J. Carl Dealy
Putting political debate aside for the moment, let us not forget to take our eye off the real prize. Re-negotiation of the Mittel Steel Agreement is a second chance, not only for short tem infusion of foreign capitol, but also for a concession that will have lasting value.
Do we make a big name for Liberia, as in 1968 when Liberia was the world's third largest source of iron ore or do we promote projects that contribute to lasting poverty alleviation and economic development at both the local and national levels? We should have both.
While there may not be agreement on the definition of sustainable mining development, at least some of the elements are clear. As the public contemplates the implications of the Mittel Steel Agreement, let us keep the focus on a project that will have lasting value, and be socially responsible as well as environmentally sound. "There is now a growing body of evidence that the "sustainable development" approach, when well implemented, can provide net benefits not only to the community but also to the investor."(1)
During the 20th century iron mining boom of Liberia's first Iron Epic (2) the first generation of mining codes in Africa were just being developed. Liberia was already 30 years ahead of the curve, missing out on mining sector development planning. However, there was always the looming question about the real benefits accruing to the local economy because of the mining sector's limited capacity to generate additional local employment and value added processing. There have been many
comparisons to Firestone's labor statistics. The result is something Liberia at this juncture should no longer find acceptable, huge amounts of foreign-exchange earnings remaining offshore. The minerals management trend in the 1980's and 1990's was toward liberalization, deregulation and privatization. The Groupe de Recherche sur les Activites Minieres en Afrique has argued(2) postulated that openness accompanied by state withdrawal have the potential effect of driving down standards for social and economic development, as well as protection of the environment.
Responsibility for reasoned sustainable mining development can never rest with the government alone. The mining sector is actually an amalgamation of companies, industry, labor, local community, and government. Each part of the mining sector has a hand in the potential success of sustainable mining development. Mining companies must develop and adopt a Sustainable Development Policy and work with the local community to prepare community sustainable development plans. The mining industry should prepare a declaration on sustainable development. Labor must be in support of sustainable development and such support should be reflected in their contracts. Local community needs to take the time to define their goals and objectives while working closely with mining companies to integrate these needs into community sustainable development plans.
Finally, government must support the establishment of a sustainable development support process through adoption of mining codes and contracts that are favorable to social and economic development, as well as protection of the environment. These codes must address all phases of mining: exploration, development, production and finally mine closure.
Liberia is about to begin a new Iron Epic. This time the wealth of knowledge is not concentrated in the hands of a few exploration geologists, big capitol investors and government officials. We know the Mount Nimba Complex. Shall we continue with the embarrassment of growth without development? While Liberia's iron mining sector was sleeping, many mining ventures continued in Africa and around the world are on
the path toward sustainable development. We can re-start with lessons learned from our neighbors. We can adopt modern standards that are based on respect for the environment and the communities. Of course, we are not privy to the criteria of the Mittel Steal Agreement. However, for those who seem to know: Does it include oversight and management committees; local economic development plan and provisions for agreement related to hiring preferences, training, small and large business support and in-country joint ventures? Does it include environmental and social protection plans or mine closure planning with post-closure sustainability arrangements?
Liberia's great heritage of natural resources has been handed to us by our ancestors, but we must not forget, at the same time we are only borrowing from our children. A sustainable future is the prize.
(1) "Sustainable Mining Development from Concept to Action", John Strongman, IFC Conference, Mining and the Community II, Madang, Papua New Guinea, Sept. 16, 2002.
(2) "Liberia's Iron Epic, 20th Century Iron Boom" J. Carl Dealy, In publication.
(3)"African mining codes questioned", Mining Journal, London, February 14, 2003.