remains uncompleted, St. Paul flows without a Hydro Power Plant, and the medical facility and scholarships, among other issues, remain a mirage. Last to mention, the employment...” Fahnbulleh complained.

On the strength of his communication, the Plenary of the House unanimously voted to set up a joint committee to investigate China Union’s concession agreement.

On Saturday, February 24, 2024, members of the House Joint Committee on Investment, Mines and Energy, Labor, Judiciary, and Contracts and Monopoly visited the China Union Concession area in Fuamah District, Bong Mines.

The purpose of the visit was to gather first-hand information and obtain facts related to the MDA.

Foday said, all the allegations raised in his communication to the plenary were found to be true. Said Fahnbulleh: “We went to Bong Mines at China Union concession site on Saturday and found that all of the complaints we presented to the Plenary of the House in our letter are true about China Union’s disregard for our people and the laws of Liberia.

We even found additional information that points to bad labor practices by the Chinese firm, and the joint committee will use these new pieces of information to write a report to plenary.”

The House Joint Committee on Investment, Mines and Energy, Labor, Judiciary, and Contracts and Monopoly fact-finding visit to China Union on Saturday followed two public hearings up Capital.

During the first hearing, a representative of China Union was asked if he had come to the hearing with relevant documents like concession agreement or operational and performance report. He responded that all documents relative to the ownership and operation of China Union were kept in China and that he did not have such documents.

On Friday, February 23, 2024, a second hearing was called, and when China Union officials arrived, they outrightly admitted to violating terms of the MDA, blaming “challenges that are both local and external.”

The China Union statement of admittance read: “We are pleased to acknowledge with respect the issues involved in the ongoing hearings by this august body, as are sufficiently and eloquently articulated by Honorable Foday E. Fahnbulleh of District # &, Bong County, to center greatly on non-compliance with the detailed implementation of the Mineral Development Agreement entered into by China Union Investment (Liberia) Bong Mines Co., Ltd., and the Government of Liberia since 2009.”

The company then asked the committee for 90 days to resolve the issues raised by Rep Foday Fahnbulleh over non-compliance and also pleaded those discussions surrounding China Union be taken from the public and handled behind closed doors.

But Representative Fahnbulleh has committed that in the execution of his duties as a representative of Foimah/Sannoyea District, he will not back down but “fight on to ensure justice and accountability for ordinary people whose rights have been abused under the MDA.”

Corporate accountability, which goes beyond mere financial performance and extends to the impact of business practices on the environment, employees, customers, and communities, he said shall be the order of the day.

Lawmaker Fahnbulleh said, “China Union must recognize it that as a business it has the wider responsibility beyond profit-making and that their actions in Bong Mines already have far-reaching consequences which they must account for.”

China Union’s woes continue to deepen since Fahnbulleh’s formal complaint on February 13, 2024, over poor labor practices and unfulfilled promises outlined in the Mineral Development Agreement.

 

 

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William K Howard William K Howard Jr is a young Liberian Journalist who is focused on investigative and human-interest reporting. He comes with about 10 years of experience in mainstream journalism. William K Howard is currently the Deputy Director of News at CT.com Liberia Limited, Kool 91.9FM/TV. His hard work has also earned him several professional certificates in journalism including Journalist of the year 2022/2023 in Liberia's biggest city, Paynesville.