The Liberian government has signed a $2.6 billion agreement with a Chinese company, China Union, to excavate for iron ore at the country's western former Bong Mines. The agreement, signed Thursday, is said to be the biggest ever investment in Liberia.
Information Minister Lawrence Bropleh says the deal is expected to generate between 3,000 to 4,000 jobs with an additional 15,000 indirectly. He told VOA the investment deal with the Chinese company is part of President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf's economic revitalization program.
"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 put out the bid and won. Through diligence, a development agreement was put together by the negotiating team of the Liberian government and that of China Union. It has now been signed by President Sirleaf and it's being forwarded to the national legislature for ratification," he said.
The deal would allow China Union to operate Liberia's former western Bong Mines, which before the civil war was operated by the German-owned Bong Mining Company.
Bropleh said Liberia is expected to accrue several benefits from the new investment deal with China Union.
"There are lots of benefits that will come to the Liberian nation and people. Several of them would be one, creation of jobs, two, the railway from Bong Mines to Monrovia will totally rehabilitated and the trains will then be able to move up and down not just carrying ore to the port of Monrovia for export but also passengers and goods. Additionally, China Union in that agreement will also create and produce electricity not just for their operation but also for residence in the area," Bropleh said.
He said China Union would begin work after the Liberian legislature has ratified the agreement.
Bropleh said the deal is expected to generate between three to four thousand jobs with an additional 15,000 indirectly.
"We are hoping that within the next few weeks we can get this ratified so that the company can start up. But there are some early start-up operations. We estimate that there will be well, well over three to four thousand jobs that will be created for our people throughout the country where operations attached to the western cluster will be done," Bropleh said.
The Liberian government came under criticism last year for allegedly showing favoritism in awarding another concession agreement involving Tata Steel, the world's fifth largest steel maker and Johannesburg-based Delta Mining Consolidated Company. The Ministry of Lands, Mines and Energy denied the allegations.
Bropleh said the China Union deal was competitive and transparent.
"It was done in line with our public procurement and Concession Commission rules; it was done on the international level. It was put out and the time was given for many companies to apply, many of them did. China Union won the bid. You can imagine the last time the last time we had a situation where Delta Mining and Tata [Steel] had some complaints. This was a situation that we learned from the previous experience," Bropleh said.
He dismissed suggestions that President Sirleaf was looking mostly East in her efforts to revitalize Liberia's economy after 14 years of civil war.
"China union deserves it; China Union put out the expression of interest and China Union won through a fair process. Liberia is doing business with everybody from around the world. Because we operate within the comity of nations, there will be no exclusionary clauses that will say that one group of company from one part of the world cannot participate. This is not the new Liberia that we are working toward," Bropleh said.