The Liberian government continues to act on its promise to review all contracts and concession agreements signed by the previous transitional government led by Gyude Bryant to ensure they meet the national interest. Among the agreements being renegotiated is that of the U-S multinational company Firestone, which has been operating in Liberia since 1926.
Firestone workers went on strike Last year to demand better wages, housing, schools and medical care. Liberian government officials were in Washington this past week for first round negotiations to review Firestone’s concession agreement.
Samuel Kofi Woods is Liberia’s minister of labor. He said everything is being renegotiated.
“I want to state that there are two aspects of these negotiations. One aspect is the concession agreement, which reflects the obligation of management and government. The second component is what is what is referred to as the collective bargaining agreement, which reflects the obligations and commitment of workers on the one hand, and management on the other hand. We want to ensure that we have a more accountable and transparent as well as representative workers’ leadership to guarantee that the collective bargaining agreement which specifically provides certain benefits for workers, would be in the interest of Firestone workers,” he said.
There are suggestions that Firestone has been paying little or no taxes under the terms of the agreement signed in 2005 by former transitional leader Gyude Bryant. Woods said every aspect of the agreement is being renegotiated.
“I want to assure you and the people of Liberia that the negotiations, the revision of the Firestone agreement is comprehensive. It touches on the fiscal obligations on all sides, and that includes withholding taxes, transfer pricing issues, and various issues will be discussed. The whole issue of the social needs of the population will be discussed – housing, education, healthcare, environmental issues will be discussed. One thing we can assure you is that this government is committed to a comprehensive review of not only the Firestone agreement, but several other agreements to ensure our people obtain the just benefit of our natural resources,” Woods said.
One of the concerns shared by some Liberians is the fact that Firestone, despite operating in Liberia since 1926, has no manufacturing plant to make rubber-related products like tires.
Woods would not say nor deny whether the issue of setting up a manufacturing plant in Liberia was part of the negotiations with Firestone.
“At this stage, it has not come up yet in the discussion. There is a lot of interest in that direction; there is a lot of study and research that has conducted in that direction to ensure that our economic environment offers opportunities, both in terms of supply and demand or economy of scale to be able to engage such capital investment in the interest of our people. I think all options are open, although we have not place that on the table yet
The Liberian labor minister said the negotiations with Firestone have not been easy at times. But he said such exchange of ideas is a healthy thing.
“Like any other process, we experienced hitches; we experienced serious disagreements which led to different types of exchanges which is healthy for the process. I think it’s not a matter of choice for Firestone or the Liberian government. We owe it to the Liberian people; we need to produce results for our people; we need to ensure that they have decent living and livelihood in Liberia; we need to create favorable conditions for better wages, better conditions of work. It’s a demand. It’s part of the urgency of this era, and we must stand up to respond to it,” Woods said.
Woods said there would be another round of negotiations at the end of April.