Minister Tweah Unveils US$2.5 Billion Dev’t Package from China

MONROVIA, Montserrado – Finance Minister Samuel Tweah has unveiled what he termed as the Beijing Envelope, following Liberia’s participation in the Forum for China–Africa Cooperation, which ended recently in the People’s Republic of China.

Addressing a special press conference at the Ministry of Information on Tuesday, Tweah said Liberia will benefit from a natural resource swap investment facility of US$2.5 billion over a period of five years. He said the amount, which he described as the most significant package accrued from the forum, was committed to the country by the government and people of China at the end of bilateral discussions between the Chinese president Xi Jinping and the Liberian delegation, headed by President George Weah.

“This is not a loan, it is an investment facility and framework entered into between the China Roads and Bridge Corporation or CRBC and the government of the Republic of Liberia under the full calculation to unveil US$2.5 billion financing for the country’s development over the next five years,” he noted.

CRBC is one of the four large state-owned companies in China which is part of the international project contracting market, mainly focusing on roads, bridges, ports, railways, airports, tunnels, water conservancy projects, municipal works, and dredging both at home and abroad. Its business scope also covers investment, industrial development, trade, leasing, as well as services.

The minister clarified that the package was not a cash waiting to be available to Liberia in a day’s time, but a natural resource swap, a new module that monetizes future flows in developing countries. He said the module is similar to what Ghana agreed to in order to get US$2 billion committed by China through a Sino-Hydro deal.

“We will extract our resources, but our experience shows that the module we’ve used in the last 75 to 100 years has not worked – not just in Liberia but all of Africa. We’ve not been able to enjoy the kind of development commensurate with our resource endowment,” he said.

According to him, the amount will also become part of the government’s financing source for its US$5-6 billion development plan that has yet to be released.

He noted that the facility will boost priority infrastructure projects, including roads and electricity, including the construction of a dam on the St. Paul River that will enable the country to generate over 600 MW of power. With this, he said the country would be able to export power to other countries. Another agreement would see the provision of solar panel street lights to the country.

He disclosed that the government also secured an agreement through a Chinese partnership to cultivate 500,000 to 1 million tons of rice every year. He said this is in line with Weah’s commitment to address the country’s long-standing challenges, including the lack of adequate rice production and supply.

“This is why he wanted to be president – to do the big things that we have not been able to do. So, rice production is one of those big things,” he added. Tweah noted that the agreement will provide employment opportunities for many young people and show competitiveness for value chains in the agriculture sector.

The US$2.5 billion package, according to the minister also includes an agreement to give preferential treatments to vessels flying under Liberian flagship at China’s ports, similar to the treatment given those flying under the Chinese flag.

“This will also seek and certify Liberian seafarers for employment,” he noted. He said an elaborate framework is being mandated by the president to follow up on the rollout of the development package.

Resource for infrastructure swap is a mechanism popularized by China, especially towards African countries. It involves exchanging natural resources for infrastructure. Revenues from exporting natural resources are used as collateral to finance infrastructure development. As the ministry has not released documents providing the details of the agreement yet, the terms of the deal are unclear, including which natural resources will be used.

Earlier, the government announced that China committed a US$54 million grant to fund for emergency food aid and the construction of two overpasses. The amount was part of a sum of US$60 million in grant and aid being committed by the Chinese government to African countries.

The finance minister said the amount was one of the highest aid packages of the Chinese government to African countries and the highest in Liberia’s history.

Featured photo by Zeze Ballah

Gbatemah Senah

Gbatemah is a graduate of the University of Liberia and a recipient of the Jonathan P. Hicks Scholarship for Mass Communications. In 2017, Senah won three Press Union of Liberia awards: Women's Rights Reporter of the Year, Legislative Reporter of the Year, and Land Rights Reporter of the Year. In 2018, he was also recognized as the Land Rights Reporter of the Year.

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