HARBEL, Margibi – Officials in Margibi have now agreed for a second county sitting in Kakata to determine the allocation for a US$1 million social development fund, amid mounting pressures from citizens.
Citizens of the county, including Oscar Cooper, who serves as co-chair of the county’s legislative caucus, had previously criticized other members of the caucus and local county officials of violating the budget law by holding a secret meeting to decide allotments for the US$1 million.
The amount was made available by China Union. The company, through a 25-year mineral development agreement to extract iron ore from Bong, agreed to pay Liberia US$3.5 million annually to be remitted to affected counties, including Margibi.
Bong, which hosts the largest portion of the concession, receives 50 percent of the amount, while Margibi receives 33 percent for hosting the second largest portion of the company’s operations, such its operations headquarters. Montserrado also receives 27 percent of the fund.
Between 2015 and 2018, the company owed the counties US$10.5 million in remittances. But the three legislative caucuses had accepted a request from the company to waive US$6.5 million to compensate for the slowdown in its operations, which coincided with a global decrease in the price of commodities. According to the company, such waiver would allow it to immediately remit the remaining US$4 million to be distributed among the counties. Bong would receive US$2 million, while Margibi and Montserrado would receive US$1 million, each.
Following the lawmakers’ acceptance of the request, China Union made available the US$4 million to the central government. For Margibi, the US$1 million was not considered during its annual council sitting, which was held on November 14, 2018. The council sitting is when stakeholders from all over the county meet to allocate the funds.
A document leaked to the public showed that the county’s superintendent, Jerry Varnie, and members of the legislative caucus, except Senator Oscar Cooper, met in Monrovia on June 13 in what they referred to as a ‘special county sitting,’ presided over by the chair of the caucus and the county’s fourth district representative, Ben Fofana.
But the citizens, led by Cooper, argued that the action of the officials was illegal, and demanded that a new council sitting be held in Kakata, in line with the budget law, to reflect the inputs of all citizens.
Cooper had also petitioned to the Supreme Court for a writ of prohibition against the use of the funds until a regular county sitting is held in the capital city of the county as required by the budget law.
He recently withdrew the case after other members of the caucus appealed to him and agreed to grant his demand for a new sitting in the capital of the county, in line with the budget law.
The county’s first district representative, Tibelrosa Tarponweh, who was instrumental in getting Cooper to agree to withdraw the matter from the Supreme Court, told The Bush Chicken that the county sitting will take place soon in Kakata.
It was later announced that the new sitting would take place on November 15 but was later rescheduled for December 30.
Cooper also disclosed at a district sitting recently organized by the second district representative of Margibi, Ivar Jones, that he has also begun pursuing China Union to cancel the waiver of US$1.6 million.
According to him, he has advised his colleagues to come up with an agreement along with the company for the payment to be done.
“It is unrealistic for poor people and a county to waive money to a multimillion company like China Union,” he said.
Sen. Jim Tornonlah, who had also signed the resolution at the ‘illegal’ county sitting held in Monrovia, later supported Cooper in his call for a legal sitting to be held, by disregarding the previous resolution and convening a new county sitting in Kakata to reallocate the US$1 million.
“Though I signed a resolution that gave rise to the transferring of the China Union Social Development Fund to Margibi County account, I subscribe to the will and pleasure of Margibians on how they want their money to be used,” Tornonlah said.
Featured photo by Emmanuel Degleh