BUCHANAN, Grand Bassa – A former secretary general of the National Civil Society Council’s branch in Grand Bassa is calling on the county’s legislative council to launch a protest to demand that the government pay Grand Bassa its share of social development funds.
In an interview with The Bush Chicken, Samuel Wilson said such action would draw the government’s attention to the impact the government’s delay in remitting the funds is having on Grand Bassa residents.
“I don’t know about other counties, but Grand Bassa County has about US$3 million deposited at the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning and that money has been there, which is our social development fund being given by ArcelorMittal according to the Mineral Development Agreement. Grand Bassa cannot access that money,” he said.
He said the government’s failure to make those funds available has now meant that the only government referral hospital in the county has not been able to function well due to a lack of funds finance and adequate medical drugs.
“All of our developments are at a standstill. In fact, projects that were resolved at the county council sitting are all at a standstill and the people of Grand Bassa are not hearing any information. So, as such, we don’t think the lawmakers going [to] the capitol building is impacting us,” he noted.
Wilson said the social development funds should not be used to fulfill any competing priorities of the government, but instead, they should be used exclusively to carry out development projects across the county.
“We don’t know what is holding the money at the ministry, ArcelorMittal told us that the money has been deposited,” he added.
“We cannot have the money at Central Bank, and it is not available and we don’t even know whether it will be available.”
Wilson recalled that the government’s delay in paying Grand Bassa’s social development fund started under the administration of former president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf in 2014 due to what the past government said was a budget shortfall and competing priorities.
Several counties received social development funds from concession companies. The British-Indian company ArcelorMittal is the world’s largest steel company and mines ores in Nimba. The beneficiaries of its US$3 million social development fund are Nimba, which receive 50 percent, Grand Bassa with 33.3 percent, and Bong with 16.7 percent. That amount does not go directly into the counties’ respective accounts, but it goes to the central government initially.
During the 2015 county council sitting, Grand Bassa delegates resolved to spend US$2.4 million on projects on grounds that the county had not received any money from the central government in previous years. The government agreed to pay US$1.2 million to the county as the result of budgetary constraint, with US$1.2 million expected to be paid later. Of the US$1.2 million, the government only made available US$1,174,334, with US$25,666 outstanding.
In total, Grand Bassa is owed US$2,278,250 by the government as of the 2017/2018 fiscal year. Delegates at the December 7, 2018 county council sitting complained that government’s failure to remit their portions of the national budget over the years have created a serious setback to the growth and development of the county.
ArcelorMittal’s head of communications, Amanda Hill, confirmed through email that the company has been paying its social development funds for the three counties January of each year. She said an Ebola-era 50 percent deferment of payment ends this year and the company should resume its US$3 million annual payments on behalf of the three counties (up from the current US$1.5 million total).
The company’s statement means that the delay in payment of the social development funds to the county is from central government, and not the company.
Featured photo by Sampson David.