Following complaints and doubt from many Liberians living in Nimba as to why Yekepa where Arcelor Mittal operates still lies in ruin, the Resident Communication Jerry Mwagbe has clarified that the company works on budget and in phases, and therefore cannot implement a project in the absence of the drafted plan.
Nimbaians comprising student groups of various universities and colleges have over the time accused Arcelor Mittal of extracting iron ore from the county without much effort made to improve the environment and facilities in Yekepa where LAMCO once operated, and had attempted many times to block the railway for train to transport ore.
Addressing the concern in Yekepa on October 4, 2013, Mr. Mwagbe noted that phase one of the company’s project was aimed at transporting equipment and setting them up to begin the first operation.
In this phase, Mr. Mwagbe said, they contracted some foreigners including Ghanaians to carry on some technical works. According to him, US$800 million was invested in this initial project.
For contracting of foreigners, he said the company took the decision on the basis of the fact the expertise needed in key technical areas could not be found in Liberia, and therefore they had to hire the foreigners on contractual basis to do the work.
On the issue of Liberian contractors and employment, Mr. Mwagbe said Liberians are equally contracted on the basis of what they know and can do, but not many are employed now because of economic condition and arrangement of phases of the project.
He told Journalists that as they enter the next phase of operation in which they expect huge amount to be invested; more people will gain employment opportunities.
He disclosed that phase two will involve investing US$1.9 billion which will take into account the renovation of houses to accommodate employees.
He also clarified that imported tents housing workers in Yekepa were brought mainly to temporarily accommodate contractors who do not have employment status with the company. Furthermore, he said local contractors and employees without houses are given housing allowance.“The company cannot give a house to a contractor but employee. We have a plan to renovate the houses in Yekepa here so that employees will be accommodated therein. This project will be in phase two of our project,” Mr. Mwagbe noted.
He also indicated that as a result of war, people he referred to as squatters are occupying houses they need to renovate for employees, noting that they are in search of a place where Arcelor Mittal can relocate these squatters.
According to him, contract signed with Liberia for Arcelor Mittal to exploit iron ore in the Tokade Mountain did not call for pavement of the road from Ganta to Yekepa, but upon request by President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the company has signed an agreement with the Liberian Government to pave that road as a gift to the President and people of Liberia.
The Resident Communication Director further notified Journalists that the company has currently made available US$1.5 million for the renovation of academic and vocation schools in Yekepa to help give some technical skills to Liberian youths in order to be prepared for the job market in the future.
Meanwhile, Nimba County Assistant Superintendent for Development, Tiko T. Yorlay in an interview with Journalists earlier said that he including other concerned citizens of Nimba have been disenchanted over the delay on the part of Arcelor Mittal to develop Yekepa and been mounting pressure.
However, Mr. Yorlay said the company’s work is done by phases, and considering its scope of operation they as citizens and county authorities are optimistic that some positive things would soon be done.
He noted, “Arcelor Mittal is currently renovating the Vocational School, high school, and some housing facilities in Yekepa which we think is a positive sign to address our concerns.”
He stressed that as the company moves from contract to full employment in the next phase, they will provide housing facilities for employees and this will involve renovating the houses in the concession area to provide accommodation for workers.
Mr. Yorlay also indicated that besides obligation to improve facilities of Yekepa and provide some basic social services, the company provides US$1.5 million every year for county development. Furthermore, he said Arcelor Mittal provides scholarships for students hailing from the county to attend higher institutions of learning including the Nimba Community College while BHP Billiton that that also provides US$133,333.33 as social development fund for the county gives additional scholarships.
Since the people of Nimba County came to be acquainted with concession agreement between government and Arcelor Mittal, expectations of job, infrastructural development, scholarships for students, and better working condition for workers have been very high.
Predicated upon these expectations, one Nimbaian who claimed to be a former employee of LAMCO suggested in a town hall meeting in 2005 that since the mountain was in Nimba, citizens there should be prioritized first in terms of holding key and strategic positions with Arcelor Mittal.
In response, the Superintendent at the Time, Harrison Karnwea opposed it and said by virtue of the Liberian Constitution all resources belong to Liberia and every Liberian is entitled to hold any position and not necessarily Nimbaians.
Former Superintendent Karnwea said if anyone could get a job of his or her desire, the same person should qualify him/herself for the position and not to rely on county citizenship to get a job.
For working condition and inducements, Felecia Quewon, wife of one of the employees told Journalists that although the house they occupy is not renovated, Arcelor Mittal is providing them electricity.
She added that besides electricity, the company gives them a bag of rice every month, provides healthcare and educational support for maximum of five children of employee, and a satisfactory salary without delay.
Source: Joaquin Sendolo/ Daily Observer
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