-Give company their blessings to operate in their communities
Superintendents Sam Yealue and Philip Tokpah (right) present the blessings of the communities to Solway CEO, A. Boima Morgan (in blue shirt)
Despite Solway Mining Incorporated, a ‘Liberian owned’ mining company which has been courting iron ores rich Gbehley-Geh, Yarmein, and Sehyi districts in Nimba County, facing glitches in acquiring a Mineral Development Agreement with the government, the local communities have given the company their blessings to operating in their communities.
Major stakeholders, eminent citizens, and other residents of the three statutory districts at an elaborate endorsement and honoring ceremony held in Zortapa, Sanniquellie Mah statutory district, on Monday, February 28, 2022, officially endorsed Solway, giving the company the go-ahead to enter their forests—pledging their unflinching support to the operations of the company.
The residents said the company has proven to be a reliable partner and as such there is a need for a longer collaboration that would help bring the needy developmental initiatives to their areas—communities that lag behind in basic necessities—modern educational, health, and other amenities that are intended for a good life, despite vast the natural resources that abound.
“It is the will of our people that we allow you to come and operate here,” and former and two current Paramount Chiefs of the three statutory districts, Cooper Saye Walaka, Alvin Flomo, and Joseph Yormie, said in separate remarks to thunderous applauds from the crowd. They spoke through an interpreter.
“We are satisfied with your operations and the way you have been interacting with us. So we, therefore, want you here. We want you to operate our mountains,” chief Walaka added. “We are bringing development to us and if you are given the full rights to operate, we are sure that you will do more,” he added.
Former Paramount Chief, Cooper Saye Walaka, endorses Solway operations on behalf of the communities.
“With time, we have realized what an invaluable asset Solway is to us and so we want the company to operate here. Our people have agreed for this to go on,” Joseph Yormie noted.
The company discovered the valuable mineral in commercial quantities after three years of prospecting and has been locked in talk with the government over the sealing of an MDA that would allow it to mine in Mount Blei and Mount Delton ores deposit.
The communities however feel that it is taking too long for an agreement to be reached.
“It is hard time that the government listens to us as the communities and grants Solway the MDA. We know what the company is doing for our” Sam Yealue, Statutory Sup, Gbehley-Geh Administrative District, said. “We want to call on the House of Representatives and the Senate to act in the interest of our people.
Superintendent Tokpah assured the people that he and other stakeholders of the county will pressure the government to do the right thing. “We want Solway here and the government should make sure that the interests of its citizens are granted.
For Chief David Lakpor, the company has come to transform the lives of the people and they should therefore be welcomed.
“Solway is taking us from mat to mattress. We will make sure you get your rights to operate this place. We are the owners of the land. We want you to be satisfied to work here,” he said.
Former Nimba County superintendent, D. Dorr Cooper, stated, “The happiness of our people is our concern. Once the company is making our people happy then there is no need to delay its operations. We want our government to act now.”
He called on the company to make true its promises to the people, warning Solway not to sell the rights that government would give her as it is being heard the public.
Former Nimba County Superintendent, D. Dorr Cooper speaking at the ceremony
“Mr. CEO, we are hearing that Solway is planning to sell its operational license to another company upon acquiring it from the government. We hope this is not true. You have to alleviate the fear of our people because it is you that our people are comfortable to work with here,” Mr. Cooper stated.
He said Solway’s presence in Nimba will encourage competition, “and people who have been overlooking our people will start to do the right things. We want to encourage competition in this sector and Solway will serve this purpose,” he said.
“We are satisfied with how you have been working with us. We appreciate you and you should continue to take care of our communities.”
Solway was from the onset greeted to what some would term as hostile receptions from some quarters of the communities.
The company finally signed a memorandum of understanding with Blei and Sehyi Ko-doo community forests in June 2020—bringing an end to a yearlong legal battle with the leaders of the two forest communities.
The MoU meant the company was now free to explore for iron for three years in the combined 222 hectares of montane, muggy forestlands in the Gbehley-Geh, Yarmein, and Sehyi districts of Nimba County.
This was after Blei and Sehyi Ko-doo changed their conservation management plans to “multiple uses” to allow Solway to explore iron ore on Mt. Blei and Mt. Delton.
The agitations from the communities were led by the Community Forests Management Bodies (CFMBs), local land governing bodies of both Blei and Sehyi Sehyi Ko-doo, who frown on indebtedness to the communities and lack of for them.
Solway for two years failed to live up to its side of the agreement accruing debts of health and education payments, which by law should be at least two percent of its budget for the first two years of exploration
Its failure at the time was a breach of the Minerals and Mining Law of 2000. The law mandates mining companies granted exploration licenses to give at least two percent of their operational budget to project-affected communities.
The failure also breached both the mining law and the MOU the company had with the communities.
However, the company has since settled these payments—thereby winning the hearts of the locals. “We have paid all fees we owed the communities and have been investing additional money in the company. We are doing all this to assure our people that we are a Liberian company and we are not here to cheat our own people,” a top official told this reporter in an interview. “We want to prove that Liberians we can do better if given the opportunities,” he noted.
The company is supporting the communities’ reforestation programs, helping to ensure that safe drinking water is provided to affected areas, and as well fund maintenance and administration works of the leadership of the two community forests.
It is also supporting an agricultural program for townswomen and recruited scores of local young people into its workforce. It has also paid over US$60,000 as land rental fees for the three years of exploration.
“Someone who does things honorably is honorable. Mr. Morgan, you and your company have been honorable in your dealings with us,” Philip Tokpah, Statutory Superintendent of Sanniquellie Mah District, said. “You have lived up to many of our promises and for this, we can trust you.”
“Solway has proven to be credible and so we as a community want to welcome them in our community,” Saye Thompson, who is the Chief Officer of the Joint CFMBs for Blei and Sehyi Ko-doo, said at Monday ceremony.
The endorsement ceremony also coincided with an honoring ceremony for Solway’s Chief Executive Officer (CEO), A. Boima Morgan.
As signs of their blessings the communities during a traditional ritual presented six sheep, three white chicken and kola nuts to the Solway CEO.
“I’m overwhelmed with emotions as a result of what I’m seeing here today. You have shown love not just to a Liberian company but to your own son. I’m grateful,” CEO Morgan said.
He pledged Solway’s commitment to improving the lives of the people, promising that he will do all he can to make true all his promises to the communities.
However, many believe that Solway’s presence in the area has since caused uneasiness for AML, which operates next door. “Mittal has been jittery since Solway came.
Many of the chiefs noted that many companies have operated in their areas without tangible benefits to the communities. They single out Arcelor Mittal Liberia and LAMCO, a mining company that operated in the area from the late 1950s to the early 1980s. “Many companies have come here and left us poor. They did not even employ some of our children as Solways has started doing,” Chief Lakpor noted.
However, three sons of the county are occupying top managerial positions in the company. These include A. Gobac Selekpoh, General Camp Administrator; Wilfred Nyan Seigan, Logistics Manager, and Alvin Labalah, Community Relations Manager.
Reported by: William Q. Harmon